The Lost Kitchen in Freedom reopened last week for outdoor dining. Photo courtesy of Caleb Mason

Erin French served her first dinner of the season at The Lost Kitchen in Freedom on Friday, having worked up to it with outdoor lunches and casual pizza days. Normally, the restaurant opens in May.

Diners were chosen through The Lost Kitchen’s famous postcard lottery, according to Michael Dutton, the restaurant’s manager and French’s husband. But because of the pandemic, customers were notified much later than usual that they had been selected for one of the coveted tables – the drawing was held on Tuesday for a table on Friday. (This is good news for Mainers who have been clamoring to try the place, since presumably they now face less competition from people whose Maine vacations have been canceled.) Dinners are being held outdoors at 10 tables. Dutton said there are no plans to resume indoor service anytime soon since the size of the restaurant makes it impractical and potentially unsafe.

Erin French, chef/owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, is filmed for a new show about her restaurant that will debut on the Magnolia Network next spring. Photo courtesy of Caleb Mason

Camera operators were filming the dinner Friday night for footage to be used in a new show about The Lost Kitchen that will appear sometime next year on the Magnolia Network. The new network, a project of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Texas couple behind the show “Fixer Upper,” will replace the DIY Network and follow, according to its website, “risk takers, course changers, path makers, creators, dreamers, storytellers.” Check out the preview of “The Lost Kitchen” show.

The network was scheduled to debut last October, but the pandemic stalled production, and now it’s looking like it will launch next March, Dutton said. The pilot of “The Lost Kitchen” show was shot last October, he said, and they’re now halfway through the rest of the six-episode series.

“We’re excited to be a part of it, and they’ve been a pleasure to work with,” Dutton said, adding that most of the crew doing the shooting come from Maine, so quarantining is not an issue.

Another change brought on by the pandemic is the ongoing construction of six cabins in the woods by the mill pond. The cabins will be used for private dining.

“Erin has had in her mind for years a big picture vision of building out cabins where people can stay after they eat at the restaurant,” Dutton said. “The pandemic pushed us to go in that direction and solve a very important short-term problem, which is how do we serve people dinner safely, and the cabins became part of that solution. Eventually, when we get back to business as usual, we hope to convert them into sleeping accommodations.”

Goodbye to Vinland

The pandemic claimed another Portland restaurant last week when David Levi, chef/owner at Vinland, announced he is permanently closing his business.

“It is a hard loss for me and for those closest to me, professionally and personally,” Levi wrote on social media. “It is also a beginning. Vinland could not withstand the long quarantine required for the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportionate impact on the fine dining sector of the food industry, and the overall downturn in the economy, the last of which may reverberate for years.”

Levi hinted, however, that we have not heard the last of him, or tasted the last of his food. And he shared some exciting personal news: He and his wife are expecting a daughter to join their family of three soon.

Wine Enthusiast honors local couple

Andrew and Briana Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, are honored in the latest edition of Wine Enthusiast as part of the “40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2020.”

The magazine’s October issue cited both their business projects and social advocacy. The Volks have been nominated for a James Beard Award twice in the Outstanding Cocktail Program; they founded a program called Heart of Hospitality, which trains Maine bars and restaurants on sexual assault prevention; and they are working on a new casual restaurant in Waterville called Verna’s All Day, with bottles from female winemakers. Andrew Volk, the piece noted, has fought to raise the minimum wage, spoken out against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and championed safe work environments in the industry.

The Volks are also featured in the season finale of director Steven Soderbergh’s online series “Stir Crazy” about the state of the bar industry and how the Restaurants Act might help bars stay open. Soderbergh visited Portland in May 2019 to promote his new spirit, Singani 63.

Pandemic? Pass the chocolate

Dean’s Sweets in Portland has become something of a regular on the “Marketplace” radio show, and will be featured again on Thursday. No surprise – if there’s anything we need more of during a pandemic, it’s chocolate.

Co-owner Kristin Thalheimer Bingham will talk about the challenges of owning a food business during a pandemic and the strategies she and her husband, chocolatier Dean Bingham, have employed to keep the business alive.

“Marketplace,” produced by American Public Media, is broadcast by more than 500 public radio stations. It airs at 6:30 p.m. weekday nights on Maine Public Radio.

Virtual garden tours

If you’ve been missing garden tours this year, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has scheduled a few digital tours through October. The series began Monday with a tour of the permaculture garden and yard belonging to Lisa Fernandes, formerly of the Resilience Hub in Portland. It resumes Sept. 1 with a tour of the Maine Heritage Orchard on the MOFGA grounds in Unity. The 10-acre orchard will one day be home to more than 500 apple and pear varieties. Other tours include Milbridge gardens on Sept. 10, and the gardens and orchards of the Deer Isle Hostel on Oct. 6.

For more information, email [email protected], or register at

The Navis Cafe, a new restaurant at 56 Thames St. in Portland, will sell pastries from the European Bakery and Tea Room in Falmouth. Photo courtesy of Renae Roy

Navis Café opens in Portland

The Navis Café recently opened at 56 Thames St. in Portland, selling breakfast sandwiches, salads, soup and chowder, and a variety of hot and cold sandwiches. Except for the lobster roll, all of the sandwiches cost under $10.

The drink menu features coffee and tea from La Colombe, a specialty coffee roaster based in Philadelphia, and a selection of local beers and wine.

The Navis Cafe has outdoor seating for 15 and will soon add more. Photo courtesy of Renae Roy

The café’s owner, Renae Roy – who also owns the 1912 Café inside L.L. Bean in Freeport – says she wants to appeal to boaters and island residents by offering the menu grab-and-go style. Indeed, the café’s theme is nautical, with sandwiches sporting cutesy names like “Walk the Plank” (chicken salad) and “The Stern” (roast turkey). If you have children, they can order from the “Little Skippers” menu.

Fans of the European Bakery and Tea Room in Falmouth will be thrilled to learn Roy is offering the popular bakery’s pastries at the café. This is the first time the bakery’s goods have been offered wholesale.

“I was, like, ‘Please, please.’ And we made a deal, and I’m so psyched,” Roy said.

The café has seating inside – for 35 before social distancing – and for 15 outside. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Pan-Latin cuisine

Sal de la Tierra, a new restaurant owned by Carlos Sanchez and Isai Galvez, recently opened in the former Wild Burritos space at 581 Congress St. in Portland. The menu features Mexican, Puerto Rican and Salvadoran food, and the restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Sundays. Outdoor seating is available.

Beard Awards off the table

There will be no James Beard Award winners in the Restaurant and Chef categories this year because of the pandemic, the New York-based James Beard Foundation announced last week, and the 2021 awards have been canceled.

That was bad news for Maine, whose chefs dominated the Best Chef: Northeast category. Four of the six nominees were from Maine. They are Vien Dobui of Cong Tu Bot in Portland; Ben Jackson of Drifters Wife in Portland; Krista Kern Desjarlais of The Purple House in North Yarmouth; and, jointly, Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley of the Palace Diner in Biddeford.

The Sept. 25 online awards ceremony will focus on honoring the finalists and previously announced winners.

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