Category Archives: Restaurants

All’s Well That Ends, Mel

For Westport Pizzeria, one door — the one at 107 Main Street — closed yesterday.

But another one opened today, at 143 Post Road East.

Here — without missing a beat — was the noontime scene:

Westport Pizzeria 1

Westport Pizzeria 3

Westport Pizzeria 2

It was Day 1, of the next 45 years.

The Last Slice

Tomorrow, this scene will be part of Westport history:

(Photo/Ted Stonbely)

(Photo/Ted Stonbely)

After 45 years, Westport Pizzeria is closing its Main Street doors. The narrow, never-changing restaurant, with its skinny tables, small stools, and special smell — all will be memories, after the last slice is served tonight.

But all is well. Tomorrow, “the pizzeria” opens at its new location: 143 Post Road East, across from the old post office.

Mangia!

Big Switch In Saugatuck: Jr’s Hot Dog Stand Changes Hands

Jr’s Hot Dog Stand is a special Westport place — for 2 reasons.

Sitting on the banks of the Saugatuck, it offers the best view of any deli in town.

And for nearly 40 years, it’s provided a “Cheers”-like home for hundreds of regulars.

Jrs - sign

Junior Bieling and his wife — the former Carol Digisi — opened the breakfast-and-lunch spot in 1976. Their nephew Jeff Arciola took over 10 years ago. He added a few items to the menu, put “Deli & Grill” on the sign so people would know he served more than hot dogs, and added a mobile “Weeniemobile.”

But Jr’s has remained pretty much the same, since the Ford administration.

A while ago Jeff and his wife Kathi made a momentous decision. They and their kids will move to North Carolina. Kathi — herself a 4th-generation Westporter — is pursuing a nursing career. “It’s time for the 2nd part of our lives,” Jeff says.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr's counter.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr’s counter.

So — at the end of April — a non-family member will take over Jr’s. He’s Lou Promuto, a restaurateur who owns Sunset Grille and Valentino’s in Norwalk. Eric Johnson, the new manager will come in soon, to get to know the place, its people and their routines.

There’s no need to tinker with Jr’s winning formula. The plumbers, masons and electricians will still arrive at 6 a.m., before work. Workers from nearby Riverside Avenue office buildings will stop by from 8 to 10. A mixed crowd will be in at lunch, for burgers, chili and meatball parm.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

Whoever is there will continue to talk, argue and — in the words of longtime regular (and self-professed token liberal) John Brandt — “solve world problems.”

Jeff is confident the traditional hangout is in good hands. “I think Junior and Carol would be happy,” he says of his uncle and aunt who died within weeks of each other 2 years ago.

About the only thing that will change is that Jeff’s 2 kids won’t stop by on their way to pre-school. “They’re the show,” John says, of the attention they get from the crowd.

Otherwise, Jr’s will remain the same.

The new owner bought the Weeniemobile, too.

Targeting An Empty Strip Mall

Target Training has closed its retail outlet on the Post Road. They plan to concentrate on their fitness workout business, on the 2nd floor.

So — with the departure of Great Cakes next door, and until the arrival of Grilled Cheese Eatery – the entire lower level of 772 Post Road East is now empty.

Target Training

Looking Back Fondly On…?

From time to time, to the delight of some readers — and the annoyance of others — “06880″ waxes rapturously about long-gone relics from Westport’s past.

The Remarkable Book Shop. Allen’s Clam House. Famous Artists School.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a week — even if you moved here this winter — you probably know those names.

Now it’s time to turn the tables.

Alert (and creative) “06880″ reader Erik Marcus suggests looking ahead and back, simultaneously. How about crowdsourcing current Westport stores, restaurants and institutions that — 30, 40 or 50 years from now — would deserve as much respect, if they are no longer around?

To make it interesting — and because we’ve given plenty of props already to places like Westport Pizzeria and Oscar’s — let’s limit it to relative newcomers. In other words, you can only mention something that did not exist here before 2000.

Hit “Comments” to add your favorite future nostalgia-inducers. Add a few details. And please, use your full, real name.

