Jazz up your Sunday brunch routine at Old Lyme Inn
What is it about brunch that’s so appealing? The typically later brunch hours that allow for a delayed wake-up call? The prospect of Bloody Marys at breakfast? Omelets?
It’s all of the above, and they only get better with the sounds of light, live jazz floating in the background. On your next available Sunday, you can see for yourself at Old Lyme Inn’s weekly Sunday Jazzy Brunch. Take your pick of a seat on the patio with the band or head into the inn’s lovely, cool dining room for a cozier experience.
We opted for the latter, as three out of four of us wilt quickly in humidity, but we enjoyed the view of the many patrons on the patio and the softer conversation-amenable backdrop of smooth jazz. After a round of coffees (a relatively steep $3 each), it was Bloody time ($10), and OLI’s won raves all around — including me, the pickiest Bloody drinker of them all. It’s not the spiciness of most Bloodys that gets me, it’s the balance of horseradish to everything else. Granted, OLI’s Bloody pack a peppery punch at the back end of each sip, but it’s a stirring kind of flavor pop with a manageable hint of horseradish that gives the pepper some depth. Yum.
As we concluded our Bloody Mary course, we got down to the tricky business of selecting meals to share from a very fine list of options, with a handful of traditional breakfast-y dishes such as omelets and French toast alongside a selection of more lunch-like items such as salads and sandwiches, including the Jazzy Brunch Burger ($15), which, naturally, includes an egg upon the burger.
I typically come ready for some sort of egg dish come brunch-time, but a listing for Ricotta Pancakes ($13) was intriguing enough to set me on a new culinary path. Be assured, the ricotta serves to create a smooth batter that yields moist, crepe-like (but thicker) pancakes, with a slight sweetness to the overall flavor. (Read: The pancakes are not smeared with the tangy-sweet Italian cheese.) The orange syrup drizzle, powdered sugar, and mandarin orange slices atop the pancakes add a refreshing zing that raise the question of just how necessary maple syrup really is, given the option. This is a great summer dish and one we would order again.
Perhaps the polar opposite of my dish was the Steak and Eggs special ($22; served with a side of home fries) one of my companions selected. We weren’t sure what kind of steak to expect, but the slices of hangar steak served alongside the perfectly scrambled eggs worked nicely. We couldn’t quite nail what seasoning or maybe marinade had been applied to the steak, but it struck me as teriyaki-like and to good effect, adding a subtle, tangy layer that worked well with the eggs. Even better, the steak was cooked to order and quite tender. As for the home fries — skin-on spuds that resembled tiny fingerlings — we suspect they were lightly tossed with bacon grease or something like it — which means they were delicious. It added just the right touch of salty-savory flavor to the smooth, creamy natural flavor of the potatoes.
From the more lunchier side of the menu, we picked two sandwiches — the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich ($14; comes with very good French fries) and the other a great take on a classic Cuban sandwich. My friend who hails from the South led the campaign for the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich; the rest of us were happy to oblige after experiencing the joys of green tomatoes elsewhere in the South. Sidenote: We also shared an order of the cheese grits ($6), available as a side dish. While the portion size was worth the price, we found the grits a bit dry and left half the order uneaten. Not bad, but not great either. The ample cheese on top certainly helped, but we’ve had better versions with the cheese (and lots of butter) mixed in throughout.
Back to business: Fried green tomatoes require a certain finesse to prepare — at first bite, you’ll know if you’ve got a good batch or a bad one. Done right, and you’ve got a crispy, slightly citrus-y veggie treat fried to just the right tenderness. No worries at OLI, which takes properly fried and seasoned slices of green tomato and uses them as a sandwich base. The crispy crunch of the tomatoes gets a boost from the toasted multigrain bread upon which it is served, and just softening things up a bit is a schmear of herbed cream cheese and some mixed greens. It’s an excellent, tasty construction and we highly recommend it.
It’s a good thing we all shared dishes. It guaranteed leftovers and extra room to sample heartier fare, such as the very, very good Cuban Panini ($15; served with the home fries mentioned above). Now, Cuban sandwiches typically feature both pork and ham, along with pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard. Well, OLI ups the ante significantly by adding bacon and an over-easy egg to the pile, plus lettuce, tomato, and “tangy tomato syrup” — a celebration of savories. There’s a lot to love in just one sandwich, and the toasted brioche roll upon which this wonder of the world is served adds a final touch of more subtle flavor and a crispy crunch. The Cuban did not make it to the leftover round because we demolished it on site.
And I just had to know what a $13 egg sandwich tastes like, plus I was intrigued by the menu’s description of a sweet potato biscuit as sandwich vehicle, so we ordered one to satisfy my curiosity. Holy moly. It took two of us to finish it and the homefries that come with. It’s enormous enough to mostly justify the price. At first bite, the sweetness of the sweet potato biscuit might raise an eyebrow or two. It’s different, but wait for the next wave of flavor, which will include: two eggs (we chose scrambled); applewood smoked bacon, chipotle aioli, sliced tomato, and sharp cheddar. Combined with all of those lovely things, the choice of biscuit makes a ton of sense. It creates balance and a very different texture from your run of the mill egg-n-cheese sammich. That texture works well flavor-wise — what really seals it is when the zest of the chipotle aioli merges with tang of the cheddar and the softer sweet potato flavor — but as a physical sandwich base, it softens and starts to sag under the pressure soon enough. We ended up knife-and-forking most of it, so be advised that this is not ideal car-eating fare.
As we rolled out of our chairs, we took a stroll through the inn to view the artwork on display, then trekked on down to the patio to listen in on the music. Gazing up the road at the galleries and historic homes, we remarked at our good fortune to live near a place that raises Sunday Fun-day, brunch, egg sandwiches and all that jazz to an art form. If that’s not worth a Bloody Mary toast, I’m not sure what is.
If you go
Old Lyme Inn
85 Lyme St., Old Lyme
(860) 434-2600; oldlymeinn.com
Cuisine: Overall, Old Lyme Inn specializes in “Country dining with a twist,” according to the inn’s website; the brunch menu is a refreshing mix of classics like omelets and stuffed French toast and heartier — but not overly so — lunch items, such as the amazing Fried Green Tomato Sandwich.
Atmosphere: If you like high ceilings, original artworks, and beautiful woodwork, you’ll love Old Lyme Inn’s many rooms of comforts and seating.
Service: Courteous, warm and professional
Prices: Reasonable, given the quality and quantity. Prices start at $9 for the Baked Cranberry Oatmeal; move up to $12 for the enormous egg sandwich and $15 for a build-your-own omelet; to $22 for the Steak & Eggs special available on a recent visit
Hours: Sunday brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday, lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.
Accessibility: Interior is spacious.
Credit cards: Accepted