Category Archives: Restaurants

Ian Manheimer’s Slice Of New York

Westport Pizzeria offers the best slice Ian Manheimer has eaten anywhere — outside of New York and New Haven.

He should know. He wrote the book on pizza.

Literally.

The New York Pizza Project is a fabulously photographed, intriguingly produced journey into the world of New York City slices. The subtitle is “Exploring a city through its quintessential food.”

But this is no Zagat’s for ‘za.

Manheimer — a 2001 Staples grad, who majored in communications and English at Tulane, but (most importantly for this project) lived in New York until age 12 — and 4 friends have produced an homage to pizza. As well as to the men who make it.

During intense discussions over another important question — which pizzeria produced the best slice — Manheimer and his 20-something buddies decided to conduct hands-on (and mouths-full) research.

Ian Manheimer, hard at work.

Ian Manheimer, hard at work.

With their commitment to social justice — Manheimer, for example, founded RFK Young Leaders, a program of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights that concentrates on groups like farm workers — the quintet quickly realized that the New York pizza story involves many kinds of dough.

Dough, as in dollars too.

“This book honors the guys struggling to perpetuate a tradition we all love,” Manheimer says.

“It’s mostly 2nd-generation Italians and 1st-generation Mexicans. After that, it’s Greeks and Albanians. They face threats of gentrifying neighborhoods, immigration, and how to make money on a $2.50 product. No one had documented their stories.”

Now, Manheimer has.

He and his friends set up an Instagram account. New Yorkers responded with photos and comments about their favorite neighborhood pizzerias.

Eventually the authors narrowed their focus to 120 shops, in all 5 boroughs. Over 5 years they took tens of thousands of shots, and conducted hundreds of interviews. They focused on local shops — no chains. And no “gourmet pizzerias” (an oxymoron, am I right?)

In addition to "The Makers," there are 3 other sections in The New York Pizza Project: "The Eaters," "The Shop" and "The Block."

In addition to “The Makers,” there are 3 other sections in The New York Pizza Project: “The Eaters,” “The Shop” and “The Block.”

Manheimer learned plenty. For one thing, during the entire project he did not encounter one black pizza maker. Fewer than 5 were females.

The authors were also surprised at how hard it is to make a living. “Slice joints are everywhere — but none of them are new,” Manheimer says.

“The economics are so difficult. You have to be on your feet, and open, all the time.”

Kids today, Manheimer notes, grow up amid (and being marketed by) the likes of Domino’s, Little Caesars and Pizza Hut. Their pizzas are “inferior, and worse for you” than the ones produced by the sole proprietor around the corner, Manheimer says. But, he warns, neighborhood places risk losing the younger generation that sees the chains everywhere.

His favorite picture in The New York Pizza Project shows Johnny’s — a New York pizzeria since 1973 — standing next to an 8-year-old Papa John’s. “That symbolizes the new New York,” Manheimer says. “And it asks the question: What will be the New York of the future?”

Johnny's Pizza, and Papa John's: Which would you choose?

Johnny’s Pizza, and Papa John’s: Which would you choose?

The book — which was favorably mentioned in the New York Times — has struck a chord with New York natives who no longer live there. “We transport the New York pizza experience to wherever they are,” he says.

The other day, Manheimer met a soldier just back from Iraq. Before he saw his family, he stopped off at his favorite slice shop. “That memory kept him going through months at war,” Manheimer says.

The book is being sold at many of the pizzerias featured in it. It’s also in 30 retailers, including all the city’s major museums.

You can buy "The New York Pizza Project" at many New York pizza joints.

You can buy “The New York Pizza Project” at many New York pizza joints.

So is The Westport Pizza Project next?

Mmmmmm……

(For more information, or to buy The New York Pizza Project, click here. It’s $29.95. For $5 more you get a map too.)

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby Q’s Smokes Its Last Meat

Another legendary Westport restaurant — Bobby Q’s — is closing, after 11 years on Main Street. Its final day is March 31. A press release quotes owner Bob LeRose on the long-rumored news:

We’ve had an amazing run as a member of the Westport community for the past eleven years, establishing friendships and seeing kids grow up over the years. We look forward to celebrating with our friends and family over the next three months, remembering all of the good times that were had – birthday parties, family dinners, celebrations and more – and those that are still TO BE had at Bobby Q’s, before we fire up our smoker in Westport one last time at the end of March. While I’m sad that this chapter of my restaurant career is coming to an end, I’ll have some exciting news coming soon on my next chapter.

