Qdoba Is No Longer The Newest Mexican Restaurant In Town

Last winter, word on the calle was that 2 popular Mexican restaurants were coming to town.

Qdoba came. Chipotle did not.

But when no one was looking, Señor Salsa snuck up on us.

Senor Salsa

The Westport outpost of the Fairfield-based Mexican grill just opened on Post Road West, at the corner of Sylvan Road South.

For years, that was the site of Connolly’s. During its long vacancy, there were rumors that Señor Salsa was coming in. Finally — long after everyone forgot — it’s happened.

The menu features burritos, tacos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas and more. It seems on the Qdoba end of the scale — perhaps Cuatros Hermanos — rather than Bartaco or Villa del Sol, both of which are quite different from each other.

And then there’s Viva’s, which has been here since (it seems) Emiliano Zapata himself was alive.

But Westport’s restaurant scene is a big tent.

¡Bienvenidos, Señor Salsa!

Senor Salsa menu

(Photos by — and a hat tip to — alert and hungry “06880” reader Lisa Shufro.)

Last Ollie For The Skate Park

Everyone’s talking about the big changes proposed by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee: a new entrance, renovation of the bathhouses, elimination of perimeter parking.

Hardly anyone has mentioned a smaller plan: the end of the skate park.

Eddie Kim knows the stereotypes of skateboarders: “hooligans, drug dealers and delinquents.” He also knows the Compo park attracts a wide variety of people, like a fearless 8-year-old girl who loves riding down ramps.

She loves the park, and would be devastated to see it close.

The Compo Beach skatepark

The Compo Beach skate park.

Kim works at the park. But during the school year he’s a teacher. He practices Bikram yoga daily, and founded his own theater company. He’s a skater too. For him, skating is a creative way to relieve stress.

Kim wants Westporters to see the value of the skate park, and the community that has grown around it. He asked several regulars to offer insights. One of the most eloquent is James Bowles, a Staples freshman.

James knows that many people can’t understand why he’s spent “every free minute” of the past 6 years on a skateboard.

He says that when he was 6, at Long Lots Elementary School, he was diagnosed with OCD. For the next couple of years he hated his life. But the moment he set foot in the Compo skate park — “heading into the great unknown” — he was hooked.

His fears and stresses vanished. He was hooked.

He visited the park every day. He dreamed of skateboarding at night. He met his best friends there. They’re different ages, but they gave him a sense of self-worth, of potential, of community. That’s something every kid needs.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

This summer, James worked as a counselor-in-training at the Compo Beach Skate Camp. “Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they finally roll away from a trick they worked extremely hard to land is mesmerizing,” he says. Some of them may have been going through their own troubles, as he had.

He adds:

Even though I’m still young, I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. Kids my age are swept up into partying, drinking and general idiocy. Most people assume that because I skateboard, I get caught up in that sort of stuff.

I believe that if it weren’t for skateboarding, I would have been more likely to do that. The amount of times I’ve turned down plans to do ludicrous things, because I wanted to go skate, is enough to know I’m doing something right. Skateboarding has been one of the best investments of my time.

James says that the freedom of skateboarding has allowed him to work through his OCD. It has also helped him learn to be polite, pick up after himself, and look after others.

“Compo has always been a safe haven for people to skate legally,” he notes. “It’s a space where parents feel safe leaving their children. Compo has been my favorite place for 6 years, and I can’t imagine what losing the park would be like.”

Plenty of skaters gained confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Plenty of skaters gain confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Others agree. University of Colorado sophomore Casey Hausman made lifelong friends at the Compo park. “It’s a great community,” he says. “Everyone is supportive. Kids don’t need to worry about disappointing teammates or parents. Any progress is encouraged and applauded by everyone, no matter what the skill level.”

Kim Celotto’s 13- and 8-year-old boys have been skateboarding at Compo for years. She calls the instructors “patient, wonderful teachers who all the boarders look up to and admire. They learn skills and confidence, while having fun with friends.”

And, she says, skateboarding’s emphasis on fun and individual growth — not “fierce competition” — appeals to youngsters who may not be interested in team sports.

