Bolognese meets Benjamin Franklin at Astaire and Rose in Lincolnville

Brian Kevin
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From our October 2023 issue.

When the Young family arrived at the foot of Megunticook Mountain in 1777, the plantation around them was called Canaan, after the biblical Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. By the time the Youngs built their sprawling farmhouse, around 1810, the town around them had become Lincolnville, and in subsequent generations the Youngs’ farm became milk and egg country: first a dairy farm, then a laying hen farm. .

Nowaki with daughter Colette and waitress Aster and Rose Mary Menn..

Today it is the land of milk and wine—or could become so if you order chef Michael Novak’s superb Bolognese at Aster & Rose, the modest modern European restaurant he and his wife Carrie opened in 2022 in what is now Youngtown . Hotel. Chef Novak’s Bolognese is a flavorful combination of slow-braised pork, beef and lamb, a triple-threat protein served over fettuccine noodles that he makes at home almost every day. It’s a gourmet standard on a fairly protein-heavy menu that otherwise changes frequently with the seasons, and it has its origins in his produce at the Black Pig meat restaurant, a highly regarded farm-to-table establishment with French influences. The Novaks owned out of Cleveland before moving to Maine in 2021.

“We vacationed here a lot and felt like this was our place,” Carrie, a New Hampshire native with family roots in Maine, explained when I stopped by recently. “We were staying in Stockton Springs in 2019 and I saw an ad for this nice inn in Lincolnville: land, restaurant and six rooms.” Two of the things they wanted; running a hotel was not part of their plans. But the following year, due to COVID, The Black Pig was closed and Carrie’s corporate job was restructured. The couple thought, “Hey, we can become innkeepers if it helps fulfill the Maine dream.”

The Novaks, who now live next door with their three children, are not the first to look at the Young family and see the Promised Land. The white clapboard farmhouse became a hotel back in the ’80s after the collapse of the Midcoast poultry industry. Before the Novaks, it was run for 30 years by Marianne and Manuel Mercier, who raised their three children in Youngtown Corner and built a loyal clientele. Mercier’s dining room was elegant with white tablecloths, and Manuel, classically trained in his native France, was known for his delicate sauces and lobster ravioli.

The Novaks’ approach at Aster & Rose is more relaxed. On a recent visit, I sat alone at the cozy bar, dressed in a Chaco and hoodie, attacking a plate of fettuccine Bolognese and downing an Oxbow pilsner, admiring the patterned wallpaper that features Benjamin Franklin blowing a large pink bubble gum bubble. It’s the quirkiest of the modern touches the Novaks have brought to the place, including new furniture and fixtures. “We did this for a reason,” says Michael. — Let’s just say this is a frivolous room – come here at any time for a snack and a cocktail.

The adjacent dining room is a little more serious, but still far from stuffy. The white tablecloths were gone. The ambience is that of a country farmhouse with wide plank floors, exposed wood beams, sheer drapes and just a few bright landscape paintings. When my wife and I showed up for our date, our co-diners were mostly in street clothes, with a few Boomers in blazers and pearls. The menu was simple, six main courses, each described in less than a dozen words, half protein (including a fish dish – scallops on my visit) and half pasta (chef Novak, although trained in French technique, cut his teeth in Italian restaurant).

We started with a salad of local greens, lion’s mane and oyster mushrooms grown at Troy Murit Hill Farm, lightly dressed with tahini dressing and cooked decadently with a beautiful poached egg on top. We foolishly skipped the chicken liver toast, which I now know is the only key item on the ever-changing starter menu. It’s Chef Novak’s favorite seasonal staple, topped with pickled shallots, spiced honey and pistachios on my first visit, and then pickled strawberries when I returned a few weeks later. Our non-pasta entrees were hearty and satisfying: bistro steak on a bed of broccolini and nutty onion farro was as tender as it gets. The perfectly seared duck breast got a little sweetness from a citrus demi-glace and vegetable and apple hashish (Midcoast purveyors like Morrill’s Calyx Farm and Hope’s Three Bug Farm stock the kitchen).

Dessert was a slice of cheesecake with spiced pineapple and toasted coconut, raspberry chocolate custard and a dollop of healthy mascarpone mousse, both served on colorful, irregularly shaped ceramic plates. From start to finish, this experience is a happy medium between classic and rustic. The Novaks say this is by design, despite the Ben Franklin wallpaper.

“There’s more to my style of cooking than meets the eye, with lots of little prep steps and nuances that you won’t necessarily read on the menu,” says Michael. “But we don’t want to make anything too modern or too wild. We’re committed to affordable food that you know lives up to the 210-year-old Colonial farmhouse in Camden Hills.

Down East Magazine, October 2023

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