Category Archives: Restaurants

How To Succeed In Westport — With Really Trying

Kibberia is one of my favorite restaurants.

The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.

“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.

Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.

“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.

That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.

It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.

He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.

She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.

Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.

He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.

KibberiaThis has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.

It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.

But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)

Westport: Low Fences, Communal Spirit, Personal Pizzas

On Thursday night 9 teenagers left Westport, for a plane back to Singapore. They were different people than when they’d arrived, just 2 weeks earlier.

The group — part of the 2nd annual group to visit from the elite Hwa Chong Institute — lived with Staples students, attended classes, and visited New York City and Yale.

But — as is so often the case with programs like this — the little things meant the most.

The guests shared their impressions on a Facebook page called “Staples High Immersion 2014.” Among their observations:

In Singapore, students are “generally meek in front of their teachers.” Here, school relationships are very relaxed.  As a result, discussions are lively, resulting in “effective learning.” And without uniforms, Westport students “are free to express their personal identity.”

Staples’ electives were eye-opening. Radio, television, film-making, music, pottery, digital darkroom, drawing, painting, sculpturing, jewelry making, woodworking — plus the opportunity to choose another language, like French, Spanish or Mandarin — was intriguing.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

But that was nothing compared to extracurricular activities. The Singapore teenagers were impressed that Inklings, the school newspaper, gives students the opportunity to write on topics that interest them, from fashion to anti-Semitism.

The visitors were wowed by Staples Players’ “Hello, Dolly!” — let’s hope they don’t think that every high school puts on shows like that — and were amazed too at the importance that Wrecker sports hold for many students.

“Such is a mark of an obviously holistic education,” one youngster wrote. “Academics, while important, do not rob students of their time to engage in something they want to do and develop.

“Crudely speaking,” he added, “Staples makes Singaporean schools look like factories.”

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

The strong, close bonds of families in Westport neighborhoods impressed the Singapore teens. One said that “communal spirit” was lacking in his country.

And, he added, Westport homes do not have “high fences or walls to form a barricade around their properties,” as he was used to. (Another was surprised that Americans don’t mind living near cemeteries. That would never happen back home.)

Life here, one boy said, is less hectic than in Singapore. His father works overseas; his mother gets home from work after he is asleep, and he has not had a home-cooked meal since he was 11. Both host parents here cook.

He called it “heartwarming” to see that Westport families spend “sufficient time to interact and understand each and every family member.” Singapore youngsters “crave” that, he said.

One of his classmates remarked on the ease with which “numerous visitors” dropped in at his host family’s house.

It doesn't get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

It doesn’t get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

A host family took their guest to a local restaurant. A pizza that would be a meal for 2 or 3 people back home was his alone. At a supermarket, the only Coke he could find was 4.5 liters. On field trips, he and his classmates could not finish all the food they were served.

One Facebook post called Westport “stunning.” The “serene and quiet” autumn setting was a sharp contrast to “noisy and high energy” Singapore.

New York, meanwhile, seemed “straight out of a movie.” It had a “slight fairy-tale feel to it” — despite the “innumerable homeless people.”

“I am indeed glad I was honoured with the opportunity to come here,” a student wrote. “I feel accomplished and less ignorant” for having experienced Western culture.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family's house.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family’s house.

And, of course, nearly everyone asked the Singaporeans — “frantically,” one said — if they are allowed to chew gum.

“That is one thing we don’t really regard as something big, but apparently in other countries it appears really strange,” he noted.

Which is why all of us should travel. And when we do, we should wander out of our comfort zones. There are many lessons to be learned. As our Singapore guests have shown us, not all take place in school.

Sugar & Olives Opens Its Own Farmers’ Market

Sugar & Olives may be Westport’s best-kept culinary secret.

Okay, it’s just over the Norwalk line on Lois Street, off Route 1. But it’s owned by Westporter Jennifer Balin, and it’s attracted a loyal (if quiet) corps of local food aficionados.

Now, the funky dining room/cocktail bar/coffee bar/cooking classroom/caterer is adding a farmers’ market.

Sugar & Olives

Called “Farms and a Market,” it runs Fridays through February. It’s indoor, and is open rain (or snow) or shine. Food trucks also serve up goodies outside.

The farmers practice non-GMO, and maintain organic standards if they’re not certified. Offerings include locally produced milk, eggs, cheese, honey, flour, grains, produce, meat and other provisions.

Sounds like the only things you can’t get at the Sugar & Olives farmers’ market is, well, sugar and olives.

 

 

 

Hey, Guest Bartender!

If restaurants can have a guest chef, I guess bars can have a guest bartender.

Today (Thursday, November 13, 8 p.m.) Steve Schneider slips into that role at Dunville’s.

It’s a way of celebrating the renovations the popular Saugatuck spot has made. Co-owner Stephen Carpentieri calls it “Dunville’s 2.o.”

“Carpi” and Schneider are no strangers to each other. They co-starred in “Hey Bartender,” the award-winning documentary directed by Doug Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa. Both are longtime Westporters.

