Former Portland restaurateur opens new Montreal-style bagel cafe

bagel

The latest greater Portland food revelation is not in the Old Port, or even East Bayside. SoPo? No. No.

Twenty-two minutes from Portland is all it takes to reach bagel nirvana.

Tucked away at the intersection of routes 9 and 115 in North Yarmouth lies The Purple House, an open bakery/restaurant/cafe run by one of Portland’s former top chefs.

Open for one month, Krista Desjarlais’ wood-fired gourmet cottage is a vision of international cool. Should you need proof that her thinner, dense, wood-fired Montreal-style bagels are superior to Manhattan’s bloated cousins, get there now.

On Sunday, Desjarlais, the chef/owner behind Portland’s top-tier and long gone Bresca restaurant, stood at the hearth removing thick slices of pizza as customers seated at the community table inches away nodded at each other in silent ecstasy.

“I’m basically self taught in all things cooking. I worked for some really talented chefs as I came up the ranks, but often I worked alone, especially for baking and pastry,” said Desjarlais, who runs the seasonal Bresca And The Honey Bee At Outlet Beach at Sabbathday Lake. 

Krista

Desjarlais at her helm.

Everything this James Beard finalist learned along the way is paying off now. Her daily lineup of bagels runs from traditional sesame to Za’atar, an earthy Arabic spice, to specials like bittersweet chocolate with maple sugar sea salt and olive oil. There is nothing traditional about their texture or taste.

“The flavor imparted from the wood fire is a beautiful thing,” said Desjarlais.

Smoky and nourishing, these bagels are perfect vehicles for house-cured gravlax (with maple sugar, salt, peppercorn, dill and juniper) and trout roe cured with sake.

Inventive bagel sandwiches like the Orange Flannel, smoked ham, smoked cheddar, hot sauce, pickled Fresno, and maple egg will renew your faith in the joys of carefree carb devouring.

bages yes

Desjarlais also cures salmon for bagel classics like lox with capers, tomatoes, onions and chives. We sunk our teeth into this epic option (perfect moisture quotient) with glee. She’ll start to make pastries soon, like brioche, but it will take some time for locals to eat their way through the bounty of bagels. And she is in no rush. The opening of The Purple House was delayed a year so the baker, who renovated an old cottage down to the studs, could get it right. This is one chef who knows the importance of timing.

Far from a footnote is the Purple House drink of choice: Speedwell Coffee. This coffee roasted in Massachusetts is another discovery that makes this spot an instant destination. Desjarlais spent months sampling java from indie roasters and settled on Speedwell, an artisan cup that’s a nice change up from Speckled Ax, Bard and CBD. Portland’s beloved roasters all have a presence in these parts now. And Speedwell can go cup for cup. The compact barista station serves up espresso, matcha green tea lattes and cold brew too.

purl haus

Pick your slice in the open cafe.

Beyond the caffeine, there is a buzz in the air when you step inside the Purple House. Joe Jackson is the soundtrack, a fire is ablaze, and a wooden bowl filled with homemade bagels makes your eyes well up with delight.

A mere 22 minutes outside Portland, you’ll be making up excuses to visit North Yarmouth again and again.

Hours are 8 a.m.to 2 p.m. 378 Walnut Hill Road, North Yarmouth. Open Thursday through Sunday. Closed on Wednesdays for the month of March. 

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.