Parent Debra Newman has seen many kids flocking to the park in 90-degree weather, with no shade. “Would we rather have them sitting in front of the TV, exercising their thumbs?” she wonders.

But the final word belongs to James Bowles, the OCD sufferer who found a haven and a home at the Compo Beach skate park:

“I know that the argument of a 14-year-old high school freshman hardly compares to that of a town representative. But I hope anyone reading this will see my point of view.”

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

 

After Nearly 50 Years, The Remains Come Home

The last time the Remains played in Fairfield County was 1966. The legendary rock group was a few months away from opening for the Beatles, on that legendary band’s final tour. Now they were at Staples High School, the alma mater of half their members: guitarist/vocalist Barry Tashian and keyboardist Billy Briggs.

Rock critic Jon Landau had already described the Remains as “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

That 1966 gig was to raise money for the Orphenians’ — Staples’ select choral group — upcoming tour of the Virgin Islands.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

After that Beatles tour, the Remains broke up. Rolling Stone magazine later called them “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

They reunited a decade later, for a few dates. But Tashian joined Emmy Lou Harris’ band, and moved to California. In the 1990s, he and his wife — 1964 Staples grad Holly Kimball — formed a Nashville-based duo.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a promoter invited them to play in Spain. They were up for it — and so were their rabid European fans. They played a couple of dates every year since.

In June 2013 they rocked the Bell House in Brooklyn. They were excited about their half-century return to this area: a gig in Fairfield this past April.

But in February, drummer Chip Damiani died of a brain hemorrhage.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum's opening reception for its rock 'n' roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum’s opening reception for its rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

The loss of their “brother” — whose pounding drums helped drive the group to cult status in the 1960s, and who still played as energetically 5 decades later — stunned the 3 remaining Remains.

But the show must go on. In August — the day after Holly’s 50th Staples reunion, where she and Barry (SHS ’63) played and sang — the band auditioned new drummers. They chose George Correia, who played with Clarence Clemmons and, Tashian says, “locked right in to what we do.”

On Friday, September 26, the Remains return to Fairfield County for the 1st time since 1966. They venue is the Fairfield Theatre Company (7:45 p.m.), and they are as amped as when they played with the Beatles (and Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes).

The Remains, back in the day.

The Remains, back in the day.

“When Chip died, we really understood the saying ‘You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry,” Tashian says.

“Losing Chip makes us appreciate what we have even more. We look at each other and say, ‘How could it be 50 years?’ But it is. And we’re committed to each other — to our brothers — totally. We’re spread across Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nashville, but we really are a family.”

In just a few days, they’ll see plenty of Westport fans who for years have been part of that Remains family too.

(For information and tickets to the Remains’ September 26 show, click here.)

Positano’s: The Prequel

Peter Jones posted a fascinating photo on Facebook today (and David Pogue provided some touch-up magic to it):

Cafe de la plage - Pogue touchup

It shows the corner of Compo Hill Road and Hillspoint, during Hurricane Carol in 1954.

What is today Positano’s was then called Joe’s Store.

Peter wrote: “Notice the waves hitting Old Mill Beach. After Hillspoint Road was washed out, the town rebuilt and enlarged the jetty at Schlaet’s Point and reinforced the embankment at Hillspoint Road with HUGE boulders, creating sort of a Stonehenge effect.”

Darlene Bora added: “My mom always told me the pillars had been cut down at the bottom of Compo Hill Road (she grew up on Sterling Drive). I never saw them before today.”

Joe’s Store was there in 1954. Cafe de la Plage was there in 1984. Positano’s is there in 2014.

Now though, there’s no telling what that corner will look like — in good weather, and bad — in 2015.

Marine Police Make A “Swell” Save

Today’s Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island was not exactly a day at the beach. WHS executive director Sue Gold writes:

Our 5th annual trip was hardly smooth rowing, as we quickly found out once we were a half mile offshore.

The swells were high, even though no boats were in sight. We were about 25 strong, but although the spirit was willing, Mother Nature was not.

