Category Archives: Restaurants

Mario’s Adds Something New To Menu

Much about Mario’s is timeless. For 47 years it’s served the same great steaks and prime ribs, in the same place, to — in many cases — the same customers.

But on Sunday, September 14, something changes. For the 1st time in nearly half a century, Mario’s will serve brunch.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario's.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario’s.

For years, owner Lori Kosut says, customers have asked for the meal. She herself loves it. But, she says, “it just wasn’t something my father wanted to do.”

Lori’s father was Frank “Tiger” DeMace. A Westport legend, he opened Mario’s in 1967. And he owned and operated it until the day he died, in 2012.

“I am very proud of what my father built,” Laurie says. “I am proud that 3 generations of my family work here. Mario’s has always been a family restaurant.

“But as a mother, I don’t want to be home making breakfast for my family on a Sunday. That’s one of the changes I’m most excited about. I’ll be here for brunch just as often as my customers.”

Marios logoAs noted though, some things about Mario’s never change. To honor her family, her restaurant and her Saugatuck location’s heritage, the brunch menu will include Italian specialties.

Italian “French” toast, prosciutto di Parma omelets, eggs Benedict and Italian pastries lead the offerings. Non-Italian items include steak and eggs, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s — all for $19.95.

“My father always insisted on keeping Mario’s affordable for families,” Laurie notes. “That will not change. Sundays are a day for family — whether it be a family of friends, or a family with children.”

That’s our Mario’s!

Blues, Views & BBQ Rocks Downtown

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.

The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.

Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.

When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.

Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).

Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.

This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.

Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”

If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.

(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library — click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Any Way You Slice It…

Whatever goes around, comes around.

And on Sunday, September 14, a couple of thousand folks will go around and around in Saugatuck.

That’s the date for Slice of Saugatuck. All afternoon long, for just $10 ($5 for kids 6-12), people will wander up Riverside Avenue, along Railroad Place, and out Saugatuck Avenue. Every restaurant offers food; others businesses hand out coupons, gifts or anything else they want. There is bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since, well, Festival Italiano.

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

It’s the 3rd “Slice” in 4 years, and that’s what the “goes around, comes around” line is all about.

RTM representative Matthew Mandell created the festival back in 2011. After 2 wildly successful years, he handed it off to the Chamber of Commerce. But the director did not see the benefit — for either the Chamber or the merchants — and last year the Slice was iced.

Now the Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director: Mandell. One of his 1st moves was to serve up the Slice.

Nice.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

“It’s a quadruple win for the town,” Mandell explains.

“One, it brings people to Saugatuck, and promotes the merchants and the area.

“Two, it’s a fantastic community event. It’s great for people-watching, and it brings everyone together.”

“Three, it raises money for the homeless and hungry. The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry received $5,000 from the 2012 proceeds, and once again they’re our beneficiary.

“Four, we hire Homes with Hope residents to work at the festival.”

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder's riverside dock.

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder’s riverside dock.

Mandell seems to have thought of everything. Including — 4 years ago — the perfect name.

“Saugatuck is shaped like a slice of pizza,” he says. (It is, if you consider its boundaries to be the train station at one end, and the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues the other.)

For many years, of course, Saugatuck was a thriving Italian neighborhood. There are still restaurants like Tutti’s and Julian’s, and quasi-Italian spots like
Tarry Lodge and Rizzuto’s. Mario’s and Tarantino’s are long-time classics. Dunville’s, Mansion, Viva and the Duck are not Italian, but they’ve outlasted even some of the oldtimers.

Newcomers like The Whelk, Rainbow Thai and Saugatuck Sweets — plus merchants like Downunder — have brought new life to the old area. So there will be plenty more free food than pizza available at the Slice.

Though I’m betting those slices will go real fast.

Qdoba, SHS And ALS

Qdoba — the new Mexican restaurant that will enliven/add to the traffic chaos of Playhouse Square — had a special pre-opening tonight.

Everything was on the house. Diners were asked to make a donation — 100% of which went to Staples High School athletics.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

Qdoba opens for real on Monday. From 5-9 p.m., pay whatever you want. 100% of the proceeds will go to the local ALS Association.

