Category Archives: Restaurants

Pic Of The Day #790

Westport is decked out in purple, for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Week. Through Saturday, Tavern on Main features a violet gin cocktail; LaRouge by Aarti handmade chocolates is donating 10% of sales of purple hand-painted chocolates to Alzheimer’s Connecticut, and Spotted Horse will donate 20% of sales on Thursday, while featuring a specialty Purple People Eater cocktail.

(Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

Meatball Shop Serving EMS Fundraiser On Saturday

The sign promised The Meatball Shop would open this spring.

They’ll miss by a day.

But what a great “soft” opening the 8th restaurant in the New York-based chain promises.

The shop — which replaces The ‘Port in National Hall, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — hosts a preview party this Saturday (June 22, 5:30 to 8 p.m.).

Guests will enjoy a tasting menu of (duh) meatballs, plus seasonal dishes, wine and beer.

A meal to look forward to.

The Meatball Shop is certainly getting involved in the community. 100% of all ticket purchases go directly to the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services team.

The Judy Michaelis Group is organizing the event, with sponsorship from Hightower RDM Financial Group (across Wilton Road, in the Wright Street building).

The official opening is a few days later. If you can’t wait — and/or if you want to support Westport’s great EMS program — click here for tickets.

Pic Of The Day #787

Last night, Friends of the Westport Public Art Collections held their annual fundraiser. Guests ate, drank, and bid on art and photos by Andy Warhol, Larry Silver, Miggs Burroughs and more. It was a great evening at Rive Bistro — where, upstairs on the deck, a flower arrangement paid clever homage to Warhol. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Menu Moments: What To Order At Bartaco

The other day, “06880” introduced a new feature. Registered dietician Heather Bauer will offer tips on the best, healthiest dishes to order at local restaurants.

Her first trip is to Bartaco. Yes, Heather says, it’s quite possible to join friends at the very popular Mexican place on the river, and eat quite well. Here’s how:

Starter recommendation

Small guac, and either salsa roja or salsa verde. Skip the chips; order a few sides of raw veggies (no charge for extra veggies). Save your carbs for your cocktail or entree.

Entrees for fish lovers (choose one)

●        Chopped salad. Hold the tortilla chips; add grilled swordfish (you can use shrimp as alternative to swordfish — but note: It is soaked in buttermilk).

●        2 tuna tatako tacos wrapped in Bibb lettuce.

Tuna tatakos with Bibb lettuce

●        1 tuna tatako taco wrapped in Bibb lettuce, and 1 baja taco wrapped in lettuce. (Note: The fish is fried, but the portion is small — only 150 calories — so it is fine paired with tuna tatako).

●        Tuna poke (optional change: order without fried ginger).

Entrees for Meat Lovers (choose one)

●        2 carne asada tacos wrapped in Bibb lettuce.

●        1 carne asada taco wrapped in Bibb lettuce, and 2 chicken chorizo tacos wrapped in Bibb lettuce.

●        Roasted chicken.

●        Chopped salad; hold the chips, and add roasted chicken. Ask for double chicken, if hungry.

Entrees for Vegetarians (choose one)

●      Greens and grains (a new addition to the menu). The quinoa is the protein, so no substitutions are needed.

●        Chopped salad; hold the tortilla chips. Vegans: skip the queso, and ask for extra avocado.

●        Cauliflower taco wrapped in Bibb lettuce, and portobello taco wrapped in Bibb lettuce (vegans: skip the queso).

Cauliflower tacos

Recommended Sides

●        Spicy cucumber salad (only 70 calories!)

●        Asian slaw (50 cals!)

●        Kids’ side of avocado

Recommended Drinks

●        Bartaco skinny margarita. They use their house tequila (Libelula) without the agave, to save you on the sugar.

●        Nojito: non-alcoholic, only 60 calories

Bonus dining tip from Heather

●        Women: Wear tighter-fitting clothes to dinner. Men: Tighten your belt buckle. Both serve as a gentle reminder not to overeat.

Eat healthy — and socialize — at Bartaco.

Ay, Caramba!

There’s a big parking deck directly opposite the Bartaco parking lot on Wilton Road.

You can see it right there, in the background of this photo.

(Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

You can also see that there is plenty of room. There is one car on the upper level.

But that did not stop this Range Rover driver. Or rather, he did stop in the parking lot — not the deck.

There he is, right next to the “Reserved Parking” sign.

And yes, that’s a parking job. He is not driving. He did not just drop off a passenger. He has not pulled over to text.

He stopped. He parked. He got out.

Or she.

And it isn’t even a decent parking job in the middle of the entrance! Look how far the driver is from the curb!

