Evan Atwell's tiny shop offers a bevy of boutique blades.
Evan Atwell, left, and Ryan Perrier sharpening knives.
By Sara Anne Donnelly Photographed by Ryan David Brown
A former head butcher at Portland’s popular Rosemont Market & Bakery, Evan Atwell is New England’s only professional Japanese whetstone sharpener. His shop’s name, Strata, comes “from my love of sharpening” and refers to the whetstones’ distinctive look “based on what strata, or layer, in the mine they are quarried from.” Japanese water stones have a reputation for superior knife-sharpening properties.
Strata is in the Black Box, a collection of five shops in repurposed shipping containers along the trendy East Bayside neighborhood stretch of Washington Avenue, in Portland. The area teems with eateries and artisan shops and is one of the best places in the city to discover something new.
Strata stocks some of the best handmade knives in the world, including European, Japanese, and Maine-made blades, and is the country’s exclusive storefront for several top lines. The pocket-size shop sells around 700 knives for all price points and skill levels, each trialed by Atwell, from all-in-one blades perfect for the home cook to specialty knives meant to slice only octopus or soba noodles, as well as French and Japanese pocketknives and gardening shears, and aprons and other accessories. At the back of the shop, Atwell and his apprentice, former chef Ryan Perrier, sharpen upwards of 3,500 blades a year on Japanese whetstones for a range of customers, including local chefs and at-home epicures. Atwell enjoys providing in-store knife recommendations, and he’s opening a web store this spring.
Inky-black leather and waxed-canvas knife rolls from Maine-based Weft and Warp, guaranteed-for-life French Perceval knives with anti-corrosion, nitrogen-infused steel (Strata is the maker’s only U.S. brick-and-mortar seller), multipurpose Japanese Santoku knives for less than $200 a pop, knife-sharpening and knife-skills classes, imported Aomori Hiba cutting boards, and handmade magnetic knife-storage strips by Turnt Wood, of Portland.
Besides kitchen, pocket, utility, and bowie blades, Auburn bladesmith Isaiah Washington also makes his knives’ ultra-tough, resin-reinforced wooden handles.zayknives.com
Full Circle CraftWorks
On their New Gloucester farm, husband-and-wife team Chris and Hannah Blackburn make artfully patinaed culinary knives with carbon steel salvaged from 19th- and 20th-century timber saws. fullcirclecraftworks.com
Grimm Knife Company
Known for striking one-of-a-kind handles in a range of colors and materials, from exotic woods to man-made composites, the cutlery crafted by South Berwick’s Grimm is as much a work of art as a never-fail kitchen favorite. grimmknifeco.com