Buxton’s New Oak & Ember Gastropub Has Already Sparked a Loyal Following

Still in its first year, its welcoming, genial atmosphere and rotating menu focused on local and seasonal fare attracts a regular crowd.

the bar at Oak & Ember in Buxton, Maine
By Kate McCarty
Photos by Mat Trogner
From our March 2024 issue
Oak & Ember owner Shannon Keefe
Oak & Ember owner Shannon Keefe

The circa 1790 mustard-colored farmhouse at the intersection of Routes 202 and 22 has witnessed the town of Buxton transform from a hub of Saco River mill activity to a rural enclave of metro Portland. The farmhouse has transformed too, serving first as a private residence, then an antiques shop, then the beloved Buxton Common restaurant, and now a new gastropub, Oak & Ember.

Last June, longtime Portland bartender Shannon Keefe bought the place from Buxton Common chef Max Brody, who had extensively renovated the building and put on a rear vaulted-ceiling addition housing a bar and kitchen. Keefe, who recently moved to nearby Gorham, was looking for a career change after more than a decade of mixing drinks and wait- ing tables. She gave the interior a modest facelift and hired executive chef Kirby Sholl, whose tenure in Maine kitchens has taken him from Islesford Dock, a seafood joint on Little Cranberry Island, to Chaval, a high-end Portland bistro.

Oak & Ember’s rotating menu focuses on local and seasonal fare and takes cues from its building. Low beamed ceilings, wide-plank wood floors, and brick fireplaces inspired Scholl to serve comfort foods like a burger (albeit dressed up with aged cheddar, smoked-tomato aioli, and arugula) and handmade pastas. On a recent visit, fettuccine was blackened with squid ink and sprinkled with caviar, a carrot ragu over orecchiette was so hearty it might even have sated a meat lover, and rich Bolognese was spooned over chewy tagliatelle.

From left: mustard-glazed ribs, fresh from the rotisserie smoker; bar manager Ashley Paisley; Bolognese with a snowy mound of Parmesan.

1420 Long Plains Rd., Buxton.
Entrées $18–$38. Appetizers $5–$17.
Maine beers are on tap, wines (mostly European) can also be purchased in an on-site shop, and bar manager Ashley Paisley enjoys riffing on classic cocktails, like a smoked-rosemary old-fashioned.
Elegance mingles with hominess in desserts such as the butterscotch pot de crème with white-chocolate mousse or the olive-oil cake nestled on a bed of lemon curd.

Comfort, in Sholl’s kitchen, doesn’t have to mean familiarity. The chef is adept at pushing the envelope, like with grilled beef tongue that he laces with spicy chili-crisp sauce and wood-ear mushrooms. He buys the tongue, along with more conventional cuts, like the bistro steak he sears until crispy and balances with creamed kale, from Turner’s Caldwell Family Farm. Seafood, from Browne Trading Company, in Portland, includes the charcoal-grilled salmon with ginger-and-cumin-spiced lentils. In a recent special, mackerel loin was smoked and then served with mackerel-belly tartare.

A wood-fired rotisserie smoker, installed by Brody, produces the juicy half chicken that crowns a bed of cranberry-studded wilted spinach, plus the mustard-glazed ribs that are adorned with mint, cilantro, pickled peppers, and pistachios. Vegetables and herbs sometimes meet the smoker too, as in a starter of smoked beets in a pool of mustard cream or the thyme that garnishes an hors d’oeuvre of steamed clams. The beets are among a dozen vegetarian starters and small plates, ranging from curried zucchini to a riff on Buffalo wings composed of chili-seasoned sweet potatoes with blue-cheese dipping sauce. Sholl likes playing with the versatility of vegetables. “There’s one way to cook rib eye,” he says. “There’s a million ways to cook a carrot.”

Still in its first year, Oak & Ember already attracts a regular crowd. The bar, furnished with concrete counters and high-top tables, offers a lively contrast to the intimate dining rooms, but a welcoming, genial atmosphere prevails throughout. “It was scary, coming into a new town,” Keefe says. “But people have been so kind. They genuinely want to see us succeed.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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