I need a margarita.

Friday Flashback #145

Curtis Blake died the other day.

You may not have known him. But if you grew up in Westport during the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s, he was a key figure in your life.

As the New York Times explained, Blake “opened a Massachusetts ice cream store with his brother during the Depression and built it into Friendly’s.” The Times defined Friendly’s as “a homey restaurant chain in the Eastern United States.

For several generations of Westporters, Friendly’s was a home away from home.

There were actually 2 Friendly’ses here. One was in Playhouse Square. The other was just over the border, in Southport.

The Southport Friendly’s.

Depending on where you lived, either one was the place to go to celebrate — after a dance, a play, a game — or just hang out.

It was also an easy place to go with young kids, or grandparents. The food was simple and fine. Hamburgers. Grilled cheese. And — for a special treat — Fribbles!

Service was slow (and not particularly “friendly”). The menu was stodgy. But it was a comfortable place.

Friendly’s is long gone from both locations. The Playhouse Square restaurant turned into Derma Clinic. Today it’s the post office. If that doesn’t say everything about changes in 1) eating habits 2) Westport and 3) the US Postal Service, nothing does.

The former Friendly’s in Playhouse Square.

The Southport Friendly’s is now Wafu.

In fact, it’s hard to find a Friendly’s anywhere. The Blake brothers sold the chain in 1979. In 2011, its owners filed for bankruptcy protection.

But I gotta say, those Fribbles were good.

Gruel, Britannia!

Growing up in London, Karen Hubrich hated traditional English food.

Fortunately, her Austrian mother and Hungarian father made sure she ate well.

When she was 21, she got a job serving meals at the prestigious Foreign Press Association, near Buckingham Palace. She looked at the first plate and thought, “This is diabolical.”

Soon — without any training whatsoever — she became the organization’s chef.

It was one more stop on a life that had already provided plenty of surprises. And would offer many more.

Four years earlier — just 17 years old — Karen had “escaped” to New York. She found work as a nanny. “It was a horror story,” she recalls. “I worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and lived in a closet.”

The Foreign Press Association job was a step up. But Karen longed to return to New York. “I didn’t have a pot to piss in,” she says. But she came back, lived with friends in the West Village, and — after spotting an ad in the New York Times — landed a job as chef of the MetroTech faculty dining room in Brooklyn.

She had no green card. Back in the day, there was a simple solution: Her employer sponsored her.

She biked to work, had “bankers’ hours,” and weekends off.

After a couple of years though, she got the urge to move. Another Times ad led her to apply to be chef at the Williams Club.

The room was filled with “old fuddy-duddies in suits,” she says. They were there to be interviewed too. Karen was the only woman.

She got the job.

She also moved to Westport. She knew the town well: Her stepfather lived here, and she visited him often each summer.

She commuted to work by train. She had one son, then got pregnant again. The Williams Club offered her a great severance package. She took it.

Her next gigs were closer to home: Food for Thought, the health food place on the Post Road near Norwalk, then 5 years as chef at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

For the third time though, Karen found a new job through the New York Times. This time it was at the Times — they were looking for an executive chef for their dining room.

So it was back to commuting. She soon ran the the entire food service. It was a great job, in the Times’ historic old building.

But when the paper moved to its new office, an outside firm came in to handle the food. Karen was soon “a single mom with 2 kids, unemployed, and stressed out.”

Even while working other jobs, Karen Hubrich had a catering business.

Fairfield County Hunt Club hired her back. She was there for another 5 years, until Pequot Yacht Club came calling.

Oh, yeah: In between was another 5-year stint, as the personal chef for Michael Bolton and his family.

“He was a great guy — very pleasant to work with,” Karen says. He lived right down the street, in her Old Hill neighborhood.

And she also did catering, and prepared meals to go. Plus all the prepared meals at Double L Farm Stand (which she still does).

These days, Karen is 62. Naturally, she’s on to her next project.

In mid-May, Karen opened a restaurant — her first ever. It’s at 2217 Post Road in Fairfield, just before South Pine Creek.

Warm and cozy, she designed it herself. It’s called Gruel Britannia.

Gruel Britannia, in Fairfield.

In a nod toward the way life can take unexpected turns, she specializes in English cuisine. The same food Karen loathed as a girl.

Now she makes shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Yorkshire pudding, mushy peas — all simple, classical, with her own special twist.

Karen serves breakfast too: English bacon spread with butter and HP sauce, scones, and coffee — specially roasted by her son Lucas.

The Gruel Britannia pastry case, and menu.