That’s a far better deal than pouring an ice bucket on your head.

Welcome to Westport, Qdoba.

And ¡muchas gracias!

Garelick & Herbs’ Saugatuck Saga

Over 20 years ago, Paula and Jason Garelick searched all around Westport for the right site. They had an idea — “Garelick & Herbs,” a spot for fresh, gourmet food, with takeout and catering — and they really liked Bridge Square, just across the river in Saugatuck.

Ultimately they decided on the Post Road, opposite Stop & Shop. It seemed more convenient for folks running around town. The Bridge Square property has become many things. Today it’s a Dunkin’ Donuts.

Next week, Saugatuck will finally have a Garelick & Herbs. The wildly popular store is opening a new location across the street from Bridge Square, at 580 Riverside Avenue. It’s the former site of CM Gourmet Market. (There are Garelick & Herbses in New Canaan and Greenwich, too.)

Garelick & Herbs: coming soon to Saugatuck Center.

Garelick & Herbs: coming soon to Saugatuck Center.

Meanwhile, the store is expanding its original location. It’s moving a few hundred yards east and across the Post Road in Southport, into a spot once occupied by the Double L Farm Stand.

Paula and Jason always wanted to be near the train station. People could stop in for an early coffee, and on their way home pick up a fresh-cooked meal. They’re now working on a special commuter menu: “The Saugatuck Express.”

It will join Garelick & Herbs’ well-loved seasonal menus, along with an organic salad and juice bar. They’ll continue catering everything from family events to elegant weddings.

Saugatuck Center is changing nearly every day. It’s a far different place than it was just a few years ago — let alone 1992, when Paula and Jason Garelick almost opened their 1st store there.

But I bet Garelick & Herbs will be a Riverside Avenue mainstay for decades to come.

Another place to get coffee in Saugatuck -- though 22 years ago it might have been the original Garelick & Herbs.

Another place to get coffee in Saugatuck — though 22 years ago it might have been the original Garelick & Herbs.

 

Picnic Table Plague Spreads

Once confined to Compo Beach’s South Beach grills, the plague of illegally saving picnic tables by planting tablecloths, plates and cutlery on top, then scurrying away for many hours, has spread to the brick pavilion next to Joey’s.

This was the scene at 9:30 this morning:

Picnic table

Two hours later, it was still a feast for ghosts.

On the upside, that is a really nice setup.

(Hat tip to Dick Lowenstein)

Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer Headline Best-Ever Blues, Views & BBQ Fest

When it comes to blues music, Westport is not exactly Chicago or Memphis.

And when you’re talking barbecue, Kansas City and Atlanta come to mind far quicker than this place.

But over the past 6 years — thanks to the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association has done a phenomenal job putting our town on the music and culinary maps.

The 7th annual event — set for Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31 on Labor Day weekend — will make all previous ones look like county fairs.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Blues, rock, brass and funk fans will be blown away by the lineup. The WDMA has signed Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer and a host of other big names — Bill Kirchen, Pop Chubby, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Raw Oyster Cult and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, to name a few — and rented the new Levitt Pavilion for 2 days of fantastic entertainment.

There’s 9 hours of music each day, for the very cool pre-pay price of $50 Saturday and $25 Sunday ($60 and $30 respectively, at the door). A 2-day pass is just $70 — and kids under 12 are free, with a paying adult.

(For Westporters only — and only through August 17 — the Saturday all-access pass is $40. The regular pre-sale price is $50; on-site, it’s $60.)

Meanwhile, the “Family Fun Fest” — in the library and Imperial Avenue parking lots — features plenty of food (including Bobby Q’s, but also from Blue Lemon, Meltmobile, Rolling Cones and others, plus of course a worthy selection of beverages); the always popular BBQ competition; rib- and pie-eating contests; cooking demonstrations; music (including School of Rock kids); bouncy stuff, and all that jazz.

And the price for that has been cut, from $25 last year to just $10. Kids 12 and under go free.

