IN THE KITCHEN Chef-owner Suzanne Lombardi is well known in the food world for starting and selling Dancing Deer Baking Co., and then doing the same for the now Whole Foods-owned candy business, Tiny Trapeze Confections. Locally, loyal fans love her bakery and sandwich shop, The Plate, which opened in 2012 on Central Avenue in Milton near the Dorchester line. Her latest venture — The Plate @MiltonMarketplace — opened Jan. 5 on the second floor of the market building and is her first foray into a bona fide restaurant.
Lombardi said she was reluctant at first when the owners of the Milton Marketplace approached her with the idea. But following her philosophy of "never saying never," she realized the new spot made sense. Lombardi said her tiny Central Avenue location was far more successful than she'd ever expected and was "maxed out" in terms of space. The new restaurant would give her a big kitchen where chefs could bake for both places, and she'd be able to expand on her repertoire of "handcrafted comfort food" and provide enough indoor seats for people to stay and enjoy the food year-round.
Lombardi said she has hired "a great young chef," Tim Slason, to preside over the new kitchen, because "he really connected with our style of food," and while she plans to do more cooking, she's been busy busing tables and getting customer feedback.
"We're trying to do things thoughtfully and comfortably, but nothing trendy — just classic stuff that makes you feel good," she said.
Lombardi trained as a fine artist, and ended up in the culinary world by serendipity. But "working in a kitchen, I realized I was using all my artistic abilities, and I love to eat, too," she said.
She's found that running a restaurant is similar to theater: "You have to open the door every day, ready or not, you never know who's in the audience, and something unexpected always happens," she said.
THE LOCALE There had been a restaurant in the space above the Fruit Center in the Milton Marketplace for many years before it closed at the end of 2014, but the new one has an entirely different look. Gone are the dropped tile ceiling and carpet, ditto the traditional seating. The Plate is open and airy, two stories high with skylights and exposed wooden beams and shiny metal pipes. The concrete floor is polished to look like stone, and there's seating for 50 at wooden tables and counters.
"The idea was simple materials, not trendy or affected, just comfortable — kind of like our food, really," Lombardi said.
Customers line up cafeteria style to order from a menu posted on a big chalkboard and can choose to eat in or take out. Service is fast, and the general vibe is cheery and friendly.
ON THE MENU The menu is set up by the hour. There are early morning — 6:30 to 8 — treats: quick items intended for commuters and the sunrise gym crowd. Heartier breakfasts are served from 8 to 11 a.m., and lunch sandwiches, soups, and salads from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The mezze bar opens at 10:30 and lasts until the assortment of unusual grain and vegetable salads runs out.
Ingredients are often locally sourced and organic, and almost everything is made from scratch — including the soup stock, mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickles.
There is also a separate Sunday brunch menu served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We were intrigued by the bacon butty sandwich ($4.75), a take on a London street food that features locally smoked fat back bacon slathered with a house-made version of HP sauce and a dab of butter on a brioche roll.
Lombardi says the "signature" turkey meatloaf sandwich ($8.75) is a favorite, made with roasted turkey meatloaf made from scratch and served on ciabatta bread with a house-made curried apricot ketchup, curried mayonnaise, fresh fennel slaw, and melted fontina cheese.
We enjoyed the slightly tangy tomato fennel soup served with a tall, chewy biscuit ($5), and a satisfying roast beef sandwich ($8.75) accented with pickles, mustard, and a romesco sauce made with walnuts.
The Plate serves a wide variety of hot and cold coffee and tea and other drinks, as well as cookies and cakes.
10 Bassett St., second floor, Milton; 617-690-3494; www.theplatekitchen.com; open Tuesday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.