Suzanne Lombardi, who founded Dancing Deer Baking Co. and Tiny Trapeze Confections, noticed she was spending more time at a desk running these wholesale operations and missed her time in the kitchen. She wanted to open a retail operation where she lived, saw the opportunity to enhance the culinary scene in the area, and longed for interaction with customers.
These three things propelled her to open The Plate, a small (about 800 square feet) bakery-café in Milton. She’s happy to be back in the kitchen — an open kitchen that allows her to meet her customers, some of whom she knows from growing up in Milton.
A self-described “sandwich freak,” Lombardi says she “loved everything between two pieces of good bread,” and the concept behind The Plate grew from there.
It was important to her to offer seasonal food and make everything from scratch, right down to a house-made vegetable stock for soups. She also sources ingredients from nearby farms and vendors, including Brookwood Community Farm, Thatcher Farms, and Kinneally Meat.
The café has a few patio tables and umbrellas out front, and planters outside the restaurant forgo the usual flowers in favor of sprouted onions, a touch that seems appropriate for a restaurant touting its use of seasonal ingredients.
Inside is minimal seating, making the cafe better suited to takeout but not inconvenient for dining in. A friendly cashier greets customers at the main counter, which is lined with baked goods, such as croissants and muffins, running down to the soup pots at the other end.
Smoky tomato soup ($3.50) is always available and accompanied by a daily soup described as “something seasonal.” On this particular day, it was roasted cauliflower bisque ($3.50).
Plates on the wall announce the signature sandwiches (many can also be made as salads), and a cold case contains take-home meals and bottled drinks. Shelves display house-made sauces and jams, from BBQ rub ($6.79) to basil jelly ($7) to curried apricot ketchup ($7).
Sandwiches range from savory to sweet, good for breakfast or just right for a hearty lunch. Egg sandwiches ($5.75) are available every morning and all day on Sunday. This is not your typical egg and cheese. The egg (fried, local, and organic) and cheese (cheddar) are layered inside a house-made English muffin, along with roasted tomatoes and aïoli. If you want, you can add ham or cob-smoked bacon for $1.
Lombardi says the egg sandwich embodies what she set out to do: take something usually mass-produced and do it right, so people will come back and say it’s the best egg sandwich they have ever had.
On weekends, there’s the Nutella and bacon sandwich ($5), combining smoky bacon and a generous layer of Nutella in between thick slices of grilled sweet, soft brioche French toast dusted with confectioners’ sugar. This dessert-like breakfast sandwich is a solid choice for those who opt for sweet stuff over eggs for breakfast and offers a way to eat French toast on the go.
At lunchtime, a buttery grilled cheese sandwich ($6.75) consisting of grilled pain de mie filled with a combination of Gruyère and farmhouse cheddar, whole-grain mustard, and marinated shallots hits the spot, with flavors that make for a more sophisticated version of the classic kids’ sandwich.
A roasted eggplant panini ($7.50) with salsa verde, fresh mozzarella, and roasted tomato pressed inside ciabatta bread is fresh-flavored and bright, with sweet notes from the tomato accenting the roasty undertones of the tender eggplant.
Lombardi says the chicken salad sandwich ($8) was developed for the fall, but has stayed on the menu because of demand. It’s made from Bell & Evans chicken that’s poached, then shredded by hand. The chicken is mixed with apple jelly and mayo (both homemade), toasted pecans, and chopped Granny Smith apples. The chicken salad will take on lemon-herb flavorings when the warm weather arrives, but the fall version will still be available in the take-home case.
The emphasis on seasonal ingredients is evident in these dishes, and Lombardi says that at the height of the growing season, customers may see milk crates filled with produce such as Japanese eggplant, just-picked tomatoes, and herbs.
The Plate’s mac and cheese is made daily and available for dining in or to take home and bake, with the take-home version ($8.50) packed in an oven-safe disposable dish. The mixture of Gruyère and Vermont aged cheddar gives the pasta an intense cheesy flavor enjoyed by kids and adults alike. House-made buttery bread crumbs on top provide a savory crunch to contrast with the creamy macaroni.
Since February, The Plate has been offering take-home meals on Thursday and Friday evenings, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. (or until they’re gone). The choices change every four weeks, and simple instructions accompany the food, so a restaurant-quality dinner can be made at home quickly.
On one visit, there were braised short ribs ($14) and buttered pappardelle noodles ($4). On another, locally made apple-chicken sausage with a white bean and Swiss chard ragout ($11). Rich, saucy short ribs accompanied by pearl onions and carrots over warm pappardelle noodles reheated in no time at all, and the portion size was generous for two.
Sweet treats such as cookies ($1.75), brownies ($2.50), and pound cake are a nice finish to any meal. A cupcake ($2.75) with raspberry frosting and pearl sugar is moist and exudes fresh raspberry flavor. The frosting is just sweet enough but not over the top.
The Plate also offers an extensive catering menu, and can assemble platters of breakfast pastries or desserts.Megan Ginsberg writes about food at her blog Delicious Dishings (megan-deliciousdishings.blogspot.com).