Steve Schneider

Steve Schneider

The film examines the 2 Steves — Schneider and Carpentieri — as they try to achieve their dreams through bartending. It’s available on Showtime, Netflix and iTunes.

Since the theatrical release, Schneider has flown to London, Berlin, Russia, Asia and Australia. He’s guest-bartended at the top spots in the world.

Tonight he adds Dunville’s to the list.

 

Breaking Restaurant News: Positano’s Replaces Dressing Room At Playhouse

Old Mill’s loss is the Westport Country Playhouse’s gain.

Positano’s — the much-loved-but-too-seldom-visited restaurant kitty-corner from Elvira’s — is closing at its Old Mill Beach location. “06880” broke that news 2 months ago.

Positano's, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira's.

Positano’s, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira’s.

But it’s reopening in February, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s the space was occupied for 8 years by The Dressing Room. The Paul Newman-created restaurant closed last January.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano’s has been owned and operated by the Scarpati family for more than 15 years. Owner Giuseppe Scarpati was born on the island of Ponza, Italy. He learned to cook from his father, who studied with master chefs in Italy and was one of the island’s leading fisherman. Giuseppe focuses on all-natural cooking.

Under chef Michel Nischan, the Dressing Room was Fairfield County’s 1st farm-to-table restaurant.

So Positano’s stands poised to carry on that natural tradition — right next door to the 83-year-old Playhouse, with its own venerable history.

But the question remains: Will the tradition of an Old Mill Beach restaurant now be history, replaced by a large and imposing private home?

A Developing Story

Ever since the Wright Street and Gorham Island buildings were erected in the 1970s — and those were quite some erections — Westport has been consumed by construction.

Even so, 2014 stands out as a landmark year.

Here are some of the developments — as in, real estate developments — that have occurred in the past few months. Or are occurring right now.

  • The Y moved into its new home. The Kemper-Gunn House is being moved across Elm Street to the parking lot, and Bedford Square will soon rise downtown.
  • The Levitt Pavilion finally completed its renovation. Nearby, plans for Jesup Green — with possibly reconfigured parking, a new Westport Arts Center and a renovated library — are in the works. And, of course, committees and commissions have been talking all year about new ideas for all of downtown.
  • Across the river, Save the Children has skedaddled. That fantastic waterfront property will be redeveloped, such as the adjacent Bartaco/National Hall buildings have been reimagined recently.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River includes the old National Hall and the relatively new Wright Street building. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

  • Compo Acres Shopping Center is being renovated. The Fresh Market shopping center — and the one across the Post Road, with Dunkin’ Donuts — will get a facelift (and new tenants) soon.
  • Applications have been made for housing on the site of the Westport Inn. Across town, there are rumors of new housing on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
  • Senior housing has been shot down on Baron’s South. But it won’t remain undisturbed forever.
  • Phase II of Saugatuck Center has been completed. Phase III — on  Railroad Place — is coming down the tracks.

That’s a lot — as in, lots of building lots.

And nearly 2 months still remain in this year.

P.S. Oh, yeah. The beach too.

 

Another Little Kitchen

How many little kitchens — er, Little Kitchens — can Westport support?

At least 2.

There’s the pan-Asian place in Compo Shopping Center. Up sprouts Leera Little Thai Kitchen, which is taking over the “Make & Mingle” storefront across from the old post office.

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

That strip of Post Road East was once home to La Villa (before that, Mr. Sandwich), S&M (and later Joe’s) Pizza, Baskin-Robbins and Häagen-Dazs.

Now there’s Finalmente, Post 154, Blue Lemon and Westport Pizzeria. Plus Leera Little Thai Kitchen.

Very quietly, that section of town is becoming a foodie’s destination. Who knew?

Pete Aitkin Buys A New Black Duck

If you know the Black Duck — and who doesn’t? — you know the popular riverfront barge/bar/restaurant/hangout shares a name with the Black Duck racing boat.

Owner Pete Aitkin just received his latest toy: a custom-built 30-foot twin 300-horse Merc speedboat.

Last night, the Duck docked at the Duck.

This morning, Pete pulled it out of the water at Compo. He’ll store it till next year.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitken at the helm.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitkin at the helm.

The Black Duck — food version — put Westport on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” map.

The maritime Black Duck did the same for offshore boat racing.

Tutti’s, Tarantino’s, Tarry Lodge: Top that!

(Hat tip: Randy Chiristophersen)

How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Beachfront Restaurant In Westport?

$2 million.

That’s the price “233 LLC” recently paid “Beachhouse LLC” for the property at 233 Hillspoint Road — aka Positano’s.

If the rumors that the waterfront restaurant will be turned into a private home are true, it will mark the 1st new residence on that stretch of Hillspoint Road since the pavilion on Schlaet’s Point was demolished 3 decades ago.

Positano's, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira's, may soon go the way...

Positano’s, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira’s, may soon go the way…

 

...of the old pavilion at Schlaet's Point, just around the curve closer to Soundview Drive.

…of the old pavilion at Schlaet’s Point, just around the curve close to Soundview Drive.