A local favorite, Lillian’s Café, offers an exciting and eclectic menu that features fresh, wild and local ingredients right here on Main Street. The American bistro has a comfortable vibe with a bright interior and seasonal outdoor seating. Sit near the bar and fireplace for a cozy dining experience.
When the venue first opened six and a half years ago, the owners decided not to install a television at the bar. Their hope was that customers would be drawn to the friendly neighborhood bar for conversation with old and new friends. While they eventually broke down and installed a small television, they’re happy that most patrons still come for the camaraderie.
Steve Turner, and his wife – and business partner – Jennifer, own the establishment. With over 38 years of culinary experience, Steve is the chef and runs the day-to-day operations, while Jen is responsible for the bookkeeping. Steve grew up in Mystic and worked at many local restaurants from New Haven to Westbrook, as well as Groton, Mystic and even Block Island. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, he is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation.
Jen grew up between Boston and Stonington and is a graduate of the University of Connecticut. She has extensive experience working in local restaurants in the Stonington and Mystic communities.
Together, they ran a successful restaurant for ten years in Mystic. When their lease expired, they saw an opportunity to move forward and make a change. After spending time in Niantic, Steve and Jen fell in love with the village. He says, “What other town has a boardwalk, beaches, parks and a thriving main street like Niantic?” They jumped at the opportunity to purchase their own building in the ideal Main Street location and took the time to renovate it extensively into the current upscale space.
Lillian’s Café bears the name of Steve’s grandmother, though his older daughter shares the name as well. To include their younger daughter in the family affair, you’ll find a sign in the dining room noting that it’s Audrey’s Too. And be sure to try the fries and salad named after Audrey!
They prepare their dishes simply, using unique preparations and healthy scratch cooking methods. They make all of their desserts in-house, as well as stocks, sauces, dressings and some charcuterie options. Whenever possible, they use gluten-free ingredients. Their raw bar with locally – and some not so locally – raised oysters, as well as wild shrimp and littlenecks, is a customer favorite. No matter how often you dine at Lillian’s, their pleasing plate presentations invoke feelings of a special night out. Their full bar and specialty drinks, along with warm and friendly service, add to the ambiance.
Steve says, “We offer a modest regular menu which gives us an opportunity to showcase our ever-changing special dishes.” Customer favorites include their spicy wild shrimp, peppered beef carpaccio, steak frites, wild Alaskan salmon tacos, house-made falafel and vegetable pad Thai.
Steve says, “We absolutely love being part of the Niantic community. We are touched by the welcoming support we’ve always received. I want to give a big shout out to Niantic Main Street for their insight and suggestions over the years.” Steve added that the businesses in town work together to improve the community and each other. He shares, “You don’t find this kind of community support everywhere. Other businesses in town actually recommend us to their patrons, and we do the same. Simply put, people around here are nice; they’re genuine, not pretentious. And we love that.”
The last couple of years have been a challenge to all of our businesses in town. Steve is quick to express his appreciation to both loyal, and new, customers from the beginning – and more recently, when they reopened after the pandemic. Patrons have regularly ordered take-out meals and tipped their staff generously, and this support has not gone unnoticed by Steve, Jen and the entire Lillian’s team.
Lillian’s Café has participated in local fundraising efforts to support organizations such as the Miracle League and the Niantic Children’s Museum. They also lend their support to the local school system. They enjoy being part of the annual Niantic Bay Oyster Festival and Restaurant Week. The community is buzzing with the anticipation of the upcoming tenth annual Niantic & East Lyme Restaurant Week – March 4 through 13. Lillian’s is offering a complimentary bottle of wine with the purchase of two entrees. Be sure to plan your night out now!
Lillian’s has truly evolved since they first opened, primarily based on customer feedback and requests. Steve says, “I’ve heard it said that you can have the best laid plans for what your restaurant will be, but it should always be the customer who influences your next steps. This is how we have always moved forward with our business.”
Since the pandemic, Lillian’s Café has had to reduce their hours from daily (and offering lunch) to a focus on dinners five nights a week – Tuesday through Saturday, 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Going forward, they hope to expand their hours as they had prior to the pandemic.
Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay on top of their news and special offerings. Visit their website at http://www.lillianscafeniantic.com to see their full menu.
374 Main Street, Niantic
About Our Main Street Blogger:
Joanne lives in, and loves, our community. She was looking for an opportunity to help share all that our local businesses do to make East Lyme such a special place to call home, and she is excited to contribute to our blog. Joanne brings to the role her experience from New London Main Street where she contributed content to their website, newsletters and email communications for many years.