Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Inn in Lake Wales, Florida, a paradigm of class and cuisine among airplane-accessible destinations, will be closing its doors Aug. 4. Looking for a buyer, third-generation owner Eric Hinshaw and wife Dee say it can be yours. Otherwise, they plan a silent auction of its unique contents.
Hinshaw’s grandmother Bertha opened the lakeside Chalet in 1931, two years after famed Philadelphia publisher Edward Bok cut the ribbon on his Bok Tower and Gardens nearby. That legacy Florida attraction remains famous for its 60-bell, 205-foot carillon atop a 293-foot “mountain” — one of this flat state’s highest spots.
Local news coverage celebrated the Chalet’s former glories as “a hidden gem for movie stars and wealthy aviators.”
Throughout GA’s Golden Years, it was one of those places where flyers could easily land, dine and stay, privileged to enjoy an experience beyond the reach of most. The 100-acre property still includes its 70-acre, 2,450-foot grass strip, a real beauty! Only recently has the magic been compromised by residential construction nearby.
A local restaurant consultant commented that the Chalet’s luxurious (and expensive) multi-course menu was never updated for a younger (and less flush) crowd. Famous was its signature Romaine Soup of “18 secret herbs and spices” (but no romaine, they say.) It was canned on the property along with Tomato Aspic, Vichyssoise, Watercress and a lot more.
The Romaine was known as “Moon Soup,” since astronauts on the Apollo 15 and 16 moon missions demanded some (in dehydrated form) for the trip. It flew aboard Apollo-Soyuz, too.
The Inn’s 26 rooms were an acquired taste in my book, being perhaps even more quirky than the restaurant’s décor. But the place lacked nothing in imagination. Symbolic of the restaurant’s amusements were bowls for its unique soups adapted from Norwegian ashtrays. The place even had its own “resident ceramicist,” with workshop.
Despite all the craziness in décor, the Chalet’s extensive menu was innovative — if rather formal and dated by today’s standards. Extensive, multi-course prix fixe dinners ranged from $59 to $79, often ending with Crepes Suzanne. Lunch was slightly more reasonable at $36. Their much-loved breakfasts were not all that out of line, I thought.
But the implication that time was passing couldn’t be missed when last I ate there. Dropping in before SUN ‘n FUN in nearby Lakeland, I lunched alone in their empty dining room. I’m a big fan of things European and formal, even if pricey. Clearly, most of us are not — and perhaps especially pilots.
I mourn that Chalet Suzanne is fading away. It was one of those places that made flying special. It will be missed, now perhaps especially by locals who continued to patronize it for those breakfasts, business lunches and special occasions.
Local media quoted owner Hinshaw saying, “It’s time to retire.” He added, hoping for a buyer, “For many years, we have lived our dream…. Maybe it’s YOUR turn now!”
© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved