Restaurants

Find Out What It’s Like to Visit the Lost Kitchen, Maine’s Most Mysterious Restaurant

The remote, mill-set legend is one of the toughest places to score a reservation in America.


James Beard Award-nominated chef Erin French at work in the Lost Kitchen. / Photo by Greta Rybus

You may never find yourself with a reservation at the Lost Kitchen. But trust me: You should try to get one.

Every year, thousands of food-savvy travelers enter a long-odds lottery, hoping to land a table at this culinary oasis in rural Maine. So coveted are these seats, would-be diners must request reservations by snail-mailing postcards during a brief designated window. The prize: highly memorable, exquisitely prepared, and beautifully presented seasonal dishes from chef-owner Erin French, who randomly selects all the lucky winners before doors open for her seasonal restaurant. This year, roughly 1,100 cards were pulled from the nearly 20,000 received.

The reservation process might be challenging, but the vibe when I arrive with three friends for a late-spring outing is anything but inaccessible. In fact, the meticulously restored riverside mill has the feeling of a dinner party at your BFF’s farmhouse—if your bestie had an eye for design and a gift for pairing fresh, local fare with warm, personal service, that is. Big open windows bathe the post-and-beam timber-frame interior in evening sunlight, allowing the rush of water over the dam to double as background music. French not only presides over an open kitchen, but also serves every meal in the tiny dining room, moving nimbly around handcrafted wooden tables set with antique china and silver.

Even before the first proper course, we savor rounds of appetizers: a frame-worthy still life featuring cheeses, olives, and additional accoutrements, followed by oysters on the half shell and other nibbles. Each subsequent course sings spring: asparagus, chives, spring greens, pea tendrils, lamb, rhubarb. French sources ingredients from area farmers, fishermen, and foragers, so her daily-changing, four-course menu reflects the season down to the day and hour. “Sometimes, I don’t know what I’ll be making until a couple of hours before dinner,” she tells me later. Meanwhile, her mother, Deanna MacNeil, runs the wine shop and is on-hand to suggest pairings.

As daylight cedes to darkness, candle flames dance to the water music. After dessert, French—still smiling, still relaxed—takes a break to mingle with her guests. No one wants to break the spell, but eventually, we take our parting gift of cookies and slip into the night, reliving every minute of the enchanted evening—and celebrating our good luck.

The fruits of James Beard Award-nominated chef Erin French’s labor. / Photo by Nicole Franzen

The Lost Kitchen
Freedom, Maine
Miles from Boston: 194
207-382-3333, findthelostkitchen.com.

STAY

Pair artful food with equally artful lodging at 250 Main Hotel in Rockland (starting at $319 per night), just under an hour from secluded Freedom. Here, every floor doubles as an art gallery, and afternoon wine socials are held in the industrial-chic lobby or on the rooftop deck.

207-594-5994, 250mainhotel.com.

PLAY

Keep the arts theme going with visits to Rockland’s Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center or the Center for Maine Contemporary Art; both are an easy stroll from 250 Main. And take note: During First Friday Art Walks, the gallery-sprinkled downtown shines from 5 to 8 p.m.

farnsworthmuseum.org; cmcanow.org.

Read more about the Ultimate Five-Star Foodie Road Trip