Someday, Maya Lovelace wants to feed you “leather britches”: Appalachian “greasy beans,” dried then stewed, which she swears taste a bit like roast beef. But this winter, she’s planning on funky sour corn fermented like sauerkraut, and bowls of little cornmeal dumplings poached in intense collard greens’ pot liquor. “That’s as bare-bones Southern Appalachian as you get,” says the North Carolina–born chef. “We want to focus on what’s growing in the field and in the garden.”
Lovelace, with partner Zach Lefler, has achieved that goal at her reservation-only spot Mae. Inspired by the garden-fresh dishes Lovelace grew up devouring at her grandmother Mae’s kitchen table, bolstered by produce grown for the restaurant by Gresham’s Black Locust Farm, Mae shoehorns a flavorful subset of Southern cooking rarely seen in Portland into a drafty old warehouse behind Old Salt.
Open only three days a week (Monday Meat + 3 dinners; sprawling 10-course Wednesday suppers, and one of the city’s best Sunday brunches), the laid-back operation seats diners at worn tables groaning with true Southern comfort—oddball house pickles and featherlight Angel biscuits, triple-fat-fried chicken to sumac-rumbling shrimp and grits drizzled with charred poblano and smoky bacon sauce. Lovelace’s pedigree, which stretches from Charleston’s famed, heritage-driven Husk to Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast, created plenty of buzz when the unorthodox restaurant launched in June 2015. Now? She’s created a must-eat Portland experience.