The Packin' Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The Packin’ Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The WDMA does a great job — often without proper credit — promoting free community events, like the Fine Arts Festival, Halloween Parade and Art About Town. They donate to other non-profits, and with projects like Tunnel Vision they beautify downtown.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is the WDMA’s signature event. In just 2 weeks, Westport will be smokin’.

(For advance tickets and more information, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Remembering Laura Plimpton

Laura Plimpton — the youngest sister of Martha Stewart, and a longtime writer for the former Westporter’s blog — died Wednesday, after suffering a massive aneurysm. She was 59 years old, and lived in Weston.

Laura left a living will. She was kept on life support until her 3 children could say goodbye, and testing could be completed for organ donation.

Laura’s husband Randy — a Westport realtor and independent property manager — wrote this remembrance.

Laura’s death was totally unexpected. I’m still in shock, but buoyed by my kids, extended family, and wonderful network of friends.

That evening, my kids, sons-in-law and I ate dinner. We served ourselves dessert – a blueberry crisp that Laura baked the day before she collapsed. Laura was a brilliant chef, and eating her delicious dessert was the definition of bittersweet. Here was this perfect creation that she had so lovingly prepared for us, even though she would no longer be here. It felt like we were giving her and ourselves culinary last rites.

This “last” — one of so many for me this week — made me vividly remember a “first”: the first time I met my wife. It was in Westport.

Laura and Randy Plimpton.

Laura and Randy Plimpton.

In the 1980s and ’90s I was the producer for Jerry Simpson, a New York photographer. We were contracted to shoot for a magazine story at Martha Stewart’s property. So Jerry and I drove up I-95 and arrived at Turkey Hill. Laura was working as a food and prop stylist for her sister, and we hit it off immediately.

After shooting all day long, Jerry, Laura and I decided to grab some dinner. Jerry and I were staying overnight at the Inn at Longshore, so the 3 of us went there. Instead of eating we rented some golf clubs and tried our hand on the course. It was a disaster. None of us had any clue how to play, and we sprayed balls everywhere.

Our memorable game led to drinks at the bar. From there we went to the Black Duck for more. Jerry and I went back to Longshore, and Laura drove all the way back to her house in Weston. The house she went home to became our home together for almost 25 years.

The next day we returned to work, still recovering from our antics. Laura told us that she had woken up to find that her shoes were still on, but somehow on the wrong feet. We had a great laugh, and it made for a hilarious beginning to our relationship.

I know there will be many more “lasts” in the days, weeks and months ahead. At the same time, my Laura’s love has already led to healing and warmth in our family this week, and will lead to many “firsts” in the years to come.

Que Pasa, Qdoba?

You may not have heard of Qdoba. But your kids probably have.

As reported in “06880” way back in Enero, the Mexican grill — beloved by college students for its (relatively) fresh food and (somewhat) reasonable prices — is coming to our little ciudad.

The sign went up today:

Qdoba

Burritos, quesadillas and 3-cheese nachos can’t be far behind.

Qdoba is located in the free-standing space at the entrance to Playhouse Square. The previous tenant was Pierre Deux. Before that, it was Alphagraphics. Earlier, it was Sam Goody.

Waaaaay before that, the Crest Drive-In.

And yeah — even longer ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth — it was a Dairy Queen.

Dairy Queen, Westport CT 1956

Fortunately, Qdoba has its own parking lot. So traffic in Playhouse Square won’t be adversely affected — well, not too much.

On the Post Road around that light, though — ¡ay, caramba!

Papa John’s Comes To Westport

Well, sort of.

I got a semi-frantic email yesterday, from an alert and very concerned “06880” reader. She wrote:

I was having dinner with my parents and a couple of their friends.

We were moaning about the  beach and some of the plans for downtown. Anyway, one of them asked if I had seen a sign for Papa John’s coming to Main Street in the old Remarkable Book Shop (Talbots).

I haven’t been down to investigate. Frankly, I’m not sure I can handle it. It might put me over the edge again, like Dunkin Donuts in Saugatuck.

Wondering what you know or have seen.

“06800” is a full-service blog. So I headed downtown — braving the art show crowds — and I can report that, without a doubt, it definitely is true.

The sign — at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza — can’t be any clearer:

Pappajohn