Andrea Lautenschuetz photograph by Yvonne Albinowski
In Lake Placid, globally inspired comfort food
Ask any chef the most essential weapon in their culinary arsenal and they’ll likely mention salt. Though rarely the star ingredient, it has the power to make or break a dish.
When Andrea Lautenschuetz chose Salt of the Earth as the name of her Lake Placid restaurant, which opened last March in a renovated house on Sentinel Avenue, it was partly in tribute to that workhorse of the spice rack. But it was also representative of the Buffalo native’s blue-collar background—her father was an electrician, her mother taught typing—and her conviction that good food shouldn’t be reserved for the elite.
“When I was doing market research,” Lautenschuetz says, “I saw a statistic that the median income of Tri-Lakes [Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake] residents is one-third of what visitors make”—and most Lake Placid restaurants cater to the latter. Her idea was to offer “good, homemade food at a decent price,” presented in an upscale way without being “hoity-toity.”
Entrées range from $11 for a “plain Jane” hamburger, served with bacon jam and cheddar on a home-baked roll and a choice of sides, to $31 for a strip steak with roasted red pepper, horseradish potatoes and a creamed spinach sauce, with most entrées priced somewhere in between.
Thirty-six-year-old Lautenschuetz first moved to the Adirondacks for the culinary program at Paul Smith’s College and refined her technique with stints at restaurants in Sancerre, France, and Alaska, as well as the Lake Placid Lodge and the Interlaken Inn, in Lake Placid.
She changes up the menu an item or two at a time, offering playful takes on childhood favorites that often incorporate game or international flavors. A Salisbury steak evokes memories of the tin-foil-covered TV dinners she begged her mother to buy; her grown-up version, a customer favorite, uses venison and wild boar in a mushroom gravy. Rabbit meatballs are served in a tikka masala sauce with ginger couscous. Fried chicken with mole sauce and sweet potato waffles are an homage to the pancakes at her last job, as executive chef at Chair 6, a popular Lake Placid restaurant that closed two years ago.
Lautenschuetz was already in the process of writing her business plan in May 2016 when Chair 6 abruptly closed two days after her wedding. (In keeping with their un-fussy style, Andrea and Dennis Lautenschuetz were wed in the studio of Fitness Revolution, the Lake Placid gym where they were both working part-time when they met.)
“I got married on Saturday, and on Monday I found out I didn’t have a job,” she says. Her in-laws, who own the property behind Salt of the Earth, had bought the house with the idea that the kids could run it as a bed-and-breakfast (in a previous incarnation it had been the Blackberry Inn), but Lautenschuetz saw the building’s potential as a restaurant. With a loan from the Essex County Industrial Development Agency, Lautenschuetz, her husband and father-in-law—a former plumber—set about renovating the downstairs almost entirely on their own.
The decor is what Lautenschuetz describes as Victorian farmhouse meets Grandma’s kitchen, with calming blue walls and an eclectic combination of antiques and whimsical DIY touches. Most items have a story behind them: The host stand is a pulpit from an Essex church. A wall assemblage displays Dennis’s aunt’s china. A chandelier is made from cheese graters, a table lamp from an airplane engine part (Dennis is a commercial charter pilot). Oldies music—driven by Lautenschuetz’s affection for ’80s movies like Dirty Dancing and La Bamba—adds to the vintage vibe.
After less than a year in business, Salt of the Earth has already expanded the dining room’s seating capacity. Andrea and Dennis recently purchased the building from his parents, with plans to renovate the upstairs as a long-term rental. Over Christmas week, she says, she did as much business as she had forecasted three years out. Word of mouth has brought in locals and visitors alike, despite the restaurant being on “the other side of town” from most of the tourist action on Main Street. Reservations are a must.
In the expanded back room hang Andrea and Dennis’s old family photographs, as well as a few from Liz Arnold, the front-of-house manager, who also worked at Chair 6. “These are the salt of the earth people,” Lautenschuetz says. “It’s a reminder of where you came from. We didn’t do this on our own.”
Salt of the Earth Bistro (www.saltoftheearthbistro.com, 518-523-5956, 5956 Sentinel Avenue, Lake Placid) is open for dinner Wednesday through Monday.