During my last two articles, I told you about our many experiences at Chalet Suzanne, a sweet little inn in Lake Wales, Florida. It’s a magical little place, and sadly, it is closing. In fact, I think, as of today, it is closed. *Sigh.* No more Swedish pancakes. Now, what do I have to live for?
The infatuation of this inn started for me when I was 17 years old, which was like, a million years ago (or at least 100), according to my kids. The love for the inn never died, and that includes this last trip we took.
When Mr. Everything and I found out Chalet Suzanne would be closing, we knew we had to make one last visit before it was eternally too late. (Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but it’s my story…) I made the reservation, and we counted the days until we could return. We had not been in at least 5 years, and it had been at least 10 years, if not more, since we had eaten dinner there. We decided to go for the whole sha-bang. I mean, why not? It was our last chance for all eternity. (I’m on an eternal kick today, can you tell?)
Last weekend, we finally got to go to the inn. As we drove down the driveway, I knew things had changed a little. The grass was overgrown. This was something that would never have happened back in the day. Also, there was a lawn mower broken down by the main drive. That would explain the overgrown grass, I suppose.
We checked in, and the staff members were not nearly as warm and welcoming as we remembered. I mean, they weren’t unfriendly, but we were not called by name or anything.
Don’t get me wrong. We still completely enjoyed our stay. We could just see the wear and tear in the groaning little building where we stayed. I’m sure the owners of the inn were faced with a multi-million dollar overhaul or allowing the inn to give up the ghost. I’m pretty sure they made a wise choice. CPR on this place would have been very difficult.
As we walked around the property, we noticed the rotting wood on several buildings. We found our tile with the “cow-pig” in the autograph garden, and it had mold on it from the weather and overgrown plants nearby. The mold did not detract from the quality of my artwork. It was hideous to start with.
When we went to dinner, we were surprised to not find Kenny Rogers, the maître d’ who had been there during each visit we had made to the dining room. You’d think we would have learned the man’s real name over all those years, but “Kenny” worked for me. Instead of Kenny, we found the owner’s wife acting as the hostess. Apparently, Kenny had not informed her of the rules, because she was just letting anyone in. In the past, we had seen men turned away for not wearing jackets and ties and women given shawls if they wore sundresses with straps. But, like so many parts of Chalet Suzanne, those rules had withered away. We saw people in jeans and in shorts. One lady had a bandana on her head! It was a travesty, and we knew Kenny would never stand for it. We decided that was why he was gone. He had probably quit because they told him he couldn’t enforce the rules anymore. They were just happy to have business coming in, but Kenny wanted decency and order. The poor man was probably alone and heart broken, wearing his suit and tie, sipping his coffee from his China cup. It was a sad picture to envision.
Our meal was slow. I mean, really slow. I kept reminding Mr. E that it just meant we had longer to enjoy the ambiance of the dining room. Before it was over, we’d had plenty of time. Believe me. It took us twenty minutes just to be able to order our food. We were pretty sure we would be living there for a while. I was okay with that idea as I was surrounded by miscellanea at its finest. I don’t think the Mr. was in agreement. He likes for his plate and bowl to match, thank you very much.
During the meal, we couldn’t help but notice the decline in service. Not that we were complaining. It was still a really nice meal, and we had a great time. However, little things, like a spoon to stir my coffee, were overlooked. In the days of old, that would have never happened. Back then, someone would have been there, with spoon in hand, calling me by name and offering to stir the coffee for me. Now, they had gone all modern on us…the new motto was, “Do it yourself.” At one point, I considered getting up and pouring myself more iced tea, but I was afraid Kenny’s ghost would come back and smite me. (Oh wait, I don’t think he’s dead – at least I hope not! So, maybe he’d have an out-of-body experience to come and smite me.)
We determined quickly that we were seated in the “uncool” dining room. The beautiful, tall, skinny, fashionable people were all led to the other dining room. That was the “cool” room. Apparently, they didn’t think we fit in there. If Kenny had been there, things would have been different. (He probably would have made us eat in the kitchen after that whole “V Day” incident…) Our dining room had the short, the fat, the old, the ugly, the man blowing his nose on his linen napkin. (Seriously, people. If you do that, please stop. The rest of us can hear you. And if your husband is the one doing that, make him stop! You boss him around on everything else. Why are you allowing that?)
In the cool room, the fashion was higher, the high heels were taller, and the hair was sleeker. They were well adorned with jewels and baubles. There was one table in our line of vision who we named, “The Happy Table.” The party of six polished off three bottles of wine, by our count. There were also a few bar drinks to add to the mix. They were really, really happy. They kept toasting everything. “A toast…” “Let’s toast….” “Toast, everyone….” It got to the point of funny to us. We were greatly amused just by watching them. I’d bet they weren’t nearly as amused or amusing the next morning. Come to think of it, I did not see a single one of them at breakfast the next day….
Then, Mr. Everything decided he was going to start shooting spit balls at this guy every time he said something stupid. Thankfully, these were just pretend spit balls, but it was funny anyway. Every time the guy said anything, Mr. E would take his straw and blow through it like he was shooting something at the man. It was hilarious, and don’t worry, the guy was too busy talking about Eric to notice us making fun of him.
Coke Bottles tried to make conversation with us. I’m pretty sure he wanted a tip. Little did he know, we’d left our millions in our other pants. We were polite enough but did not engage. This is a trick we learned a long time ago when dealing with the mariachi band at the Mexican restaurant. Don’t make eye contact, and don’t engage. You’ll regret it if you do.
Coke Bottles circulated the dining room five times during our meal. Each time, he attempted to chat with us. Each time, he got a polite, “Uh-huh,” and nothing more from us. We are skilled at this game. So, we got out without having to have a real conversation with Coke Bottles, and we did not buy one of his CDs. We really did not want one of his CDs. Really.
All in all, the evening was a great time. I can’t say the service lived up to our expectations, but the food was fabulous. You haven’t lived until you’ve had lingonberries on chicken. It really did not matter that the service was lacking. It just gave us more time to have fun and enjoy our little restaurant for one last hoo-rah. I’m so glad we went, and I wish we could go back, just one more time…. -Al