OLD SAYBROOK — Lovers of gelato and pastry lined up for the soft opening of Cocotte French Cuisine and Desserts, which opened its doors at 2 p.m. on Friday in the James Pharmacy building at 323 Main Street.
Co-owner Isabelle De Francesco said people have been knocking on the door for the last two months.
“They had two questions — when do you open, and, do you have gelato?” she said.
Besides a selection of 10 or more gelato flavors, De Francesco and her husband, chef Jeffrey De Francesco, are featuring a menu of pastries for summer — brioche, croissant, muffins, scones — available with French-press coffee.
Behind the counter there was a selection of bread — pugliese, baguettes and sourdough boules for takeout, as well packages of pate de fruits and other sweets.
Isabelle said that the name Cocotte refers to the way people traditionally cook in France.
“It’s like a pot in which you simmer what you have, that’s what they used to do in the old times,” she said.
For the sweets — gelato, cookies and pastries — the De Francescos have contracted with pastry chef Maarten Steenman, of La Tulippe in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., who trained in France.
Savories are a focus of chef Jeffrey, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where he trained with Jacques Pepin, Alain Sailhac and Andre Soltner. He later worked at the Inn at Pound Ridge where the kitchen was led by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He cooked at Farmer & The Fish in Gramercy and at Craft in New York City, and later traveled to Japan, Italy and regions of France.
Isabelle grew up in Paris and left France 16 years ago. She worked as an advertising and marketing consultant in branding. She said she was excited about sharing the French approach to food with Americans.
“The way we eat is convivial, it’s sharing the food and sharing the conversation, as opposed to just imposing your menu on people,” she said. “The music will not be loud in the restaurant. [The atmosphere] will be something more balanced, more quiet — savoring things together brings people together, I’ve seen that.”
The restaurant occupies the James Pharmacy, built in 1790 originally as a general store. From 1917 to 1967, Anna Louise James, the first African-American female pharmacist in Connecticut, operated a pharmacy there that also served as a community hub.
“That’s how we came to describe the restaurant as a ‘culinary apothecary’ — it’s a mix of good ingredients and flavors, fine conversations, and French cooking,” Isabelle said.
After Labor Day, the menu will expand to include dinner, she said.
“We’re going to have stews and dishes that are very familiar and friendly and warm in French and they gather people around,” she said. “The idea is to create a culinary experience that’s flavorful, has texture, is unique, with a little bit of education about French cuisine. We will offer more and more unusual flavors as we go, that’s the idea. We want to go slow.”
Cocotte will serve breakfast and lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The bakery and gelato counter are open from Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call 860-917-1251.