Category Archives: Restaurants

Sam Appel’s Alice B. Toklas Connection

As a child, Sam Appel created “menus” of cereal and yogurt for her parents — and asked them to pay for their meals.

At Staples High School, she took every culinary class she could. She served as a teaching assistant for instructor Cecily Gans; worked at her summer cooking camp; helped with her catering jobs, and assisted on a cookbook.

Sam was drawn to Chef Gans’ “personality, artistry, and beautiful food.”

She was similarly inspired by English teacher Gus Young. He introduced her to the “art and magic” of food writing.

Not surprisingly, Sam’s college application essay was about food writing.

She had thought about culinary schools. But when she discovered Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration — with its focus on hospitality — she realized that the business side of food was as intriguing as cooking it.

Sam Appel

After graduating from Cornell in 2010, she joined restaurant software company Avero as a consultant. Last May she moved to a marketing position with Chipotle. (Her territory includes Westport — so, coincidentally, she’s involved with their soon-to-be-opened restaurant here.)

Sam loves her job. But she’s just as passionate about the Toklas Society. Named for the legendary cookbook author/creative salon hostess Alice B. Toklas, the 2-year-old nonprofit provides opportunities for empowerment, networking and professional growth to women in the (traditionally male-dominated) food and hospitality industry.

As director of communications, Sam hears plenty of stories about — and is inspired by — female chefs and entrepreneurs.

The Toklas Society has just partnered with Food & Wine Magazine. The prestigious publication and Toklas will feature leaders and rising stars in the food and beverage worlds (on Twitter, follow #foodwinewomen).

Sam Appel is proud that she can support talented women in an industry she loves. She is equally proud that her passion was stirred by 2 key people — Chef Cecily Gans, and English teacher Gus Young — a decade ago at Staples High School.

 

 

Looking To Make A Splash

Splash — the much-loved Longshore restaurant/patio bar — closed recently. Off-season business at its off-the-beaten-path location was not strong enough to make up for the summertime gold rush.

It’s now on the market. And — according to commercial realtor Skip Lane of Cushman & Wakefield — a top-notch restaurant operator ought to make a great go of it.

Splash restaurant

Splash restaurant

“It’s a fabulous location,” Lane says. He’s right: The handsome building shares space with an inn, sits smack in the middle of a golf course, fronts a postcard-perfect waterfront, and is steps away from tennis and paddle courts, a pool and skating rink.

Lane says one key is for the new owner to work more closely with all the non-summer activity (including that skating rink, and cross country skiing).

Interested in making a new splash at Longshore? Contact Lane: 203-326-5892.

What A Way To Start The Day

Westport firefighters don’t look for glory. They just do their job — and they do it very, very well.

Joe Valiante is retired, after 35 years of service. But the native Westporter continues to help.

Joe Valiante

Joe Valiante

On Wednesday morning he sat in the Commuter Coffee Shop, waiting for his wife and grandchild.

A customer abruptly went outside. His wife followed.

Then she raced back in, asking if anyone knew the Heimlich maneuver.

Joe gave a few quick thrusts, and dislodged a large piece of a roll.

The man and his wife thanked Joe. He went back inside. His wife and grandchild arrived.

“It was a good way to start the day,” Joe says simply.

No. It was a great, life-saving way.

Arrividerci, Positano

Tomorrow is Positano’s last day at its current location: Old Mill Beach, on Hillspoint Road. Sometime in 2015 it will move into the former Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positanos 2 - Fred Cantor

The current Positano property has already been sold. One rumor is that the new owners plan to tear it down, and construct a (big) home there.

Another rumor is that some nearby neighbors would like to buy those owners out, and bring in a new restaurant.

If that doesn’t happen, our town — which loves the water — will be left with only 1 beachfront restaurant: Splash.

Or 2, counting Joey’s.

(Photos/Fred Cantor)

(Photos/Fred Cantor)

Something About That Snickerdoodle…

Today’s New York Times carries an in-depth story (“Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment With Cannabis“) on a growing trend: cooking with marijuana.

As the herb becomes legal — recreationally in 4 states, for medical use in 23 (including Connecticut) — “cooking with cannabis is emerging as a legitimate and very lucrative culinary pursuit,” the Times says.

Noted food writer Kim Severson reported on a discussion in a 5-star Boulder hotel earlier this year. Chefs in town for a conference examined “a collection of marijuana-infused sweets.”

Michel Nischan — identified as “a chef from Connecticut,” but best known in Westport as the former owner of The Dressing Room — described a snickerdoodle, which Severson said was “baked with just enough cannabis-infused butter to give a novice a tender high.”

“The weed is pretty faint, but it’s not an un-delicious weed type flavor,” Nischan pronounced. “It’s almost like when you do a savory cookie and you might find sage or rosemary or verbena in it.”

Michel Nischan, with a more ordinary crop.

Michel Nischan, with a more ordinary crop.

A Holiday Toast To (And From) Jr’s

John Brandt has been in Westport long enough to see a lot of changes. But some things never do. That’s why the Staples Class of 1961 grad was glad to send this report along:

From time to time, a vestige of the old Westport bubbles to the surface. Tonight was one of those times.

