It was just last April that Michel Mahe opened creative burger-and-flatbread destination Park Squeeze in Vergennes. His sixth restaurant debuts this Saturday in Middlebury. Other eateries include Black Sheep Bistro, the Bearded Frog, Bobcat Café & Brewery and Next Door Bakery. The Lobby will be open seven days a week for dinner at 7 Bakery Lane, the three-floor, waterfront restaurant space most recently known as Jackson's on the River.
According to Mahe, diners who remember the red-and-yellow primary colors of Jackson's will only recognize the basic structure of the restaurant and its giant window overlooking Otter Creek. The redesign by Rebecca Duffy of RD Design includes a new, 1920s-style lounge and a dark-blue color scheme populated with vintage furniture. The walls are covered in chalkboards decorated with quotes from Julia Child and other witty chefs. A projector provides a backdrop of food-related photos from the 1940s and '50s.
The food does not adhere to the mid-century template of the décor. According to Mahe, "I think it's an accumulation of what we've learned in the last 15 years in Vermont ... For Middlebury, it’s not the usual and that’s why I did it."
As at Park Squeeze, a chunk of the Lobby's menu is devoted to burgers. All six versions are paired with a different roll baked for the restaurant at Bristol Bakery. A Moroccan-spiced lamb burger is served on a yellow curry bun with harissa yogurt and mint pesto. A filet mignon burger with Bearnaise sauce comes on a caramelized onion bun, while a cranberry-oat bun holds a bacon-and-Brie-stuffed turkey burger with herb gravy.
Though chef de cuisine Jeff Trump will be running the kitchen, Mahe says he's been exceptionally hands-on with the Lobby's menu. That means dishes that please the chef's own palate, such as wild boar ravioli and salad with a coffee-and-molasses duck spring roll. Entrées include nods to Mahe's French heritage such as duck cassoulet and braised artichoke cooked en papillote.
With several days left before opening, Mahe says some of the desserts still "live in my head." But if the chef successfully translates them to the plate, they'll include fried apple pie egg rolls with caramel sauce and homemade Oreos crafted from chocolate brownies and vanilla mascarpone.
Though the Lobby doesn't have one of Mahe's typical animal-themed names, his touch of culinary whimsy is still securely in place.