Category Archives: Restaurants

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

 

 

06880 Throws A “Blog Party”

The weather was perfect. The food was great. The crowd of over 100 was diverse: old and young, artists and bankers, 4th-generation Westporters and a woman who moved here 2 months ago.

Strangers made new friends. Folks on both sides of the political aisle laughed. Everyone marveled at the sunset.

It was just another “06880” day at the beach.

Rick Eason is a rising freshman at Staples. His drone flew over the "06880" party, and captured the happy crowd.

Rick Eason is a rising freshman at Staples. His drone flew over the “06880” party, and captured part of the happy crowd.

Audrey Hertzel baked fantastic cupcakes -- and added this festive touch.

Audrey Hertzel baked fantastic cupcakes — and added this festive touch.

Enjoying the "0" in the "06880." (Photo/Audrey Hertzel)

Enjoying the “0” in the “06880.” (Photo/Audrey Hertzel)

It was an "06880" party for the ages -- all ages -- at Compo Beach.

It was an “06880” party for the ages — all ages — at Compo Beach.

Nick Iskandar of the great Kibberia restaurant donated fantastic Middle Eastern food.

Nick Iskandar of the great Kibberia restaurant donated fantastic Middle Eastern food.

Betsy Phillips Kahn captured this wonderful Westport sunset, as the "06880" party wound down.

Betsy Phillips Kahn captured this wonderful Westport sunset, as the “06880” party wound down.

Recent Staples grad Lindsay Kiedaisch was there too. She captured the lighthouse off shore.

Recent Staples grad Lindsay Kiedaisch was there too. She captured the lighthouse off shore.

Rick Eason — a rising freshman at Staples — brought his drone to the party. The crowd got bigger later (when the light faded), but here’s a unique view of South Beach and the rest of Compo. Thanks, Rick!

(Special thanks to Mary Hoffman and Jennifer Hershey for helping organize the party; Audrey Hertzel for the cupcakes, and Kibberia restaurant for the food!)

 

The West Lake Restaurant: Chinese Way Before It Was Cool

Today, Westport is awash in Asian restaurants. There’s Little Kitchen, Tengda, Rainbow Thai, Matsu Sushi, Shanghai Gourmet, Tiger Bowl, Westport Chinese Takeout, and probably others I’ve missed.

In the 1950s, though — and continuing for more than 25 years — our choices were limited. There was West Lake and Golden House.

Golden House was located in Compo Shopping Center — where Little Kitchen is now, interestingly.

West Lake was on Main Street, near the Post Road. Today it’s a retail outlet. But for many years, Westporters thought it was one of the most exotic restaurants around.

The West Lake restaurant (left) in 1976, a year after it closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The West Lake restaurant (left) in 1976, a year after it closed. The stores next to it — Liverpool and Welch’s Hardware — are also long gone. The Westport Y’s Bedford building is on the opposite side of Main Street. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

West Lake lives on in memory. Now — thanks to Elizabeth Lee (granddaughter of the owners) and her cousin Beverly Au — it also lives on in a website.

West Lake Restaurant is a fascinating look — in words and photos — at long-gone Westport. It describes its founding in 1950 by Eddie and Frances Lee, as the 1st Chinese restaurant in Fairfield County.

West Lake, circa 1965.

West Lake, circa 1965 (back view, from Parker Harding Plaza).

West Lake took over the bankrupt Talley-Ho Tavern, which featured a grand piano with lounge singers. Because Parker Harding Plaza had not yet been built, a dock ramp led from the back door straight down to the Saugatuck River.

The Cantonese menu was “probably too far ahead of its time,” the website says. “When the cheaper and more common Chop Suey and Fried Rice style competitors opened, many patrons went to them.” (In deference to diners who did not eat Chinese food, in the beginning West Lake served steak and potatoes.)

The regulars came every week or so. Eddie Lee knew them all by name. Famous regulars included Paul Newman and Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. Mariette Hartley was a hostess there, while a student at Staples. She told Frances Lee, “I’m going to be an actress!”

The Lees met at NYU. Eddie majored in banking and finance. They married in 1930. He climbed the banking ladder, in the US, China and Hong Kong. In 1942 the Lees and their children were repatriated to the US in a diplomatic exchange.

But Eddie could not find a job in banking. After working for a tool company, he opened his restaurant in Westport.

Eddie Lee with customers. A brave woman gingerly tries chopsticks.

Eddie Lee with customers. A brave man and woman gingerly try chopsticks.

The average chef lasted 8 months, the website says. Though the waiters and waitresses stayed much longer, there was a rapid turnover among the cooks and dishwashers. They spoke only Chinese, and rarely mixed with Americans.

They lived above the restaurant, in barracks. “Every bed seemed to have a tiny nightstand with a fancy camera,” the website says. “They toured the country by working in a different Chinese restaurant every 6 to 9 months, sending home money to their families in China, and taking pictures of their travels.”

West Lake was open 7 days a week. Though it closed in 1976, it had something in common with its Asian cuisine successors: December 25 was one of its busiest days of the year. Even in the 1950s, Jews ate Chinese food on Christmas.

 

Oyster Crabs: Yummmm Or Yecccch?

Alert — and hungry — “06880” reader Andy Yemma writes:

We like to eat fresh oysters, especially in summer, and get them from a variety of spots. Last Sunday we stopped in at Westfair Fish & Chips, across from Stop & Shop. They were doing great business selling delicious fried oysters, clams, oysters on the half shell, lobster rolls, fries, etc. I bought a dozen nice-sized blue points for $12.

Later that evening while shucking them I came across something new. I’ve shucked a lot of oysters but had never seen this. And you’ll never see it in a restaurant.

