LINCOLNVILLE—It’s been more than a year since Michael and Karrie Nowak moved into their new home and turnkey inn, the Youngtown Inn, and now they are finally ready to put the word out that Aster & Rose, the inn’s renovated restaurant, has found its stride.
The couple previously owned a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, called The Black Pig, and had been contemplating moving to the coast of Maine with their three children for a number of years. With Karrie’s relatives in Gardiner and Portland, and the timing of the pandemic, it made sense to the Nowaks to sell their restaurant, the building, and their house in Cleveland and move up to Maine in the summer of 2021.
“I spent a number of years in Vermont as well and we always knew we wanted to move back to New England,” said Michael. “After taking a number of trips back up here, we knew we wanted to make that a reality. We were looking for a commercial property and The Youngtown Inn checked all of the boxes.”
After Labor Day, 2021, the couple took over from MaryAnn and Manuel Mercier, who’d owned the inn and restaurant for 30 years. The changes made to the restaurant were subtle. They updated the electronic/internet infrastructure along with some structural work. The restaurant’s ambiance also transformed into the sage and stone look that it has now with all-new lighting fixtures. In addition, the tiny bar with six seats and a cozy fireplace received an upgrade as well.
Initially, Michael only cooked breakfast and dinner for the guests of the inn. As they needed to hire staff and research purveyors, it seemed premature at the time to open to the public.in 2021.
“When we first took over, we planned on just doing a traditional bed and breakfast for the guests,” he said. But being way out in the center of Lincolnville, some of their guests couldn’t get dinner reservations or didn’t want to drive very far to go to dinner. Some guests still had pre-fixe packages they’d purchased before the sale of the Youngtown Inn, which the Nowaks honored by cooking them special dinners.
That process of opening to the public happened gradually within a few months after a few pop-up weekend dinners.
The pared-down menu, which changes daily based on the seasonal ingredients Michael can get, is hearty. Trained in French techniques as well as at a French culinary school, Michael said his cooking is very influenced by the region but with ingredients that are seasonally available. Beyond that, his first chef position was in an Italian restaurant, which has contributed to his passion for making pasta by hand.
“I fused it all together into this old-school European style of cooking—a lot of Italian-style and French technique on the menu, which is why you’ll see a traditional French paté next to cavatelli and fettuccine,” he said.
The Nowaks were settled on keeping The Youngtown Inn’s original name for the inn.
“This area is historically known as The Youngtown region and there was no reason why we wanted to change that,” he said.
The name of the new restaurant comes from the birth flowers of September and June, correlating with Michael and Karrie’s birthdays.
“We’ve had a lot of locals hear about us by word of mouth and come back again and again,” he said. “What we’re definitely seeing now is a dining room full of people who live here year-round.”
Though the doors have been open to the public for quite some time, the restaurant’s popularity has come predominately from word of mouth.
“We want people to know that the restaurant is separate from the inn and welcome to all,” he said.
Dinner service: Wed through-Sat at 5 p.m. For more information visit: Aster & Rose
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org