Plein air painting has long been a tradition at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. It was the views of the meadows and marshlands that surround the Lieutenant River that drew impressionist painters to the area in the first place, and they spent many a hot summer day eating, drinking, and making merry on the porch of Miss Florence’s boarding house.
So it seems fitting that the dining experience at Café Flo would be similarly al fresco, with tables set on a shady veranda with the option for diners to take picnic baskets on to the lawn that slopes gently down to the riverbank.
first started offering meals two years ago, but the service was cafeteria style and food was only available Friday through Sunday. So opening Café Flo, a full-service restaurant that seats about 30, for lunch every day from Tuesday through Sunday was something of an experiment.
Frankly, no one at the museum expected it to be such a big hit.
“It has been really phenomenal,” said Donna Carlson, assistant to the museum director. “Even Tuesdays are busy, which was kind of a shock to us. We’ve had a lot of local support and word seems to be getting out that the food is excellent and good value.”
The restaurant, which opened June 1, is run in partnership with Gourmet Galley, a catering business based in North Stonington, which handles all the food preparation. Gourmet Galley owner Anna Lathrop and Chef Connie Hotz work together to create a seasonal menu that takes full advantage of the abundant local produce and all the herbs are picked fresh daily from the Florence Griswold House gardens.
The most popular dishes on the early summer menu seem to be the French chicken with lemon, thyme, and truffle oil, the grilled marinated pork, the cast iron skillet roasted cod and the lobster BLT (the B stands for BIG, not bacon!), but there are daily specials such as oysters on the half shell too.
“It’s been going very well,” said Hotz, as she worked side-by-side with her daughter, Allison, in a kitchen filled with the aromatic scent of truffle oil. “We’re getting busier every day.”
The menu is going to change on July 17 to reflect the seasonal options available in midsummer, Hotz said, and there will be a different menu in the fall to carry the café through to the end of October. Although tables can be moved indoors in case of rain (where large French doors and big windows still offer a spectacular view of the river), the official dining area is the veranda so the café won’t stay open year-round.
The museum isn’t running the restaurant as a profit center, Carlson said. “We see it more as a service to our visitors,” she said. “People always come in asking where they can eat, so it’s an added value.”
The fact that it’s located on one of the prettiest spots in Connecticut can’t help but entice people back for seconds. No doubt, Miss Florence and the painters she hosted would approve.
Café Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum is open Tues.-Sat. from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Reservations are only required for parties of six or more and picnicking is also an option. The restaurant will pack a picnic basket loaded with anything you order from the menu and even give you a blanket to sit on. Admission to the museum is not required to enter the café.
For more information, call (860) 434-5542.