Jr’s Deli and Grill on Riverside Avenue has been a Westport fixture since the 1970s. That’s when Junior Bieling and his wife, Bedford Junior High School teacher, the former Carol Digisi, opened a great little breakfast and lunch spot.

Jrs - sign

Their nephew, Jeff Arciola, took over the business when they retired. He’s now handed it off to the current “chef,” Eric Johnson, and his “sous chef,” Joe. The ambiance hasn’t changed, nor has the clientele. It remains one of the warmest places in town.

Last night Eric invited his regulars, their families and friends, and anyone who loves great food and company to a holiday open house to celebrate the season and the continuation of a Westport tradition. We gathered to renew our commitment to one another and to the town we love.

The air was festive, the food and drink were terrific, but the company — commuters and contractors, lawyers and landscapers, retirees and working stiffs of every stripe — was a cross-section of what Westport was, is and will be. It’s friends and neighbors supporting one of the great places on Earth: our town.

Patching Together Westport’s Top 10 Restaurants

Patch is not exactly at the forefront of Westport media. That’s not surprising, since it is was owned by AOL — you know, the company that back in the last century was for a while the world’s largest distributor of CDs.

Kids! Ask your parents what these were.

Kids! Ask your parents what these were!

But the other day someone sent me a link to Patch’s list of the Top 10 Restaurants in Westport (according to Yelp).

It must have been a slow news day over at Patch. But hey — it’s a slow news day at “06880” too!

So here is the Yelp list.

There’s no arguing with #10 and 9: Acqua and Via Sforza. Kibberia is #8, though I’d bump this great Middle Eastern spot a few notches higher.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

#7 is Rainbow Thai, in Bridge Square. I’m glad it’s not overlooked.

Checking in at #6 is Yamafuji, which apparently is a sushi place across from Super Stop & Shop. I’ve never heard of it, but Yelpers give it rave reviews.

The Top 5 is where things get a little odd.

Yelp’s 5th most popular restaurant in Westport is Gold’s Delicatessen. Sure, it’s been around since Moses. And yeah, the lox and bagels are good. But when was the last time you heard anyone say answer “Gold’s!” to the question, “We’re looking for a really good restaurant in Westport. What do you recommend?”*

Westport's 5th favorite restaurant. (Photos/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

Westport’s 5th favorite restaurant. (Photos/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

#4 is Finalmente — that’s reasonable — but #3 is Westfair Fish & Chips.

Let me repeat that. The 3rd best restaurant in Westport is a place whose signature dish comes wrapped in newspaper.

Fortunately, Westport’s Top 2 are actual restaurants, with many devoted fans. The Whelk is #2, LeFarm is #1 — and Bill Taibe is a very happy man.

lefarm-logo

I know that ranking restaurants is subjective. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, to use a pretty gross but nonetheless apt saying.

Westport Patch invited readers to comment on Yelp’s Top 10 list. There were none.

I bet there will be a few here on “06880.”

*Around the last time you clicked on Westport Patch for the latest town news.

 

 

Grilled Cheese Eatery Bites The Dust

Java lasted 11 months in Westport.

The Grilled Cheese Eatery wasn’t even here that long.

The restaurant — which never quite figured out whether it was a kids’ spot or upscale, or eat-in or takeout — has been replaced by a large “For Lease” sign.

Grilled Cheese Eatery

“Prime Retail” is optimistic. It’s a tough spot: Minimal parking, in a small strip mall, on a 1-way section of the Post Road.

Even the very popular Great Cakes next door had a tough go.

On the other hand, there seems to be an endless supply of nail salons ready to file in to any open space.

Breaking News — Java To Close

Java — which gave downtown a needed shot of joe — is leaving its funky Church Lane spot.

Its last day of operation is December 31 — less than a year after it arrived.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

But fear not. SoNo Baking Company is moving in.

Maybe.

A Java manager — who declined to give his name — said this morning that employees learned on Monday they’ll move to a new location.

He’s not sure where it is, or when. But he said that SoNo Baking will replace Java in February.

SoNo Baking CompanyThat was news to 2 SoNo employees — one in the Westport store at AJ’s Farm Stand, the other at South Norwalk headquarters.

They put me in touch with SoNo Baking Company & Cafe owner John Barricelli.

“That’s a big rumor going around,” he said. “It’s very preliminary. Where did you hear that?”

From the Java manager, I said.

“Well, it’s probably going to happen,” John elaborated. “But until the leases are signed, nothing’s definite.”

Stay tuned. If we hear more about why Java is closing, where it’s going or if SoNo Baking is definitely moving in, we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, that news ought to wake you up.

Lights Float Across Main Street

iFloat is a downtown oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.

iFloat logoLast year, owner David Conneely thought of putting up decorations to brighten the drab Main Street scene. But he was too busy —  that’s what happens when you run a business that helps people slow down — so it never happened.

This year, he lit some candles. He wasn’t satisfied, but it was a start.

Yesterday, he read an “06880” post about another dismal, decorations-less downtown holiday season.

This morning — as in, 2 a.m. — David was hard at work adding color to the iFloat windows above Oscar’s.

iFloat lights 1

He’s proud of his work. And, he notes, he bought the lights locally. So he looks forward to bringing his receipt to the Spotted Horse, for a free dessert.

The view from inside.

The view from inside, looking toward Tavern on Main.