Over the next 3 months, the restaurant will offer several promotions.

During January — to celebrate National Pie Day, Bobby Q’s will give each table 1 complimentary slice of pie. Other events will be announced on Twitter (@bobbyqs) and Facebook (Bobby Q’s Bodacious BBQ & Grill).

Bobby Qs Westport CT

LeRose is proud to have had a strong relationship with the Westport Fire and Police Departments. He thanks those members for their service by providing 50% off their dine-in or take-out bill throughout January.

Concerts will continue Saturdays at 10 p.m., through March.

And then Bobby Q’s will join Splash and the Red Barn as noted Westport eateries to close. And — like its predecessor, Onion Alley — it too will become one more entrant in the Westport restaurant memory lane game.

Remembering Ron Weir

Generations of Westporters knew Ron Weir. For decades he was a big, gruff-looking — but gentle, soft-hearted — physical education teacher at Coleytown Junior High and Middle Schools.

Ron died on Monday. Word came in a brief email from a fellow Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club member. For the past couple of years, he lived very quietly in a nursing home.

Ron coached football and other sports when the 3 Westport junior highs had interscholastic teams. He was tough and hard, and his teams were good. He loved his players, and would do anything for them.

Ron Weir (standing, top left) and the 1972 Coleytown Junior High School football team.

Ron Weir (standing, top left) and the 1972 Coleytown Junior High School football team.

But as a teacher, he was the opposite. He took equal interest in the scrawny, shy little boys — and, after gym classes became coed, the girls he had never before known or had to teach. He tried to give every kid confidence, and wanted every child to love phys ed.

Ron may be best known for his wrestling tournament. Every year at Christmas — right around this time — he organized a school-wide event. It was asking a lot of 12- and 13-year-olds to go out on the mat, with all their friends and teachers watching. But for many — win or lose — it was an experience they’ll never forget.

Every year, I refereed that tournament. And every year — right after the final match — Ron and his wife Val thanked me, by taking me out to lunch.

At Le Chambord.

That was an elegant French restaurant in Westport. Other diners might have thought us an incongruous trio: me, gym teacher Ron, and his wife Val — also a PE instructor, but as petite and demure as Ron was big and brash.

Ron Weir, in the early 1970s. (Courtesy Laura Bloom)

Ron Weir, in the early 1970s. (Courtesy Laura Bloom)

That was a side of Ron Weir that few people saw. He was a talented cook, and a wine connoisseur. He grew up in a blue collar New Jersey town, and thought he’d be a bricklayer until the University of Bridgeport opened his eyes to the possibility of teaching.

He also loved animals. Val turned their Redding home into a menagerie, and Ron happily helped out.

He loved his boat too. He was a frequent presence at his club, telling stories and cooking. One summer evening, I met him there. He took me out on the Sound, then up the Saugatuck River. We docked at the Mooring restaurant, and had a memorable meal. (He ordered really, really good wine.)

Ron spent his last years in relative obscurity. A couple of former football players and boat club members were regular visitors, but no one else. Val died a number of years ago.

There has been no obituary. According to the email sent by his boat club, he is survived by one sister. And, it says, “per Ron’s wishes there will be no formal funeral arrangements.”

David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

A crane towers over Main Street. The old Tudor YMCA is being gutted. Concrete is poured near Church Lane and Elm Street.

But even as Westporters await the completion of Bedford Square — David Waldman’s project that will redefine downtown — he’s moving forward on his next project.

Waldman is a partner in the development group that owns the former Save the Children site across the river. Right now, a 60,000-square foot building blocks views from Wilton Road. A few yards away, the brutal Post Road/Riverside Avenue intersection makes that west bank neighborhood a don’t-go-there-unless-you-have-to afterthought to downtown shoppers.

Waldman wants to change all that. He hopes to build an office building and 18 high-end condos on the 2.6-acre site.

He’ll extend the boardwalk from National Hall and Bartaco all the way to the end of his property. He’ll help the town and other interested parties build a pedestrian bridge, linking his development with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island.

Plans for the new west bank project show ... (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Plans for the new west bank project show the new office building and residential condos, extended boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, dedicated left-turn lane and more. (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Most importantly, he’ll move the charming, old (and very much in-the-way) needle shop house from 1 Wilton Road, to his new project. That will allow construction of a left-turn lane onto the Post Road, easing congestion at one of the worst intersections in the state.

Plans have not been presented formally. But discussions are beginning with important town bodies, like the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Waldman is very familiar with the property, and the land around it. Compass Commons — across the street from Save the Children — was developed by his father in 1982.