The scene from a previous Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island. This year's weather was less pleasant.

The scene from a previous Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island. This year’s weather was less pleasant.

Our 2-person kayak was overwhelmed by relentless waves. Though both of us are strong and seasoned boaters, we were captive to the water that quickly filled our boat. We were forced to evacuate, fortunately onto a nearby sandbar.

We were like drowned rats, cold and shivering in the water with a boat we had no way to bail out. Peter Jennings expertly handled his safety boat to get us out of the water, but it was Bob Myer of the Westport Marine Police Unit who saved the day.

He got the kayak in his motor boat, pulled us on board, covered me with a medical blanket (my teeth were chattering), and got us back to the marina safe and sound. He then went out and rescued others on the tour as well.

Everyone got back safely. We applaud the Westport Police Department, who are there in a heartbeat to provide the most caring, compassionate and exceptional service to all in need.

One of the Westport Police Marine Unit's 2 boats. (Photo/Westportct.gov)

One of the Westport Police Marine Unit’s 2 boats. (Photo/Westportct.gov)

PS: Once we got back and my partner tossed me the car keys from the boat — well, they never made it into my hands. They now lie on the bottom of the Sound.

Fortunately, a diver overheard our dilemma and said he’s happy to take a look next week and fetch them for us. The giving never stops.

Staples Players Earn Broadway.Com Buzz

With school back in session, Broadway.com has scoured YouTube for its Top 5 high school musical performances.

Among the “A+” shows is Staples Players’ 2011 production of “West Side Story.”

The website says:

In a high school musical, finding a bunch of guys willing to even try on a pair of jazz shoes is a rarity. But bafflingly, Staples High School in Westport, CT has assembled a whole team of hoofing high school dudes who pirouette and leap around the stage with ease. Wow, check out those Shark high-kicks!

Very cool — except for the “bafflingly” part.

At Staples, “hoofing high school dudes” are everywhere.

 

Feral Cats: The Sequel

The infestation of feral cats in the Compo Beach neighborhood may be over.

According to Foti Koskinas — Westport Police Department deputy chief who, as one of his duties, oversees animal control — told “06880” today that he and several others are helping the homeowner who, to the dismay of neighbors, has provided food and shelter for up to 30 feral cats.

The owner is “working hard to do the right thing,” Koskinas reports.

Four cats have already been removed, and will be spayed. Then they’ll be relocated, away from the neighborhood.

When feral cats multiply, it's no day at the beach.

When feral cats multiply, it’s no day at the beach.

The owner is also collaborating with PAWS. That organization will trap 5 more cats, spay them, and relocate them to farms and barns.

The woman has agreed to feed only her personal cats — not strays — and to do so inside her home, not outside. She will also give up 1 rescue cat for adoption.

“We’re committing to helping her in any way we can,” Koskinas says. “The neighbors are helping too.”

Several neighbors contacted “06880” to offer praise for Koskinas, PAWS and the homeowner.

Sounds like a problem that — in more than one way — is almost “fixed.”

Slice On Sunday

Westport’s newest tradition — Slice of Saugatuck — returns Sunday afternoon.

That’s right: Sunday. The first 2 Slices were held on Saturdays. But this one’s set for 1-4 p.m., this Sunday (September 14).

Slice of SaugatuckFor a mere $10 (just $5 for kids 6-12), you can wander up and down Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue. More restaurants than you ever knew were down there will offer food. Other businesses will hand out coupons, gifts and anything else they dream up.

There are bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since Saugatuck’s previous tradition, Festival Italiano.

See you at the Slice. On Sunday.

Positano’s Beach House

The news that Positano’s may close — and become a beachfront home — elicited plenty of comments on “06880.”

Readers spoke of the restaurant in glowing terms. Some thought of its long-ago, long-running predecessor, Cafe de la Plage.

But in between those 2 spots, there was — briefly — a restaurant called the Beach House.

Loretta Hallock sent along a painting by Tony Marino. The Westport artist loved Westport scenes. This one captures beautifully the charm of the restaurant, the neighborhood, and the “off-season.”

Beach House - Tony Marino