Salt of the Earth Bistro
By Nicole Navarro
Photography by Tim Behuniak
Upscale eating isn’t just affordable at Salt of the Earth Bistro, it’s approachable. Familiar favorites made with gravy boast trout instead of chicken, then get twisted with a nod to green bean casserole. Venison and wild boar transform the classic Salisbury steak into a gourmet culinary delight served with “honest” mashed potatoes. Think gourmet chef takes on the TV dinner.
When renovating a turn of the century farm house on Sentinel Road in Lake Placid into Salt of the Earth Bistro, owners Andrea and Dennis Lautenschuetz did most of the handiwork themselves. Their budget was tight. Even if they could have afforded it, placing their vision into the hands of a contractor isn’t their style, anyway. They are the do-it-yourself types, through and through.
Embodying the very spirit of the name chosen for their restaurant, Andrea and Dennis exude the determination and pluck of the people who came before them, whose black and white photos line the walls. While gesturing toward a photo gallery of relatives, which include those of front-of-the-house manager Liz Arnold, Andrea said, “It’s not just me and Dennis who are doing this, it is because of all of these people. We come from a long line of family members who were very hardworking people. They made this possible.”
Opening a restaurant in a house off the beaten path was a bold move. Salt of the Earth Bistro is on the wrong side of the tracks as far as Lake Placid dining traffic is concerned. Competing with over 70 restaurants in the tourist town, Andrea opted for a new concept in a sea of the same old stuff. She wanted to make the eclectic comfortable, and her risks are paying off; the place is booming. A second renovation to add additional seating was in order shortly after opening just one year ago.
Remaking the house into a commercially usable space involved ten- hour days pulling up the thick, long, nails in the original wooden floors and tearing up six layers of linoleum in the now redesigned kitchen. Beneath the layers, they unearthed a hand painted floor leveled with newspaper classifieds from the 1920s listing shirtwaists for sale.
The sense of history unearthed is palpable. Like the layers of linoleum, layers of thought and meaning are imparted into every menu item and design choice, as if the restaurant is enchanted. Guests feel like they are cozied up in chef Andrea’s living, breathing muse.
Andrea, a Paul Smith’s culinary school graduate, earned her stripes cooking in some of Lake Placid’s swankiest spots. She had something very different in mind, however, when the opportunity to go out on her own presented itself a few years ago. She wanted a place where restaurant workers could afford the type of fine dining experience they create for others in an atmosphere where anyone would feel at home.
In the kitchen she is completely at ease working with her restaurant family: an all-female staff that has known one another for years. Dennis hadn’t planned on working shifts until he was thrown into the fire on opening night. He has been there ever since.
At the request of her mother-in-law, Andrea included spaghetti and meatballs on her menu, but she had to find a way to make it her own. This challenge inspired one of their most popular dishes: the rabbit meatball appetizer. Crisped, golden colored meatballs are served in a tomato tikka masala sauce on a bed of pearled ginger couscous. Revealing her culinary prowess, Andrea laughed, “It kind of reminds me of Spaghetti O’s.”
Soft and chewy, glazed in just the right amount of red sauce and imbued with transcendental powers, one bite of the couscous takes you to a 1980s living room. Suddenly, you are watching TV with a bowl in your lap and a bad haircut. It tastes like something a woke Chef Boyardee would make after leading a successful rebellion against highly processed food. At Salt of the Earth, eating rabbit is as second nature as opening a tin can. Mysteriously, Andrea’s style captures the soothing feel of familiar food staples, but with twists that radicalize her dishes well beyond the status quo.
The small menu has something for all tastes and dietary lifestyles, and changes when the time feels right. This usually coincides with the seasons or random flashes of inspiration drawn from life experiences. Childhood memories, artwork, a map of the world, and even local sentiment could inspire the menu’s trajectory. Andrea is working on a new menu to perk up the drab shoulder season when tourists vanish. She would like to offer some comfort to locals contending with ice and mud from the flip flopping thaws and freezes that characterize spring in the Adirondacks.
Salt of the Earth Bistro is a gastronomic jewel for people from all walks of like, standing out amongst a restaurant scene crowded with basics. You’ll want to stay for a while, and they hope you will. Enjoy discovering how food can be used to serve sincerity and delight in the creation of a funky chef whose secret ingredient is salt.
For more information on Salt of the Earth Bistro, visit their Facebook page.