It was a pea-sized object of some kind, I thought — maybe the beginnings of a pearl. I scraped it off into the trash, and went on to the next oyster. Hmm, another one of these tiny things. I took out my reading specs for a better look.

Damn if it wasn’t looking back at me! It was a tiny crab with a tiny crab face, pincers — the works.

I showed it to my wife. She acted like she’d seen a mouse.

An oyster crab -- though not Andy Yemma's. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

An oyster crab — though not Andy Yemma’s. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

I did what any alert “06880” reader would do: I googled “Oysters with tiny crabs inside.” Damn if they don’t have a Wikipedia entry: “The oyster crab, Zaops ostreus, is a small, whitish or translucent crab in the family Pinnotheridae. Found specifically in oysters, it is an edible sea food delicacy.”

Edible? Apparently they were well received by the food critics of the New York Times – about 125 years ago! The Oyster Crab Salad: “A dish that is as pleasing to the eye as to the palate.” Well, that was in the heyday of New York Harbor’s oyster business (before pollution killed most of them off).

I found oyster crabs in 3 more shells. Didn’t have the courage to nibble them. As far as pleasing to the eye, not so much. But neither are oysters for that matter.

We ate our dozen oysters with a tiny bit of trepidation. They were delicious as usual. And no repercussions. I kind of wished I’d saved the buggers.

Next time.

Westport Gets 2 New Beaches

As the weather gets nicer — though it’s taking its own damn time — Joey’s gears up for another season.

For over 20 years, Westporters have flocked to the very popular Compo Beach restaurant. For almost as long, some cool old photos have hung on the walls.

But until very recently, no one looked too closely at them.

Very alert “06880” reader Christine Cullen did.

She loved the shot of the old wooden bathhouses, extending where the playground is now:

Compo Beach bathhouses

She was also intrigued by a 2nd shot of the beach back in the day, with all its rocks:

Compo Beach - old

But when Christine looked closely, she saw that the top photo says “Campo Beach.” And the bottom one is labeled “Longshore Beach.”

During all these years, nobody noticed the errors.

We’re too busy enjoying Joey’s, and all the other pleasures of Campo (aka Longshore) Beach.

Staples Culinary Grads Cook Up A Storm

Staples graduates achieve great success in a dazzling variety of fields: Music. Theater. Engineering. Finance. Media. The law.

It’s what you’d expect from a high-achieving high school in an affluent suburb.

But — quietly, creatively and in high numbers — Staples alums are making their marks as chefs, caterers and restaurant owners too.

For over a decade, the school’s culinary program has been as dynamic as its academics, arts and athletics.

Recently, “06880” profiled Alison Milwe Grace. A highly regarded instructor — one of 3 formally trained chefs in the culinary department — and owner of a catering company, she reached the final round in the Food Network’s “Kitchen Casino.”

Josh Litvinoff

Josh Litvinoff

Last month, 4 of Cecily Gans’ former students earned degrees from  Johnson & Wales University‘s prestigious culinary program. Kelly Powers, Becca Nissim, Brandon Hans-Lemus and Josh Litvinoff now move on to the next stage in exciting careers.

Josh — who joined Kelly in starting a college catering and demonstration business — says it would not have happened without Gans’ help and guidance.

“She continues to check in on us,” he notes. “She even comes to Providence to catch up.”

Gans is proud of her 4 former students. Kelly — who worked with Bill Taibe at The Whelk — honed her writing skills at Staples, then began a Culinary Journalism Club at JWU. Josh completed his senior year in high school and 1st year of college at the same time. Brandon did an internship at the Dressing Room, stoking the passion first ignited in the Staples kitchen.

Gans calls JWU “the right fit” for all 4. One reason: the support given to them in Westport by this “very progressive, very supportive school system.”

The Staples curriculum is “college-level,” she says. “We individualize the program to meet every student’s needs. There’s baking and pastry. In Culinary II we do international and American regional cooking, in a professional setting. We work with the Farmers’ Market. We stay current, and pay a lot of attention to local and seasonal foods. So students who go on to culinary school have a great foundation already.”

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Gans cites other graduates. Alex Burger is cooking at 1 of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Jose Olmeda works with a leading Philadelphia chef. John Nealon, his wife Sophie Potash and Rob Krauss opened the highly regarded Fortina in Armonk, New York. Kat Leong was most recently the catering director at Carnegie Hall.

Other graduates are pursuing related careers, like nutrition.

“If that’s what’s in their heart, we help set them up for success,” Gans says. “That’s our goal. We want to see them find their passion, thrive and feel fulfilled.”

Most of Gans’ students, of course, do not go on to culinary school, or careers in that field. That’s fine. She is happy to give them a lifelong appreciation for food — and the knowledge of how to prepare it.

“This is an incredible school system,” Gans says. “Like everyone else here, I’m glad I can help kids figure out their next steps.”

Montage Makes A Move

Montage — the 3-year-old, quirkily funky antique-and-artwork store on the Post Road and Turkey Hill South — has gotten very successful, very quickly.

In fact, it’s so busy it’s leaving town.

With its internet business taking off, the Westport location is no longer big enough. So owners Tom Roth and Robin Babbin are heading just over the Norwalk border.

On June 1, they’ll move into 5,000 square feet on Lois Street (off Westport Avenue, by McDonald’s), next to Westport-owned Sugar & Olives restaurant.

Montage will use one part of the building as a showroom, with constantly changing art. The other part will be filled with new items, as-yet-unrestored pieces, and knickknacks that for whatever reason can’t make it out onto the floor.

And because no one likes to move a lot of stuff, Montage is offering 20 to 50% off all Westport inventory, through the end of May.

 

Montage, in Westport. The name is a combination of "MOdern" and "viNTAGE."

Montage, in Westport. The name is a combination of “MOdern” and “viNTAGE.”