This is the country’s most talked-about restaurant, but you’ll need to get a little lost—and mail a love letter—to find it.
The Lost Kitchen is an unlikely success story. First, there’s the matter of where it is: in the rural town of Freedom, Maine, 17 miles from the coast, surrounded by farmland and backcountry roads, near towns like Unity and Liberty. You can count the buildings in Freedom on one hand: There’s a general store, a gas station, a post office, and the Lost Kitchen itself, in an 1834 mill building, perched over a stream.
Then there’s the matter of the restaurant’s story. It’s helmed by a self-taught chef, Erin French, a Freedom native who spent her teenage years working at the local diner. She started the Lost Kitchen as a series of under-the-radar dinners in her small apartment, then saved to open a real restaurant, one floor below. The Lost Kitchen took off, until one day French arrived to find padlocks on the doors, her grandmother’s china and every pot and pan locked inside: the Lost Kitchen, lost in a contentious divorce. French rebuilt, renovating an Airstream and serving pop-up dinners across Maine before she got word that the falling-down mill in Freedom had been saved and was in need of a tenant. She moved in and fitted everything herself, sourcing vintage appliances from old farmhouses, building the dining tables by hand, and scouring antiques stores for tableware.
In its current iteration, the Lost Kitchen has eight tables and one seating a night, and French and her team of women servers and cooks do it all: one server grows the flowers, another raises the chickens. French cooks the multi-course meals on the spot, in the open kitchen, with no menu in mind, drawing only from what’s available that day, recipes learned from her mother and grandmother, and the simple flavors of Maine. The ink on the menus is barely dry when guests arrive: They’re printed just before the seating each night—until then, what will be served is in flux.
It’s an unlikely success story, but a wild success it is: In the four years it’s been open, French has written a cookbook,The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine. It used to be that on April 1 the phone lines would open for the summer’s reservations, but after the phone lines crashed, French turned to a more old-fashioned system last year: Prospective diners sent in a handwritten postcard, postmarked between the dates of April 1 and April 10, to be considered for a coveted seat at the table. French received almost 20,000 postcards: They fill buckets in the small office beside the dining room.
Starting today, The Lost Kitchen is accepting postcards for the 2019 season; see all of the details here. Unless you’re one of the lucky few, though, you may never get inside the Lost Kitchen. Consider this a glimpse.
Photography by Greta Rybus for Remodelista.
Landed a spot at the Lost Kitchen, and need a place to stay the night? Might we suggest the guest bedrooms at High Ridge Farm, a 20-minute drive.
Take a look more hidden gems in Maine, as part of The Maine Line issue:
- The House that Craigslist Built: A Bare-Bones Farmhouse in Midcoast Maine
- On Our Radar: 4 Up-and-Coming Ceramicists to Watch in Maine
- Into the Wild: Evangeline Linens in Portland, Maine
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on August 17, 2018.