Five hundred forty-four is not a lot of square feet for a restaurant, but it’s what James Beard-nominated chef Krista Kern Desjarlais has to work with at the aptly-named Purple House, opening in North Yarmouth, Maine next week. Inside, there’s not much — just one homey dining table, a coffee set up, and the centerpiece: a wood-fired oven Desjarlais built into the side of the house. Located about a 30-minute drive north of Portland, the area is not really known as a dining hub. “There's an Agway, a diner, a farm store, a gas station, a real estate office, and an insurance office," the chef said earlier this year. But while it all sounds — and frankly, looks — unassuming, the Purple House is without a doubt one of the most exciting openings of the season nationwide.
Wood-fired cooking has captured the imaginations of America’s chefs this year, and plenty of chefs have dedicated menu space to hearth. But at Purple House, the oven is synonymous with the kitchen itself. “I am one of those people who loves working with fire,” Desjarlais said earlier this year. “You work in front of a range like I did for 30 years, putting yourself in front of live fire; it's fun. It's very visceral.”
The rhythm of the oven will dictate the rhythm of the menu: Montreal-style bagels and house-smoked fish in the morning, then as the oven cools, more delicate baked goods can follow. Oven-baked Roman pizzas will be offered for lunch, and diners can also choose from vegetable dishes and hearth breads like boule and baguettes. Along with baked goods, the Purple House will also serve espresso drinks with little competition in town.
But while the Purple House is by and large a daytime operation, Desjarlais is best known in Maine for her pioneering work at the beloved, now-closed Bresca in Portland and the more-casual Bresca & the Honey Bee in North Gloucester. Like many other openings this fall, the Purple House is fundamentally a two-for-one deal: Bakery and lunch cafe by day, occasional dinner destination by night, where she can tap back into her fine-dining roots. She’s told Eater to expect 10-12 seat dinners inspired by themes “completely dictated by the time of year, ingredients, or a style of service." She hopes to launch the dinner series in January or February, “once we are settled in the baking routine,” she said. That’s a whole lot of plans for not a whole lot of restaurant, and it’s what makes the Purple House worth watching this winter.
Until then, have a closer look around:
- The 23 Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of Fall 2016 [E]
- The Hottest Restaurants in Maine Right Now, December 2016 [EME]
- All Maine Coverage on Eater [E]