While the artists who founded the Old Lyme Art Colony in Florence Griswold's home were indisputably talented, they owe some of their success to the hospitality and inspiration of their landlady.
Visitors now flock to the charming yellow home-turned-museum to admire the American Impressionism paintings and get a feel for the way Miss Florence and the artists lived. The museum also is extending its namesake's hospitality in another way.
Café Flo, a full-service lunch spot, is open for another season through Oct. 27. Guests can choose to dine at tables under the veranda's protection or picnic-style on the lawn that slopes down to the Lieutenant River. Café patrons also can admire an outdoor sculpture called the Anticipator. New York-based artist Matthew Geller began with the dead tree trunk of a Star Magnolia, a tree planted by Miss Florence during the 1920s. He outfitted the tree with three Corten steel bionic branches that emit colored light and mist.
The wait staff takes orders and serves guests who sit on the veranda, while the picnickers place an order for their food and are supplied with a blanket and a straw basket containing their choices. New this season is the "Partake" series of monthly, themed dinners throughout the warm weather months.
Although museum officials see the café as a convenient way for art lovers to spend more time at the Flo-Gris, admission to the museum is not a requirement.
"Our visitors were always asking if we had some food service available," says Tammi Flynn, the museum's director of marketing. "It does help them to extend their visit here. They can see the historic house and have a little lunch and then go to the gallery." The café is now in its fourth season.
Anna Lathrop, owner of Gourmet Galley Catering in Stonington, wrote the eclectic menu and prepares the food. As a full-time caterer, she jokes that the café "will be the only quasi-restaurant I ever own" but says that creating the menu and running the seasonal café is "very exciting."
The clientele is similarly eclectic -- museum volunteers and regulars, families with young children, and locals "looking for a new, fun place to go," she says -- and the offerings must entice all of these groups. The menu features appetizers such as tuna tartare with wonton crisps and vegetarian black bean chili; six salad choices; two heartier entrees based on cod and chicken, and housemade desserts. Among the sandwich offerings are a vegetable sandwich with sprouts and homemade mayonnaise, a steak sandwich and an old standby that has mostly disappeared from most menus. "Who has a liverwurst sandwich on the menu?" Lathrop asks. "I have to say it's one of our most popular sandwiches."
The "Partake" dinners, whose menus are inspired by an exhibit, allow Lathrop "to think out of the box." Lathrop begins by visiting the exhibit, which, for the next dinner on July 24, is linked to artist and naturalist Willard Metcalf's collection of birds' eggs, nests and shells. "When I saw the nests, I thought I could do a lot with [that idea]," she says. The amuse-bouche, which will be served to guests as they arrive along with a robin's egg blue cocktail, will be a potato nest with crème fraiche and caviar.
Translating the butterflies into a food idea had Lathrop stumped until she thought of butterflied leg of lamb, which will be grilled and served with tzatziki sauce. For the dessert, Lathrop plans to frost and decorate individual egg-shaped cakes to resemble the eggs in the permanent exhibit.
"Anna has been totally wonderful and playful and thoughtful about the menu," Flynn says, adding that the dinner event will feature a brief talk about the Metcalf collection. The dinner will take place July 24 at 6:30 p.m. and cost $75, including the program, food and wines. Seating is limited. For reservations, call Donna Carlson at 860-434-5542, ext. 118, or email her at email@example.com.
Café Flo will be closed July 27, the day of the Market En Plein Air festival on the grounds of the museum. However, the Gourmet Galley staff will set up under a tent near the river to serve breakfast and lunch during the event, which features a canine competition, an artisans fair, a farmers' market, music, children's activities and more.
CAFÉ FLO is at the Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (last seating at 2:30 p.m.); and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. (last seating at 3:30 p.m.), through Oct. 27. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more. Admission to the museum is not required to dine in the café. Information: 860-434-5542 and www.flogris.org
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