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

Smoking: The Sequel

It happens like clockwork: I write a random, Westport-related post. Someone responds with an even more interesting back story.

Within minutes of this morning’s look back at our town’s former smoking culture, alert “06880″ reader  Adam Stolpen clued me in to a May 16, 1987 New York  Times piece.

Cigarettes 1Headlined “A Tough Smoking Plan is Debated in Westport,” it said a proposed law would require restaurant owners to “erect walls, set up partitions or install separate ventilating systems to segregate smokers from non-smokers.” It would also limit cigarette smoking in the workplace to designated areas.

The RTM would vote on “one of the nation’s most restrictive smoking laws, rivaling ones recently approved in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Aspen, Colo.”

The Times quoted Stolpen, an RTM member and principal author of the proposal:  ”Westport is a relatively enlightened community. People come to Westport for variety of reasons. One is clean air. (People) are aware of what’s healthy and not healthy, and studious of what is in their best interest.”

Calling Westport — with about 100 restaurants — a “dining center of Fairfield County and the state,” the Times noted that many restaurateurs opposed the ban.

”I come from an Eastern bloc country,” said Horst Antosch, owner of La Cle d’Or, who was born in East Germany. ”And I am seeing a freedom of choice being taken away. This is not like an airplane. A customer does not have to come into my restaurant if he doesn’t want to.”

Chez Pierre owner Brendan J. Donohoe added, ”A restaurant, since time immemorial, has been a place where people have gone to eat, drink, smoke and make outrageous statements or whatever they want. What’s wrong with that?”

Chez Pierre was a famed French restaurant on Main Street. Today it's Tavern on Main.

Chez Pierre was a famed French restaurant on Main Street. Today it’s Tavern on Main.

The Times noted that some customers were also upset.

”People smoke in restaurants — period,” said Mitchell L. Katz, 37, a pension consultant, as he dined at the Mansion Clam House. ”If you don’t want to be in a restaurant where people are smoking, then don’t come in. ”

The piece ended with a quote from Second Selectman Wally Meyer:

I would hope that we would approve an ordinance that did not allow stray smoke to move from a smoking area into a non-smoking section. But we’re not boutique-ee. We’re going to come up with the most sensible solution that respects the rights of smokers and non-smokers.’

In fact, what followed was a typical Westport controversy. Following intense and contentious discussion, the RTM voted the proposal down.

After which Stolpen received death threats from an overwrought restaurant owner, and his mailbox was blown up.

“I attributed it to nicotine withdrawal and cherry bombs,” Stolpen says 27 years later.

Duck!

In the wake of our most recent snowstorm — for some reason, it had no name — alert “06880″ reader Howard Silver took this photo of one of Westport’s most beloved institutions:

Black Duck

And, he wondered, “how does the Black Duck stay on land?”

Coincidentally, Mary Palmieri Gai posted on Facebook’s “You Know You’re From Westport … If …” page yesterday. It’s from a 1910 Norwalk Hour story:

DESTROY THAT OLD HULK: There was talk sometime ago regarding the destroying of the old Hulk south of Saugatuck carriage bridge but yet nothing has been done about the matter by the selectmen. Since it was understood that the promise to do away with this unsightly blot on the third page of Westport’s beauty, many citizens are wondering why they have not made good on the promises.

The expense would not be great and there is no question but that the outlay that would be necessary to do away with this old hulk would be money well spent.

So the citizens of the town are hoping that the officials do something immediately toward improving the appearance of the scene south of the Saugatuck Bridge by destroying the old time boat that has rested on the mud flats at that point for a great many years.

A lively debate followed. Some folks thought the story referred to the Duck. But, owner Pete Aitken said, the restaurant — originally a barge — was not hauled there until 1961.

Perhaps the “old Hulk” is the vessel mired in mud immediately south of the Bridge Street bridge — visible only (but always) at low tide.

As for Howard Silver’s question of how the restaurant survives?

That’s just more proof that everyone loves the Duck.

Including God.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.

Grilled Cheese Goes Upscale — And Comes To Town

You know the saying: One door closes, another opens.

Well, sometimes it’s right next door.

