If there's anything better than a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup for comfort food, then it may be grilled cheese and tomato soup prepared by a French chef.
That's what a new Fairfield restaurant -- the Grilled Cheese Eatery -- offers. Actually the restaurant isn't exactly new -- it's a redo of Cafe Lola -- and the chef isn't quite French, he's Belgian. But the menu does offer more than a dozen ways to enjoy cheese grilled in some tantalizing combinations with other ingredients, such as grilled cheese with Buffalo chicken wings to grilled cheese with crab cakes. Also on the menu is an assortment of salads, soups and appetizers.
Chef Henri Donneaux and his wife, Ivanina, decided to make the changeover from Cafe Lola's French bistro atmosphere to the more informal cuisine of grilled cheese after they became parents.
"We wanted a place where kids don't have to be still and where parents can have a glass of wine at dinner," Henri Donneaux said. "This was a better fit for the market."
He noted that since Fairfied has two universities and many families, a restaurant that is more casual and less expensive than a restaurant serving classic French cuisine is a better bet.
With the recent changeover of the Brasserie to a steakhouse and Cafe Lola to grilled cheese fare, downtown Fairfield has lost its two mainstays for French food.
"French food has its ups and downs," said Donneaux, who has been in this country for 30 years. "Right now, we're at the bottom of the wave. People have a perception that French food is fancy, formal and unhealthy. And then it becomes popular again."
He also noted that when he and his wife opened Cafe Lola in 2008, the economy was in a tailspin. He expected it to get better with a resurgence in more expensive dining. But that hasn't happened. "People are still watching the budget," he said.
So far, the couple has had a positive response to the new menu and contemporary styling of the Grilled Cheese Eatery in the two weeks since it's been open, he said. The restaurant is also featuring a take-out menu and he expects that its location at 57 Unquowa Road near the downtown train station will be a good spot for commuters heading home to buy takeout.
Donneaux is optimistic about the future of the new restaurant. Fairfield has become a great restaurant town in the past few years, he said.
"If you just open the doors of a restaurant in Fairfield ... they'll come."
For more information, visit www.theGrilledCheeseEatery.com or call 203-292-8014.