Out to Dinner, Stop 7: Lake Wales, FL

December 28, 2008 | By | Comments (9)

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They just don’t make them like this anymore. With a winding lane that twists around a central fountain and between brightly painted, gabled buildings, the 78-year-old Chalet Suzanne looks more like an old-world village than a Florida motel. Add a high-end restaurant that’s served celebrities from around the world, a soup factory that’s fed astronauts, and an airstrip atop the highest ridge in peninsular Florida, and the little 26-room hideout in Lake Wales easily scores the classification as unique.

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The terrace of the Balcony Honeymoon Suite

While American and Russian astronauts took Chalet Suzanne’s soups to space (on board Apollo 15 and 16, as well as a joint Apollo-Soyuz flight), many visitors drop in from above via a 2315-foot grass airstrip on the hotel property. Some come for the night and longer, while some just for dinner at the on-site restaurant just off State Road 17.

Long known as a place for special occasions, Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant built a reputation on its five-course dinner that includes such signature dishes as grapefruit caramelized under the broiler, romaine soup (the same kind that went to the moon), and lobster Newburg. It’s a menu that has attracted the power and Hollywood elite, including the likes of Bert Reynolds, John Glenn, and Robert Redford. You can see their mugs and those of other celeb visitors in a “book” of photos that hang from a wall in the restaurant’s lobby.

According to Dee Hinshaw, who operates Chalet Suzanne with her husband Eric (his grandmother founded the resort), the restaurant recently introduced a few tweaks. In addition to the traditional five-course meal, they now offer an a la carte menu that gives diners a less-expensive option. There’s also a full brunch, which like dinner, is served everyday except Monday. (This just in: Chalet Suzanne has hired a new chef. His name has not yet been released, but plans call for him to begin working at the restaurant in January 2009.)

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The Little Swedish Bar

The restaurant layout is itself an experience, with 14 different levels, all patched together over a period of decades, using materials from a chicken house, a stable, and quarters for the help. Steps and doorways lead to separate alcove-like dining rooms. Over one such space, the terrace of the “Balcony Honeymoon Suite” offers a nice view of the scene below. Hiding away at the lowest level is the dimly lit Little Swedish Bar, where a staircase leads up to faux windows just above what has to be one of the coolest and coziest liars on the peninsula. Slanted color bars, angle from floor to the dark-wood bar. Enjoying a cocktail here, it’d be easy to forget the time – whether it’s day or night, or even this century or the last – back when they used to make places like this.

New Year’s Eve at Chalet Suzanne
Tradition continues at Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant, which will host a full night of festivities on New Year’s Eve. For the 21st year, a magician will perform tricks tableside and a pianist will play until 10 p.m. in the restaurant. Music will continue in the lounge area until about 1 or 2 a.m. Staff and visitors alike will do the bunny hop through the restaurant and into the kitchen just after midnight and be treated to cornbread and hoppin’ John.

Chalet Suzanne: 3800 Chalet Suzanne Drive, Lake Wales, FL 33859. See http://www.chaletsuzanne.com/index.html or call 863-676-6011 or 800-433-6011.

For directions:
If you plan to fly in, see http://www.chaletsuzanne.com/airstrip.html.
If you’re driving, http://www.chaletsuzanne.com/directions.html.

COMMENTS

  1. Linda

    I got engaged here. A beautiful place. Have our names on a piece of tile in the Garden. Very special!

    February 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm
  2. tory burch

    the tory burch handbags is so cool,thank you for your tory buch shoes.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:25 am
  3. Julie

    I had brunch there 25 years ago and it was wonderful. There is no other place like it in Florida.

    June 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm
  4. Richard

    It is surprisingly easy to find for a place that, once on the property, feels so remote.

    January 21, 2009 at 8:10 am
  5. Linda Gerlinger

    I got engaged there in 1988. It was very romantic. We should still have our tile on the wall. You can drive in, easy to find. I still have a can of soup from there which I never opened.
    Unfortunately I am divorced now, but still have many beautiful memories of this place. Living in Denver now.

    January 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm
  6. Richard

    Marie, that’s a lovely memory and all the more topical (dare I say, “tropical”), as it’s barely above freezing where I sit today in Birmingham, AL.

    January 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm
  7. Marie Ganninger

    I stayed here with my family for a night 51 years ago. We came at Easter vacation in March of 1958. We came from Missouri where it was still winter at that time of year. It was warm and sunny and the grounds at Chalet Suzanne were flowery and lovely. It was my first visit to Florida and I though” Heaven must be like this!”

    January 20, 2009 at 3:37 pm
  8. Richard

    It certainly is unique and a true hideaway. It’s easily the kind of place where you can forget about the outside world. Did you fly in to their airstrip or arrive by car?

    January 9, 2009 at 11:39 am
  9. Rachel Dickinson

    I love this goofy place. Went for a visit about a decade ago and had forgotten about it until I saw the Pepto-Bismol pink exterior in your photo.

    January 9, 2009 at 11:14 am

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