NEW ASHFORD — Fall's yellows are beginning to surround The Mill on the Floss, the fine dining establishment tucked into a hillside along Route 7. That means foliage fanatics will soon be stopping off to taste the plated colors inside this acclaimed New Ashford restaurant.

"You eat with your eyes first," chef Suzanne Champagne Ivy said before opening on Tuesday.

Ivy had just presented some roasted haddock flanked by shrimp and topped with its own yellow hue: a butternut squash Alfredo sauce. Along with presentation, additions such as the "fresh fish of the day" are the easiest places for the chef to leave her mark on a menu that has rarely changed since the Champagne family took over The Mill on the Floss in 1973. The restaurant's main draw has been its sweetbreads, but roast duckling a l'orange and veal piccata have also been popular choices for regulars who visit during the eatery's Tuesday through Sunday dinner hours.

"People have been coming here for years and years and years, and they want to walk into the same thing," Ivy said.

Stepping into The Mill on the Floss indeed feels like venturing back into time. Wood is everywhere, and the entrance evokes that of a home, which makes sense: The front of the house was once a retired judge's abode. He bought the land in the early 1900s, refurbishing a grist mill near where a bridge now links a driveway to Route 7.

"He called this his 'Mill on the Floss,' though this is the Green River, not the Floss," front-of-house manager Tim Bushika said, alluding to George Eliot's novel, "The Mill on the Floss."

After a series of transitions, the building eventually became a restaurant. Raised in the Montreal cuisine scene, Maurice Champagne, Ivy's father, worked for the establishment's previous owners and later acquired the business with his wife, Jane. Maurice died almost two decades ago, but Jane still owns the restaurant and lives upstairs.

"It's a very odd dynamic," Ivy said of being part of a family business, noting that it can be difficult to separate work from play.

The Hinsdale resident has negotiated that balance for most of her life. She was 11 when the family moved to the property. Though she had no plans to become a cook and didn't attend culinary school, Ivy soon found herself working alongside her father.

"I kind of got thrown back there because somebody didn't show up, and I'm still looking for that person!" she said, laughing.

She learned by watching her father, assuming his role when he grew ill. Since becoming head chef, she has placed an emphasis on fresh food. For instance, Connecticut-based City Fish Market brings seafood to the restaurant daily.

"I cook like I like to eat: very fresh," Ivy said.

Appetizers include escargot garlic butter and chicken liver pate. In the not-too-distant past, Bushika noticed that many customers were simply ordering a couple of appetizers instead of full meals. He believed it to be part of an industrywide shift. But recently, that is no longer the trend.

"People, I think, are trending back to traditional," Bushika said, referring to ordering entrees that range from $31 to $38.50.

An example would be the duckling. It appeals to a classic palate.

"Over the last 10 or 15 years, it's been seared duck breast or different variations of that kind of thing with duck," Bushika said of culinary trends, "and this is a traditional roasted half duckling crispy with orange sauce. People just love it."

Though locals frequent the business year-round, Jiminy Peak skiers and Williams College football enthusiasts help sales during the winter and fall, respectively. In general, Williams College visitors are a reliable reservation source.

"We get a lot of Williams alumni. Now, they're bringing their kids who have just started at Williams," Ivy said.

Many customers get to know the staff. Like Ivy, Bushika has been working at the restaurant for decades — 35 years, he estimates. The Bennington resident said that staff members help each other get through the quiet nights.

"It's like another family," he said.

They need each other during the busy times, too, but it's getting increasingly difficult to predict when that will be, according to Ivy.

"People's dining habits are changing. I have a theory that people's lives are 24-7 now. You're always working. ... There is no dining out on Saturday night," she said. "We could have a really busy Wednesday and have Saturday be so-so. We're watching this over time because there used to be very specific patterns. We knew what was going to happen. And over the last 10 years, things have shifted."

Nonetheless, with foliage season starting, Ivy and company expect a hopping October. She craves those busy nights.

"It's almost like a sports team — the camaraderie, the morale," Ivy said of the staff. "And when you finish a really busy night, [it's] like you've won something. There's an adrenaline rush."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.