Chautauquans don’t talk nearly so much about the weather as they do about their next meal and where it’s coming from.
There’s lots to talk about this season because, on the food front, there’s lots that’s new and reinvented.
The Plaza Market, a mainstay Colonnade convenience store, is now under Chautauqua Institution management following a reorganization bringing both the Chautauqua Bookstore and Athenaeum Hotel under the marketing department’s enterprise work. And the bottom floor of the St. Elmo is home to two new, or new-ish restaurants: Intermezzo and LUMI Café.
The revamped Plaza Market, a bit more up-scale now, has European-themed food offerings, which include Italian-imported-by-way-of-Erie Lavender Rabbit balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a display full of can’t-pronounce cheese. There are fresh vegetables and fruits — though supplies are limited and sell quickly. And on the near horizon: ice cream by the carton.
There are still the staples of your mother’s Colonnade market: milk, butter and bread. Stovetop stuffing, Cup Noodles. And some basic toiletries. Jennifer Hess, the Bookstore’s shipping and receiving manager who oversees the store along with Bookstore Manager Earl Rothfus, said they’re glad for customers’ suggestions. And: “Push comes to shove, Earl and I go shopping.”
Plaza Market’s hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Alas, meal prep and vacation don’t always jive. No worry, as a couple new restaurants have joined Institution-operated mainstays, like the Athenaeum Hotel’s Heirloom Restaurant, Afterwords Café and the Brick Walk Cafe, and privately operated entities The Tally-Ho and 2 Ames — as well as the venerable Hurlbut Church lunchtime spread.
Intermezzo is both a new and return business, having had a couple Chautauqua incarnations dating back more than 20 years ago. The latest iteration opened in the St. Elmo’s lower floor in the 2021 Chautauqua season as a bar. This year, a full-service restaurant has been added.
General Manager Morgan Johnson speaks highly of other dining options on the grounds, including the Athenaeum (“the level of business there is amazing”) and 2 Ames (“they push the boundaries in terms of cocktails and food”) and feels Intermezzo found a needed niche: “Right in the middle,” he said.
Johnson said Intermezzo — in the space formerly occupied by La Familia — aimed for mid-range of the Chautauqua appetite. American-cuisine dinners start under $20 for either a Beef on Weck sandwich with sides, meatballs and pasta, or pizza — his pizza recommendation is the Buffalo chicken. Prices run to above $30 per plate for seared tuna and prime rib.
Intermezzo is a family business, and the family’s Chautauqua roots run deep. Decades ago, Johnson’s grandparents, Richard and Joreta Speck, led the charge to rebuild the St. Elmo from the ground up. The restaurant co-owners are the Specks and Johnson’s father and mother, Brad and Deanna Johnson. Brad is executive chef, and Morgan’s brother Josh Bliek is head chef.
Intermezzo’s dining room is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Its full-service bar is open 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, during which patrons can order food from a bar menu.
On the other end of the St. Elmo’s business mezzanine is LUMI Café, taking the space held for years by Food For Thought. And it’s more fun to let the owner of LUMI Café, Steve Farmilant, tell you the story behind the name in-person.
The deli, which features premade sandwiches (“eliminates the lines,” he said), is the realization of a lifelong dream for Farmilant, who operates his psychology practice in Chicago. He came to Chautauqua by way of his daughter and her husband, Chautauqua Opera Company Managing Director Daniel Grambow.
“I’m happiest in the kitchen,” Farmilant said, nonetheless adding: “This is either a dream come true or a nightmare on back-order.”
His sandwiches include Chautauqua-shoutouts such as The St. Elmo, The Alumni Hall, The Bell Tower, The Norton and The Bestor, priced from $10.95 to $12.95.
“They’re simple to build,” Familant said, “but there is something special about every one of these sandwiches.”
Consider the menu description of The Alumni Hall: “Ciabatta roll brushed with butter, filled with thinly sliced ham and swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and mayo, cornichon gherkins.”
He’s pretty pleased with his choice of coffee, too: Milwaukee-roasted Collectivo.
Farmilant, whose partner in life and LUMI Café is wife Mary, hopes eventually not only to operate year-round, but around-the-clock, expanding to breakfast and dinner. For now, LUMI Café is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.