“The food in London is now unbelievable,” she says of her decision to feature a cuisine she once called “diabolical.”

That’s jolly good.

(Gruel Brittania also offers prepared foods, soups, baked items and frozen selectons. Click here for more information. Hat tip: Darcy Sledge)

Gruel Britannia’s loo.

Heather Bauer Serves Up Restaurant Tips

Food, glorious food.

From one end of town (Pane e Bene) to the other (Naan), and everywhere in between*, Westport is a restaurant town.

You can find almost every cuisine on the planet**. You can eat out every day — lunch and dinner — at a different spot, for weeks without hitting the same spot twice.

What could possible go wrong?

Plenty, says Heather Bauer.

Heather Bauer

She should know. A registered dietitian with decades of experience in the corporate world and private practice — and the author of two books — she now rents an office above Kawa Ni***. From there, she can walk to more than a dozen great restaurants.

When she does, she is sometimes appalled. Despite many healthy choices, diners don’t always order well.

Her mission is to help.

Seven years ago — after 18 years working with Type A types, and writing “The Wall Street Diet” and “Bread is the Devil” — she moved with her husband and 3 children from Manhattan to Westport.

They were attracted by the water, and the town’s beauty. They knew no one, but love living here. “It’s a great place to raise a family,” Bauer says.

She commuted to the city. But a year ago she closed her New York office to concentrate on the online version of her practice. Her services include weight management, pre- and post-natal counseling, adolescent nutrition, sports nutrition, and general health and wellness.

One specialty is teaching people how to eat “in the real world.” Here in Westport, her plate is full.****

“You can’t live in a hermetically sealed bubble,” Bauer says. “You have a business lunch. You go out with friends. You go out to dinner because it’s easier than cooking.”

Heather Bauer has thoughts on portion sizes — and bread baskets.

She is not the Food Police. She knows that eating out — the food, the company, the whole enchilada — is enjoyable.

“Many nutritionists have their clients strip food of flavor by holding all sauces, and making 5 million substitutions,” she says.

She’s not like that. In fact, people who make a big deal out of telling everyone about their dietary needs often end up eating more when they get home, because their meal was not satisfying.*****

Bauer asks clients, “What’s your week like? Where will you be eating?” Then she helps them understand their food choices.

Here’s a tasting menu of tips:

  • Check a restaurant’s menu online. Know what you’ll order ahead of time. (But call ahead too, to make sure the menu you’ve seen is current.)
  • Save the carbs for dinner. No bagel for breakfast!
  • Drink plenty of water before you go.
  • Order last. If you’re the first person, everyone listens to what you’re getting. By the end, no one cares.
  • Make no more than 2 requests for substitutions or changes.
  • Put your knife and fork down often. Eating slowly helps you get full faster. It also helps you enjoy what you’re eating.
  • Drink water during the meal.
  • Instead of ordering an entree, try 2 appetizers. They can be very interesting — and the portions are smaller.
  • Given 2 choices, order the food that takes longer to eat. (In other words: mussels, not scallops.)

In Westport, Bauer says, “it’s easy to eat well. Lots of restaurants cater to people who want to eat healthy. They use fresh, organic, local ingredients. You just have to learn to navigate through their menus.”

Like many local restaurants, Jesup Hall has an intriguing menu. But in addition to help understanding some of the dishes, some of us could use some help figuring out the healthiest options.

If all this has you salivating for specifics: You’re in luck.

Every month, Bauer will offer “06880” readers tips on the best items to order at real Westport restaurants. She’ll pick a different cuisine each time.

Keep an eye out here for “Menu Moments.” The first dish will be served soon.

Waaaaay too many to single out.

** Not Mongolian — though we once had that, where Shake Shack is.

*** Total coincidence.

**** One can argue that Westport is not “the real world.” For the sake of this story, it is.

***** And at home, no one’s watching.

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)

Coffee An’ … Moth Hole Repairs

Lisa Denaro is one of the many reasons to love Coffee An’.

The longtime waitress greets regulars and newcomers alike with a warm smile and great service.

She also sews their sweaters.

Lisa Denaro

One day, she noticed a moth hole on a very regular customer. Boldly, she told him she could fix it.

He took it off, and handed it over.

When Lisa gave it back a few days later, he was so impressed he urged her to start a business.

Darn It!

That’s the name she chose. Since then, she’s repaired moth holes for a number of Coffee An’ customers.

Lisa has found her niche. She does not do tailoring or seamstress work. Just moth hole repair.

Well, pet-sitting too. That’s another business: I Love ‘Em Like You Do.

But that’s another story entirely.

(For moth repair, call Lisa at 203-400-7589.)