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Photograph by Kelley Fryer/elan Magazine )
Photograph by Kelley Fryer/elan Magazine )
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Worlds collide in the most relaxing way at Caffe Marche Old Saybrook.
Somehow, the Italian caffe blends seamlessly into its location in the historic James Pharmacy building, and the combination quickly puts visitors in instant vacation mode. Order a plate of antipasti and a coffee, and you'll experience a little piece of Marche, a region in Italy known for its easygoing atmosphere. Look around the building, and you'll get a glimpse of Old Saybrook's colorful history. Upstairs, guest rooms appointed with elegant Italian imports and fixtures invite a longer stay.
The caffe and bed and breakfast reflect the story of its owners, Eileen Sottile and Paul Angelini. When the couple married about three years ago, Sottile was wrapping a long career in public service and government. Angelini, a former engineer, is a longtime wine importer and an experienced winemaker with roots in San Lorenzo en Campo in Marche.
In seeking their next adventure, Sottile and Angelini aimed to do something "fun and purposeful." In a preview of the caffe to come, the couple came up with a plan that combined their interests: hers in the hospitality business and his in educating others about Italian culture. The couple launched their "labor of love," as Sottile calls it, to renovate the James Pharmacy building into a bed and breakfast and gelato shop with a newly visualized café space in October 2016. They opened for business on July 4, 2017.
A Taste of Marche
At more than 200 years old, the James Pharmacy serves up its share of history along with gelato and the caffe's Italian fare.
Its place on the National Register of Historic Places has been reaffirmed more than once over the years. Among its claims to fame is a visit by Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette; it served as the home and workplace of Anna Louise James, Connecticut's first black female pharmacist; and Harlem Renaissance writer Ann Petry was born there. Actress and former Old Saybrook resident Katharine Hepburn was a frequent customer of the soda fountain, which was added to the building in 1896.
Sottile is mindful of the building's historic value, and in renovating it the couple was careful to retain much of its architectural detail.
"We felt it was important to preserve and restore these amazing historic buildings from the 1700s," she notes. "There is so much history, so many stories of triumph and success in spite of huge challenges."
And while the décor is very much of this century and sourced from Italy, Sottile says the building's history inspired her design decisions, right down to the flooring.
"Old pictures of the pharmacy sent us in the direction of black and white and jewel tones," she explains. "The black and white checkerboard floors are traditional, trendy, and seemingly timeless at the same time."
As a tribute to the trailblazing women associated with the building, each of the B&B's guest rooms are named after James, Petry, and Hepburn, with décor to match their character and stories.
"We often say that these are the best stories nobody knows about," says Sottile. "We have the original cases for the pharmacy and hope that perhaps one day we may see them travel to the National Museum of African American History in D.C. to be displayed as an exhibit and tribute to Miss Anna James."
Downstairs, imports from Marche easily blend with the structural bones of the repurposed pharmacy and soda fountain spaces.
"Everything in Caffe Marche is either brought in from my husband's village in Italy or it's local to Connecticut," Sottile notes. "The beautiful wood cases, chandeliers, Carrera marble bar top and table tops were brought in from Italy. ... Every detail, every recipe, every item on the shelves has been selected by Paul."
The caffe menu, however, is "all things Marche," according to Sottile, starting with the Filicori Zecchini coffee drinks and Italian sodas. Lunch dishes, prepared either by Angelini or chef Beau Reagan, reflect the signature simplicity of the Marche region's cuisine, from fresh pasta dishes like the outstanding Bucatini Carbonara to the popular antipasto and salumi platters. Seasonal vegetables and local items, such as Howard's Bread and cheese from Arethusa Farms, add a touch of the Nutmeg state to most dishes. Guests are also welcome to bring a bottle of vino to toast la dolce vita.
When sweeter treats are in order, the caffe's homemade pastries selection likely offer something for most palates. The dessert options go far beyond the standard, fresh-filled cannoli of most Italian bakeries, including the Bocconoto, a tart-like pastry decked with chocolate chips and slivered almonds. Or, consider Cappello del Prete, a confection that combines pasta frolla—an Italian-style base pastry—and lemon cream; the Crostata adds fruit preserve to pasta frolla.
Of course, ice cream is a great cultural unifier, and Caffe Marche typically offers six flavors of gelato, Italy's take on ice cream, made in-house, daily. Sottile enthusiastically recommends it for a few reasons.
"The gelato made by Caffe Marche is unmatched, fresh, creamy and delicious. It transports you to a beautiful piazza in Italy with every spoonful," she notes. (Her favorite flavor? Hazelnut.)
Indeed, Sottile is so proud of the house gelato, she's launched a catering business around it. The caffe's Gelato on Wheels service will bring a selection of gelato to locations within about 20 miles of Old Saybrook. The bike also will make the rounds at upcoming local events and concerts.
And for those seeking the full Marche treatment, Sottile plans to organize trips to Italy for friends and guests of the caffe. It's just one more labor of love for the couple.
"We love introducing this amazing and mostly unknown Italian jewel," Sottile says.
For more information about the James Pharmacy B&B and Gelataria and Caffe Marche, 2 Pennywise Lane, Old Saybrook, visit www.jamespharmacybnb.com and
www.caffemarche.com or call (860) 395-1229 or (860) 581-3878. Sign up for news and information about special events at www.caffemarche.com/newsletter.
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