Though Waldman knows the Save the Children site is in a flood zone — and is well aware of the traffic woes — he’s excited by its potential. It’s one of the last remaining developable sites downtown. The native Westporter thrives on challenges like these.

The former Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

The former Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

He and his partners worked for over a year on the concept. It includes residential units, because they’re called for in the downtown plan. Waldman knows there are many empty nesters in Westport looking to downsize, but stay here. Nationwide, older homeowners are relocating closer to downtown areas.

“I tried to hit all the buttons: what the town wants, how to incorporate visual access to the river, and get parking off the river,” Waldman says.

He notes that Save the Children at one point had 250 employees, but only 180 parking spaces. His plan will help add parking for restaurants like Bartaco and Vespa. Eight spots will be available for public access to the water.

His new buildings will be FEMA compliant. (Save the Children is not.)

Waldman is particularly excited by the opportunity to redesign the brutal Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.

He has an option on the house that right now huddles underneath the Wright Street building. He hopes to give that land to the town.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

The development’s architect — Roger Ferris + Partners — is coincidentally headquartered at 11 Wilton Road. They’d accommodate the redesign, ceding room for the new lane (and a nice pocket park.)

It won’t be easy — or cheap. Waldman estimates the cost of moving the house at $2.5 million. But he relocated Kemper Gunn from Bedford Square across Elm Street. He understands the value of both preservation and change.

He’d need a text amendment to increase the allowable height of his residential building to 48 feet. That would allow underground parking. According to Waldman, it would still be lower than the top of National Hall.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (right-center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left; Bartaco is in the middle.

In the early 1990s, the Tauck family breathed new life into that old building. A century earlier, National Hall was one of Westport’s central meeting places. After Fairfield Furniture’s long run, it stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Today it’s beautiful, and functional.

The old Vigilant Firehouse is now home to Neat. Bartaco recently infused more new energy into that area.

David Waldman stands poised to do the same. With Save the Children gone, it’s time to Save the West Bank of the Saugatuck.

Longshore Restaurant Reopens In February

Slow winters helped drive Splash — the long-running Longshore restaurant — out of business.

Pearl at Longshore — the new spot taking its place — hopes to do better. They’re even starting with a wintertime crowd.

Owners Marc Backon, Antonio Ninivaggi and their local investors announced this afternoon they’ll open in February.

The new Pearl of Longshore restaurant opens in February. Disregard this August view of Splash.

The new Pearl of Longshore restaurant opens in February. Disregard this August view of Splash.

They’ve spent months restoring the interior — and kitchen. Executive chef Michael Hazen will serve “sophisticated, seasonally inspired American cuisine” that focuses on “the simplicity and flavors of the ingredients.”

Pearl will offer traditional seafood dishes, grass-fed beef and seasonal produce, with organic, healthy and gluten-free selections. The bar includes craft and micro-brew beers. “Pearl in a Box” is the name of their takeout menu.

Designer Bilal Barakat has “captured the spirit and history of Longshore, and infused it with a rustic chic and cosmopolitan feel.”

Sounds like big changes are ahead for Longshore diners.

But the new owners were smart to leave one thing alone: the view.

Even in February, it’s spectacular.

Late Harvest

Last April, Mario’s closed. In June, “0688o” reported that Harvest — the restaurant taking its place, with “custom cuisine from farm to fork” — would open in September.

Here was the scene Friday:

Harvest restaurant

Workers said it will open by the end of the month.

That’s a bit later than promised.

But loooong before the completion of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

 

You Are A Westporter If…

The other day, a friend made a confession.

“I’ve only been here 10 years,” she said. “I’m not really a Westporter, am I?”

Bill Clinton once famously explained, “That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

The definition of the word “Westporter” seems similarly slippery.

Here’s what I think. You’re a Westporter if:

You give directions using a landmark that no longer exists. “Take a right at what used to be Dairy Queen” works. So does “Woody’s” or “Swanky Frank’s” — because, as real old-time Westporters know, they’re all the same spot.

Little Barn logo

You lament the changes you’ve seen since you’ve been here. That can be the demolition of the Compo Inn or the Victorian house on Gorham Island; the closing of Klein’s or Sally’s Place (bonus points if you know how they’re related), the end of the Arrow, Jasmine or the Blu Parrot. You’re even a Westporter if you moved here in June, and are sorry the Red Barn closed a month later.

You can’t believe how rude people are today. It’s amazing, you say, how much more self-centered are compared to the 1950s/1970s/1990s/2000s/2013.

