Route 1 winds up the coast of Maine. It snakes through coastal towns and slides up and over worn hills. There are stretches of it that go through thick woods and then break through the trees, presenting the traveler with wide, expansive views of islands and the Atlantic in which they sit. The drive from Rockport to Belfast typifies the Route 1 experience: antique stores, kayak shops, run-down gas stations and ice cream stands dot the side of the road, and motels with "Vacancy" (that the owners hope will turn into "No Vacancy") signs sit, almost pleadingly, a little set back from the road. These are the places that we always say we'll stop at one day, knowing we won't, knowing they'll go out of business before we get around to it, only to reopen the next summer under different management with the same high hopes.
On Thursday my mom, my friend Will and I wound our way up past Lincolnville and on to Belfast to have dinner at The Lost Kitchen. Run by Erin and Todd French, the restaurant is in an old brick building that once housed a bank on the ground floor and newspaper offices above. Erin and Todd renovated the space themselves, building the bar in front of the big storefront window, installing and painting the pressed tin ceilings, and picking out the delicate china and antique silverware. The result is a welcoming, elegant, and clean space that compliments food of the same nature (more after the jump).
I am one of the lucky ones who got to eat at The Lost Kitchen last summer, when it was an underground supper club on the second floor with only twenty seats. Erin would cook an elaborate five-to-six course meal once every few Saturdays using local ingredients (hyper-local, in fact--most of the food came from a twenty-mile radius). The dinners went viral; Erin would send an email announcing the date, and if you didn't respond within three minutes to reserve your spot, you were out of luck.
The supper club seats were sought after not only because of the delicious plates Erin whipped up on the four burner stove in the back, but also because of her endless charm, the integrity she brought to the project, and the obvious care she poured into each serving. Everything was sublime and meticulously constructed: lamb sliders from Islesboro's (a nearby island) lamb farm, Pemaquid oysters with borrage blossoms on top, honey and cheese served with toast and jam, grapefruit and Campari granita, pot de creme...the list goes on. When Erin came out from the kitchen at the end of the long, languorous evenings, the room would burst into applause.
Because not only did Erin do all this on a four burner stove, but she did it with no formal culinary training. While she grew up flipping burgers at her parents' diner in Knox, Maine, and worked in some restaurants in Camden, Erin has never attended a school or apprenticed for a chef. She has made her dream of owning a restaurant come true because of her will to succeed: last year, The Lost Kitchen, in its full restaurant form, opened to rave reviews.
We went last fall and had a wonderful time; going back this time was just as great. Our meal was delicious, our servers kind and funny, and seeing Erin again was such a treat. We started out with Pemaquid Oysters served with some amazing concoction on top that I think included hibiscus and shallots. I got so caught up in eating them that I forgot to record what was on them, but I do know that they were divine. We also had a salad of baby bibb lettuces from a nearby farm with spring fennel and a light vinaigrette. It was simple and sweet and tasted like summer.
All three of us got the halibut with mussels, new potatoes, and pea shoots as our main course because it just sounded too good. And it was; the skin of the halibut was crisp and full of flavor, and the fish itself was light and perfectly cooked. It also came with a kale flower on top, so it won points in the "delightful" category for that as well.
It was a wonderful evening. We wound our way back down Route 1 with full stomachs and happy heads. I can't wait to travel back up that beautiful coastline and find The Lost Kitchen again. If you're in mid-coast Maine, this place is worth your while, my friends.