Certain eagle-eyed readers will already be firing up their laptops, loading a blank e-mail template and preparing to object to this column in the strongest possible terms. I’ll save them the effort.

I am aware that Lake & Co. is not technically a restaurant.

That said, in these perplexing months when many of the state’s best-known bistros and bars produce only takeout meals, when their online delivery menus feature upscale frozen entrees and meal-kits, and when indoor dining remains rare, it’s time to ask: What counts as a restaurant?

By 2020’s fuzzier, more pragmatic definition, Lake & Co. certainly qualifies.

Formerly a catering-focused operation owned by two 15-year veterans of Portland’s food scene, Lake & Co. is, according to a friend who lives in the West End, “the exiled soul of Aurora Provisions.” Indeed, proprietor Hannah Lake White and her husband, executive chef Charles (Chuck) White together ran the show at Aurora for the better part of four years. Then, in 2018, they took over space in Fork Food Lab and struck out on their own.

This winter, as the pandemic extinguished Mainers’ plans for springtime parties, Hannah White decided to change course with Lake & Co.: “Normally, we would have been getting things ready for the private beach community summer café we do in Prout’s Neck and thinking about catering weddings,” she said. “Nobody knew what was going to happen, so I just said we might as well do something with Lake & Co. Chuck and I talked, and we started making things like pot pies and meatloaf. When our friends who run restaurants saw what we were doing, they said, ‘Whoa, Hannah, this is really working.’ Before, we never really felt like their competition, but now we’re all really in the same world.”

The tomato-basil soup from Lake & Co. is “a total delight.” Photo by Andrew Ross

Yet the Whites have no plans to convert Lake & Co. into a restaurant permanently. Even though June marks the end of the best financial quarter the business has ever had, according to Hannah White, that still isn’t enough temptation to pull her off-course. “Catering is what I love and why I started this,” she said. “If I can paddle along until I get back to that day, I’ll paddle and paddle, and keep paddling as hard as I can.”

The chicken and spinach lasagna to go from Lake & Co. is unexpectedly light. Photo by Andrew Ross

Before the Whites dip their oars back in the water, seize your chance to order dinner from Lake & Co. Start with a savory, tomato-less chicken and spinach lasagna ($14 for a two-person serving/$24 for a family-sized lasagna that feeds four to six people). Prickling with aromatic oregano and brimming with juicy chunks of chicken breast and thigh meat, the Lake & Co. version surprises with an unexpected summery lightness.

If you’re missing the sweet zing of tomatoes, opt for a bowl of the Whites’ creamy tomato basil ($12/qt.) soup. When I tasted it, I anticipated something like Aurora Provisions’ tomato-cognac bisque, a dish I miss every time I drive down Pine Street. And while this vegetarian soup uses basil, garlic, cream and onion to strum the same chords as its predecessor, crème fraiche adds a rounder, tangier harmony. It’s a total delight.

Lake & Co’s rhubarb-lemon curd trifle, packaged and ready for takeout. Photo by Hannah Lake White

Also delightful: Lake & Co.’s desserts, especially the over-the-top spring trifle ($18), a festive, layered confection of ladyfingers soaked in rhubarb-cherry syrup, custardy lemon curd mascarpone and piped whipped cream. “I have an affinity for old-world European desserts. That’s my vibe,” Hannah White said. “I love Eton Mess, tiramisu and trifles. With the rhubarb coming in from Snell Farms, I said let’s do a trifle with ladyfingers that have a little crunch to them.” Frozen, the dessert can be tipped out of its clamshell and served like an ice-cream-based bombe. Or it can be thawed and served in fluffy, cooling spoonfuls. You can’t go wrong either way.

When you place an order with Lake & Co., add a few groceries to your cart — items Hannah White selects with both Portlanders and Casco Bay island residents in mind. She stocks Standard Baking baguettes ($4.99), cheeses like halloumi ($8.99/oz) and fresh mozzarella ($6.99), and several produce options.

For my second Dinner Plus One meal, I chose ingredients to prepare a puffy asparagus frittata. It was an easy choice when I learned that Lake & Co.’s free-range duck eggs ($5/half dozen) come from a supplier in Standish who also happens to be Hannah White’s mother. “Gracie’s Garden, that’s my mom!” she said, laughing. “We got those eggs in fresh this morning, and we also sell her ‘Ferments,’ like sauerkraut and kimchi.”

I should also confess to cheating a little. Yes, reader, I did not make my own dessert. Reminiscing about the bounty of Aurora Provisions’ baked-goods case, I succumbed to temptation and grabbed a half-dozen of Lake & Co.’s chewy gingerbread cookies ($10). Oblong and sparkling with crunchy sugar, they disappeared within minutes. I have no regrets.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

Puffy Asparagus Frittata

For a softer, less puffy frittata, whisk ¼ cup heavy cream ($4.99/qt.) or ¼ cup crème fraiche ($5.99/8 oz.) into the egg yolks.

2 ounces thick-cut bacon ($14.99/ 8 oz.) or guanciale or pancetta, diced
½ lb. fresh asparagus ($7.50/lb.), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
5 duck eggs or 6 large chicken eggs ($5.99/dozen), separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter ($4.99/lb.)
Salt and pepper

Turn on broiler to high, with an oven rack set about 9-10 inches beneath the element or flames.

In an oven-safe non-stick or cast iron 10-inch skillet (an 8-inch skillet will also work), cook bacon over medium heat until it crisps. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon (but not the rendered fat) and place over paper towels to drain.

Cook the asparagus pieces, garlic and red pepper flakes in the bacon fat until asparagus is barely tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper. Gently fold the whites into yolk mixture.

Return the bacon to the pan with the asparagus along with the butter. Heat the pan over medium or medium-high heat until the butter is melted and the foam begins to disappear. Add the eggs, gently stirring once or twice with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to incorporate the asparagus and bacon. Let the bottom of the egg mixture set a bit. You can check to see if it is set by lifting up the side of the frittata with your spatula. Do not let the bottom turn darker than light golden brown.

Gently smooth the top of the egg mixture with the spatula and transfer pan to the oven. Broil until puffed and browned on top, 3-4 minutes.

Serve by flipping the frittata over onto a serving plate and cutting into wedges. The frittata will deflate, so serve immediately.


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