Though Great Cakes ended its 32-year run on Sunday, that small Post Road East strip mall will soon see a new tenant.

The Grilled Cheese Eatery grills its first cheese in a couple of weeks. It’s the 2nd location; the 1st opened last October, in Fairfield.

Henri and Ivanina Donneaux

Henri and Ivanina Donneaux

It’s the brainchild of Henri and Ivanina Donneaux. He’s a French-born chef, who’s lived in the US for over 25 years. She’s Bulgarian, with a long career in food and beverages.

They married 8 years ago and opened Cafe Lola, in Fairfield. They imagined it as a “quirky, fun” French bistro. But gradually the clientele skewed older.

In their mid-40s, with a 3-year-old, they began talking about a place where adults could enjoy sophisticated food, but at the same time be casual enough for kids and teenagers.

“Who doesn’t like grilled cheese?” Ivanina asks.

With the current trend in restaurants to 1-food menus, that hit the spot.

The menu ranges from the classic grilled cheese...

The menu ranges from the classic grilled cheese…

The Eatery does not do grilled cheese like Friendly’s. There are 15 varieties, including “The Smoky” (smoked Gouda, Muenster, baby back ribs, pickles, caramelized onions on sour dough), “The Gardener” (goat cheese, Fontina, 5 grilled vegetables, basil, olives on 9-grain) and “The Chesapeake” (crab cake, roasted peppers, Panko crisp, dill Havarti on English muffin).

There are 3 types of specialty fries (rosemary-parmesan, feta-oregano and Gruyere-truffle oil); several soups, and a create-your-own salad with over 40 ingredients.

All sandwiches can be ordered on gluten-free bread. At least 2 soups a day are dairy- and gluten-free. Even the French onion soup is vegan.

...to one with ribs and caramelized onions.

…to one with ribs and caramelized onions.

The Westport location will be smaller than Fairfield: 10 seats, and a stand-up ledge. There is no bar. Ivanina and Henri plan to do plenty of takeout and catering.

The Grilled Cheese Eatery seems to have thought of everything.

Including a perfect — no, genius — location.

Once you’ve finished that mac-and-cheese grilled cheese, the boneless hot wings grilled cheese, or any other variety, just walk out the door and up a few steps.

Target Training fitness center is waiting.

Throwing A Parade For Westport Pizzeria?

S&M Pizza

Well, not exactly.

But this photo — sent by alert reader Mark Potts, showing a 1972-ish Memorial Day parade — illustrates several key takeaways from today:

Westport Pizzeria is moving to a great new location.

Westport loves a celebration.

Yes, there really was a restaurant called “S&M Pizza.”

Is this a great town or what?

Main Street Post-Pizzeria: And Then There Was One

As Mel Mioli and I chatted yesterday afternoon about the imminent relocation of Westport Pizzeria to 143 Post Road East, we remembered the many Main Street businesses that his narrow restaurant outlasted.

We didn’t chat about chain stores. Our trip down memory lane was all about the “real” stores that — once upon a time — defined downtown.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

All of these places existed during the 45 years Westport Pizzeria has been a Main Street mainstay:

  • Achorn’s Pharmacy
  • Bill’s Smoke Shop
  • Charles Market
  • Chez Pierre
  • Charles of the Ritz Hair Salon
  • County Barber Shop
  • Dorain’s Drug Store
  • Klein’s Department Store
  • Liquor Locker
  • Mark’s Place
  • Remarkable Book Shop
  • Sally’s Place
  • Selective  Eye
  • Sloane’s Furniture
  • Soup’s On
  • Sport Mart
  • Swezey’s Jewelers
  • Westport Food Center
  • Welch’s Hardware

And that’s just off the top of our heads.

Mel and I came up with the name of just one Main Street non-chain business that was there in 1968, and still remains. In fact, it started out a few doors down, a couple of decades before Mel and Joe Mioli opened their pizzeria.

Congratulations, Oscar’s! You’re the last of a great bunch left on Main Street.

Oscar's Delicatessen (Photo/Videler Photography)

Oscar’s Delicatessen (Photo/Videler Photography)