David Pogue driving video

You are able to compare today’s young athletes to yesterday’s. It doesn’t matter whether the name you use is Nooky Powers, Cannonball Baker, Steve Baumann, Lisa Brummel, Lance Lonergan or Jon Baumann (not related to Steve) — if you toss out a reference like that, you’re a Westporter.

Lisa Brummel at Yale

You can reference a weather event. The Hurricanes of 1938 and ’55; the Nor’easter of 1993 and Superstorm Sandy all count. The key is to mention how much snowier/rainier/hotter/colder things are/are not compared to the “old days.”

Black Duck in Hurricane Sandy

That’s my bar for Westporterdom. We’re a big tent. We welcome everyone.

If you’ve got other ideas, hit “Comments” below. We want to hear from you — whether you’re a Westporter or not.

 

A Post-Apocalyptic Saugatuck

The back cover of Flesh & Wires — a new science fiction book just published by Jackie Hatton — reads:

Following a failed alien invasion the world is left sparsely populated with psychologically scarred survivors, some of them technologically-enhanced women. Lo, leader of the small safe haven of Saugatuck,…

Whoa! Does our little town star in a very intriguing work by that rare species: a female science fiction writer?

Yep.

Jackie Hatton

Jackie Hatton

Hatton — an Australian who grew up in Tasmania, earned a master’s in American history in Melbourne, and a Ph.D. in the same subject at Cornell — landed here when her husband got a job in Stamford. They knew Westport was a beautiful town, and heard it was “open-minded and open-hearted.” They bought their 1st house on Treadwell Avenue in 1998, attracted by the nearby water.

Hatton was a freelance writer, which worked well. She wrote all morning, then had lunch on the beach. She wrote again in the afternoon, and grabbed dinner somewhere in the neighborhood. Some days, she gardened — and thought.

She and her husband planted a small apple orchard. She calls it “a charmed and charming period” in their lives.

“We spent perhaps too many happy hours in Viva’s and Dunville’s,” she laughs. But she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society, and met friends through New Neighbors.

With Turkish friends, they bought a boat and spent every summer weekend on the Sound.

When Hatton and  her husband were bored, they played a game: “Looking for Keith Richards.” They’d head to lively bars with great music, like the Georgetown Saloon. They never found him.

Jackie Hatton's beloved house on Treadwell Avenue.

Jackie Hatton’s beloved house on Treadwell Avenue.

They moved in 2003 for work reasons — first to a minimalist place in New York City, then to the magical old streets and canals of Amsterdam. They’re still in the Netherlands, but Hatton calls Westport “the most beautiful place I have ever lived.”

The town remained vivid in her mind. Hatton always wanted to set a story here. She began writing a murder mystery, but that genre in a New England setting seemed like a cliche.

One day, rooting around for a more original premise, she recalled the one thing she’d always found strange about Westport: “there are no men there during the day.” Suddenly, she wondered: What if all the men were not just at work in New York?

Then she realized: If the men never came home, the place would still run. Women already maintain the properties, organize the activities and run errands all day long.

They manage many shops, and the small businesses operating out of big homes: freelance consultancies, part-time practices and the like.

Flesh & WiresHatton kept thinking: How would women handle a real crisis? So she added aliens.

Despite their circumstances, the women in Flesh & Wires — who have created an oasis of civilization in Saugatuck — still care about home decoration, gardening, cooking, dancing and clothes. She included those details because she believes that making things beautiful can be a way of “dealing with darkness and difficulties.” How women spend their time is a serious thread throughout the book.

Of course, Hatton has a few laughs too. She turns a nail salon into a military training center. She also enjoys demolishing I-95.

Her book includes the cute little 19th-century cottage that was their old house; Saugatuck Rowing Club and Longshore; Mansion Clam House and Peter’s Bridge Market (both now gone).

The Bridge Street bridge — which may or may not be gone long before the apocalypse — serves as a major checkpoint into town. Downtown has been flooded into oblivion. And Cockenoe Island serves as a prison.

The Bridge Street bridge: While Westporters debate its future, Jackie Hatton turns it into a post-apocalyptic checkpoint into and out of Saugatuck.

The Bridge Street bridge: While Westporters debate its future, Jackie Hatton turns it into a post-apocalyptic checkpoint.

“I’m interested to hear if Westporters find post-apocalyptic Saugatuck beautiful or horrific,” she says. “I love the new park I created, but I hate the idea of living in fear behind fortified walls.”

So what’s next, in the pre-apocalyptic real world?

