I had read some unsettling reviews on Yelp! that had already tainted my impressions of LFK (which somewhat obscurely stands for the Longfellow Fellowship of Knights), painting it as a hipster haven, too pretentious to even look at. I half expected that I would have to pass some sort of litmus test for hipness to gain entry:
- Are you in grad school, and if so, what are you studying? Bonus points for obscurity of subject matter (pre-14th century Persian poetry, say).
- Do you have a beard or are you dating/married to someone with a beard? Bonus points for a fancy mustache.
- What mode of transportation did you take to get here? Bonus points for a bicycle with no brakes or a unicycle.
I imagined that I would then have to give the right weekly password, execute the secret handshake, and flash an exclusive membership ring. But my saner self was happy to note that there was none of that when my friend and I stopped in for happy hour and a bite. We declined the outdoor patio, bypassed the full bar with its built-in Emily Dickinson poem, eschewed the long tables scattered about that encouraged the semi-awkward exchange of pleasantries between strangers, and headed for the book nook sandwiched between the kitchen and the bathrooms. We settled into the well-worn chaise lounge across from a coffee table and matching pair of diminutive old lady armchairs I swear I saw at Salvation Army a few months ago.
Taking advantage of the $1 discount on all wine and tap beer happy hour (4-6 weekdays), we each ordered a glass of wine (Vinho Verde and Alias Chardonnay) as we eyed the dinner menu. The LFK burger sounded especially appealing—a $9 burger with cheese (aged cheddar or pimento) and garlic mayonnaise (that’s right, no trendy “aioli” here) served on a pretzel bun with a side of potato salad (vegan German or bacon cheddar). In a grim effort to lead a “healthier” lifestyle, I’ve jumped on the gluten-free/starch-free bandwagon and added a no-processed-foods pledge to boot, so I ordered mine without the bun, mayo, and potato salad. Our waitress had no problem making the changes and even obligingly offered to bring me a side salad in place of the potato salad. Bonus points for being accommodating.
The wine was crisp, chilled, and delectable and the vibe was low-key but spirited. The nook was sequestered enough to give an air of privacy from the main bar while still allowing the amusing kitchen banter to filter through, joined here and there by the clacking of the resident typewriter. Our waitress was prompt in refilling our glasses, and it wasn’t long before our food came.
My burger arrived on a lettuce leaf with salad greens piled beside it, slices of red onion surfing atop the mound, and a grape tomato posted at each salad corner. A balsamic vinaigrette had been lightly applied to what seemed like each individual leaf, allowing the greens to stay light without becoming overpowered by the vinegary flavor. But the burger was the showstopper. Cooked to medium-well perfection (as requested), it was juicy and flavorful with onions cooked into the patty, blanketed with a layer of aged cheddar. My companion, who avoids onions as if they’re carrying West Nile virus, agreed that it was one helluva tasty burger. She’d ordered the carnitas tacos (slow-braised pork shoulder with sweet jalapeño slaw and lime creme), which came with a black bean side salad. The food was so good we returned the following week. This time she had the mac and cheese ($6 for cheesy, curly cavatappi with herbed Dijon bread crumbs) and the Reuben (a $9 mound of corned beef, “LFK kraut,” Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on a pretzel bun). The Reuben was the overall winner that round. I was already craving the LFK burger again, and I can happily report it was just as delicious as it had been the week before (these cooks clearly know consistency). A small wedge of the burger had been cut out from it this time around, and while I appreciated not being served raw beef—not to mention the burger’s cute, inadvertent Pac-Man resemblance—my mouth and stomach didn’t want to miss one measly morsel of the meat magic.
Every night from 10 to close LFK offers a late-night handheld special where you can get the LFK burger, veggie burger, or Cornish pasty for just $5 without the sides. If you’re there at this time on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, you can also take advantage of the reverse happy hour, and save $1 on all wine and beer on tap. This makes LFK a prime destination for late-night study breaks and concerts just letting out. And don’t worry if you leave your membership ring at home—the Fellowship welcomes all.
LFK, 188 State St, Portland. Visit their website by clicking here.