Chalet Suzanne, the legendary restaurant and inn in Lake Wales, will close on Aug. 4 after 83 years in operation. The property, which includes an airfield and a cannery that packaged the restaurant’s signature soups, has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1931. Owner Eric Hinshaw said that he hopes someone will step up to buy the 100-acre property and keep the place running.
Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant earned high praise and accolades from critics throughout the state. Some people would use the adjacent airstrip to fly in just for dinner.
Frankly, I never understood the attraction.
In my review of October 1993, I noted that most everything about the place was pleasant, from the quirkiness of the building (which seemed to be cobbled together from found objects) to the female serving staff clad in Scandinavian dresses (for no explicable reason). The food was good, not great. But the prices were astronomical.
Although the Chalet eventually offered an a la carte option, back then the dinner was offered only as a multi-course, prix fixe affair that ranged from $52.50 to $69.95 (remember, we’re looking at 21 years ago). And we’re talking about seriously simple food. The first course was — and still is — a broiled grapefruit topped with a fried chicken liver. That was followed by soup romaine, which was served in, I’m not kidding, an ashtray in the shape of a sunflower. The soup is touted as having gone to the moon, in canned form, aboard Apollo 15 and 16. So there’s that.
On the low end of the table d’hote was the half chicken entree, which my server proudly told me “we don’t do a thing to it” other than put it under the broiler. Sorry, for prices like that I want the chef to do more to the food.
A letter writer who responded to my review — and again, it was an actual letter because, well, 1993 — essentially told me that not everyone should be able to afford everything. In other words, pricing a simple piece of chicken that high would keep non-airplane-owning people like me away.
Still, Chalet Suzanne has had an amazing run and is an indelible part of the Central Florida dining scene’s history. I only wish I had the slightest pang that the area was losing something special.
Reservations will be accepted through Aug. 4. You can find details at the Chalet Suzanne website.