“My great fantasy is that Hollywood buys the movie rights to Flesh & Wires,” Hatton says. “And then pays me to spend the summer on location in my favorite place in the world.”

More realistically, she hopes that promotional activities bring her back to Westport soon.

“There’s a margarita waiting for me at Viva’s,” she notes. “And a bar stool at Dunville’s with my name on it.”

(Click on www.jackiehatton.net to learn more about the author and her book — including a feature on how she uses Westport settings.)

Give The Gift Of…

Sure, you could have blown off your family, friends and football, and spent Thanksgiving at a mall.

Or you could have blown off work and the kids, and spent yesterday shopping online, during the made-up holiday called “Cyber Monday.”

But it’s so much better to shop locally. So here — as Christmas creeps up on us, and Chanukah looms even closer (it starts Sunday!) — “06880” presents our 1st-ever Holiday Shopping Guide.

If you’re looking for something that says (or screams) “Westport,” consider:

The Beautiful Pond.” This just-released book celebrates — in stunning watercolor and text — the historic, versatile and beautiful Sherwood Mill Pond.
A labor of love from Judith Katz and Robin Tauck — with all proceeds benefiting Sound Waters’ academic enrichment programs — it’s available at Barnes & Noble, Earthplace, and online here.

Beautiful Pond cover

A restaurant gift card is always welcome. One of my favorite spots is Kibberia. Located on the Norwalk line, this unpretentious spot serves spectacular Middle Eastern food. Owner Nick Iskandar is one of the truly good guys, and deserves all the support we can give him.

Kibberia

A bit pricier — and like Kibberia, not always on everyone’s radar — is Positano. This summer the Scarpati family relocated from Old Mill Beach to the site of the old Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s a beautiful space, with the same regional Italian cuisine and family atmosphere diners have loved for years. Mangia!

Positano

From Positano, stroll a few feet to the Playhouse. Gift certificates are available there too, for events from the 2016 season to the Family Festivities series and Script in Hand play readings. Too often, Westporters overlook this cultural (and very cool) gem.

Playhouse logo

Speaking of food, the Farmers Market (winter version) is open Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Gilberties’ Herb Gardens on Sylvan Lane. You may not always think of artisanal breads and cheeses, meats, baked goods, seasonal vegetables and hydroponically grown salad greens as holiday gifts, but there’s also organic maple syrup, interesting teas, dog biscuits and the like. Hey, I’m just trying to offer some only-in-Westport choices…

Westport farmers market logo

The chainification strangling Main Street is thankfully absent from Saugatuck. That neighborhood is still home to unique shops. The funkiest, friendliest and most fun of all may be Indulge by Mersene. From her digs on Railroad Place directly across from the train station, Mersene (like Cher and Adele, she needs only one name) sells a melange of gifts. Local artisans’ works, gourmet foods, decorative pillows, jewelry, home decor — it’s all there. The owner is as much an attraction as her goods — and that’s saying something.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

A couple of steps from Indulge by Mersene is Suited.co. This men’s store — offering custom-tailored suits, blazers and shirts — is a cut apart from traditional clothing shops. The fabrics and selections are both classic and hip. Suited.co is a little fish in a big sartorial pond, but definitely worth checking out.

Suited.co

If you’re one of those who look for worthy causes at the holidays — and I sure hope you do — you don’t have to look far. Some of my favorites in Westport are A Better ChanceAl’s Angels, Homes With Hope, Project Return and Staples Tuition Grants. Many others — including those just beyond our borders, like Mercy Learning Center and the Adam J. Lewis Preschool — do amazing work (and have amazing needs).

ABC logo

You can add your own special organization to the list. I’m sure you’ve got other gift ideas too. I’ve only scratched the surface. Click “Comments” below, to share your favorites with the very giving, very generous “06880” community.

WHS 06880 towels

Bonus idea: Why not give “06880” itself? You’ll find items like these at the Westport Historical Society.

Purchasing Pearl’s

Before DaPietro’s — way before — there was Pearl’s.

From 1972 to ’85, Paula Pastorelli Schooler owned the popular fondue place on Riverside Avenue.

The restaurant is long gone. But her legendary salad dressing lives on.

Paula pretty much sells it out of her trunk now. After all these years, she’s looking to do something different with it. Perhaps a marketer or promoter could help her reach more customers. Maybe a partner could join her. If someone wants to buy the business or name, she’s willing to talk.

If you are a fan of Pearl’s — the restaurant or the dressing — and want more information, email Paula directly: pearls36@icloud.com.

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl's dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl’s dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)