Food as art at Café Flo

"Spring Lamb Ragu" is shown at a practice lunch on May 31 in preparation for the opening of Café Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.
"Spring Lamb Ragu" is shown at a practice lunch on May 31 in preparation for the opening of Café Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

The newest dining experience in Old Lyme turns out to be on the veranda of the Florence Griswold Museum, overlooking the bucolic and historic Lieutenant River.

The café, which seats up to 30 people, opened on June 1, serving up gourmet fare and beverages six days a week.

In its third season, Café Flo has expanded, both in hours and offerings, featuring foods created and prepared by Gourmet Galley, a North Stonington-based catering company run by Anna Lathrop.

"The idea of food is really a perfect complement to art, history and gardens," said Jeff Anderson, director of the museum. "This expansion is all part of the museum's growth and development as a destination, a place to linger for a couple of hours, and top off a new exhibition with lunch or dessert and coffee."

Three seasonal menus are planned to accent the flavors and local produce. The current one features chilled potato and leek soup, vegetarian black bean chili and a salad of farmers greens, warm goat cheese, roasted beets and walnuts. Of course, there's a plate of patés, perfect for an artist's picnic, along with a selection wines and beers.

The menu also surprises with dishes like Tuna Tartar, a lobster BLT and a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich with grilled marinated pork. The substantial Angus beef burger with boursin and avocado is sure to convince the manly type to make a trip to an art museum. There's also spring lamb ragu served on fresh pappardelle and skillet-roasted cod.

The children's menu includes grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, plus smaller plates off of the regular menu.

Desserts include exotic ice creams such as fig balsamic, basil Seville orange or burnt caramel chocolate nut served with freshly baked cookies.

Lathrop dreamt up the menu with an eye toward locals and museum patrons who want more than deli items for lunch.

"We love to make really delicious food that stands apart from the usual," says Lathrop, who is looking forward to the challenges and daily continuity of an ongoing café to expand beyond her usual catering of weddings and corporate events. The food is prepared at Gourmet Galley's kitchens in North Stonington with final preparation by its chefs in the Flo Gris kitchen.

Anderson said the success of two years serving a predominantly take-out menu of fresh salads and entrees on only Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Rafal Landscape Center, next to Miss Flo's gardens, convinced staff to make the commitment to a full-blown café on the veranda during the peak seasons of summer and fall.

"The riverfront views really take you back to the original inspiration for why the Lyme artists came here over 100 years ago," Anderson notes. "Food and cuisine well-prepared is a form of art; it is really a perfect marriage of our exhibitions and collections."

Café Flo will continue its tradition of picnic dinners "en plein air," packing up menu items in a picnic basket to enjoy on the grounds.

The café opened just in time for the ongoing GardenFest, which runs through June 10. "Blooms with a View: A Display of Art and Flowers" runs Friday through Sunday, featuring fresh floral interpretations paired with the "?Isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries" showing three centuries of art movements.

Museum admission is not required to eat at the restaurant, which is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (final seating at 2 p.m.) Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Reservations are suggested; to make a reservation, call 860-434-5542, ext. 126, or stop by the café at the start of your museum visit. flogris.org

Nicole Wholean, left, and Sarah Carpenter sample lunch on May 31 at Café Flo, housed at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.
Nicole Wholean, left, and Sarah Carpenter sample lunch on May 31 at Café Flo, housed at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
Lobster BLT is served at a practice lunch at Café Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.
Lobster BLT is served at a practice lunch at Café Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
Anna Lathrop of Gourmet Galley Catering plates Tuna Tartar.
Anna Lathrop of Gourmet Galley Catering plates Tuna Tartar. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
Chef Connie Hotz plates Cast-Iron-Skillet-Roasted Cod dish during a practice lunch last week at Café Flo.
Chef Connie Hotz plates Cast-Iron-Skillet-Roasted Cod dish during a practice lunch last week at Café Flo. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Café Flo's Pappardelle with Lamb Ragů

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 carrot, finely diced

2 onion, finely diced

2 celery rib, finely diced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 pounds ground lamb

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

2 teaspoons chopped thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 1/4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 pound pappardelle

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Shaved Pecorino Romano

2 tablespoons chopped mint

In a large cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the lamb, coriander, fennel, cumin, rosemary and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the stock and lemon. Bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat until the liquid is slightly reduced, 25 to 30 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, shaking well. Add the pasta to the sauce. Add the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and toss over low heat. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the cheese and mint.

Gourmet Galley serves this on its own fresh pappardelle wide noodles.

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