Cafe Otis: Norwich's All-Day Cafe

PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
PUBLISHED BY: CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - EASTERN CT
AUTHOR: CHAMBERECT
ARTICLE LINK: https://chamberect.com/2019/09/30/cafe-otis-norwichs-all-day-cafe/

“Most likely, you’re overdue to grab a book and head to Café Otis. You’re invited to linger in the former Otis Library over coffee and breakfast or lunch or dinner. There’s no wrong time of day when you need a change of scene and a bite.

And what a change of scene at Café Otis! Two spacious dining areas with marble-topped tables surrounded by massive windows, the 1850 building is nestled in the middle of Norwich’s historic downtown.

The invitation to park your laptop is sincere. The all-day café is a fixture of New York City where Café Otis owner Nancy Isa spent years working at top hotels and catering operations. She wanted to bring the café concept to her hometown and opened Café Otis last month.

All-day cafés are described by Bon Appetit: “Part café, part restaurant, part workspace, part community center, this is the fabled “third place” between work and home.” The flexible space and locally-sourced, fresh menu Nancy has curated is designed to be all of these things—and more, with newly added delivery and full catering services. Plus, the Nine Mile Market offers local artisan food and gifts.

Café Otis opens its doors seven days a week from 8am to 10pm, transitioning from breakfast and lunch with counter service to a full service sit down dinner at 5pm. Happy hour from 3-6pm, Monday through Saturday is the perfect introduction to Café Otis’ menu and atmosphere. Sundays are for brunch from 10-4pm, with savory dishes, breakfast favorites, and espresso drinks made with beans from Craftsman Cliff Roasters.

Centered on a fresh food concept, Café Otis serves breakfast sandwiches that have never seen the inside of a microwave. Instead they feature seasonal vegetables and local cheddar but at a similar price point. Lunch is made to order as you build your own salad, pita pocket or grain bowl.

Smoothies and juices are made of fresh ingredients with names that pay homage to the building’s heritage: Midsummer Night’s Green with kale, spirulina, cucumber and celery; a beet and berry based Scarlet Letter; and Romeo and Julep with carrot, apple, ginger and mint.

The menu includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes that vie for center stage with traditional fare. Based on the fresh fruits and vegetables brought from farms just 10 minutes away, the menu changes with the season.

Dinner at Café Otis offers creative cuisine—Salmon Barlotto with mushroom barley rissoto or braised short ribs with celery root puree, crispy shallots, red cabbage and a demi-glace—at very reasonable prices. Enjoy a craft cocktail from their mixologist, who learned to make sour mix from scratch and fresh pressed juices while in Oregon. The full bar includes a careful selection of fine spirits, wines and beers.

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences are subtly woven into the menu, a nod to Nancy’s Lebanese heritage. Traditional dishes like Falafel, Moussaka and Eggplant Carpaccio are regular menu items and spices like harissa and za’atar find their way onto roasted tofu or rotisserie chickens.

Nancy grew up surrounded by good food and lots of parties thrown by parents who love to entertain. “That’s how you show somebody you love them…you cook for them and you feed them,” said Nancy.

With her home life centered around good food, Nancy pursued a career in hospitality, beginning at Cornell University, where she was valedictorian of her class. Her first position was at Four Seasons Hotel in D.C. and then New York. She returned to school to earn a master’s in clinical nutrition from NYU. Her interest, however, lay in creating amazing dining events. She went on to work for Great Performances Catering, where she learned from a 30-year veteran of the posh event scene. She then worked for Danny Meyer of Union Square Café fame and top-notch NYC caterer Abigail Kirsch.

Naturally, Café Otis expanded into catering. The extensive catering menu is available at CafeOtis.com, but Nancy welcomes special requests. Catering can be for an entire party, or a few side dishes to help you tackle a holiday dinner. When that next potluck looms and you have no time to cook, put in an order at Café Otis. You can also stop by on the way home to pick up any menu items or a rotisserie chicken and sides for a quick, delicious dinner at home.

The inviting space at Café Otis make it the perfect spot to meet off-site. A sitting area and private dining room upstairs can accommodate a sit down dinner or business retreat for 15 or a cocktail hour for 30.

The full restaurant can accommodate 150 people for events or two dining rooms easily section off. Nancy is eager to have the café fill its role as community gathering spot. She has hosted fundraisers for both political parties and welcomes groups to come in to see how they can use the café for events.

If you can’t escape the office, Café Otis will deliver. Click “Bring me food” on the website to enjoy fresh and delicious food. Be sure to ask the whole office before you order to avoid the sideways glances of lunch envy.

Nancy developed Café Otis after leaving a corporate position that was simply too far from the dining experience. “This isn’t for me,” thought Nancy. “I’ve got to find something that will feed my soul.” In creating this inviting café, she’s feeding your soul too.”

Photo by CS Marchand

Heather Pigg