Category Archives: Restaurants

Fleishers Craft Kitchen Closes; Butcher Shop Still Cuts It

Fleishers Craft Butchery co-founder and co-owner Ryan Fibiger posted this note on his website:

“I’m truly saddened to be closing Craft Kitchen. It’s been my place of worship for more than 3 years, and my kids have been raised on Chef Emily’s food. We have the most amazing staff in the business who have showcased how to prepare and serve REAL food for our loyal and generous patrons and friends. The restaurant and staff have been integral to teaching people how to prepare Meat Raised Right.

“However, we’ve always been a butcher shop first. We think that it’s time to get back to our roots and refocus on providing a truly remarkable customer experience.

“In the coming months you can expect to see us double down on the quality and customer service you’ve come to expect from Fleishers, with an added focus on convenience for busy families. We want to be the trusted advisor for anyone who chooses to eat meat, and it’s absolutely imperative that we teach people why they should care and to make it available (and convenient) for everyone.”

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Fibiger said that with over 10 wholesale restaurant clients in Fairfield County, Fleishers Craft Butchery offers abundant options of ground beef, sausage, bones, offal and more. He adds:

“The culinary scene has come a long way in just a few years. We used to be one of a handful of restaurants that would even consider serving chicharonnes, beef fat fries or oxtail stew. We had to be our own outlet. Now we’re joined by a community of restaurateurs who recognize that buying well-raised meat isn’t just the right thing to do — it tastes better, too.

“We’re proud to call Chef Emily Mingrone a true friend, who demonstrates the passion and creativity necessary to design a menu celebrating our whole animal philosophy. Working alongside Emily over the years has been nothing short of an inspiration. From themed dinners to killer brunches, it was truly our pleasure to have her at the helm. Expect big things from Emily as she starts her own venture later this year.”

Chef Emily Mingrone

(Hat tip: Marcy Sansolo)

Photo Challenge #116

Two weeks ago, only 2 readers knew that the pay phone in our photo challenge was located in the Sherwood Diner parking lot.

But it took Art Schoeller only 4 minutes to post that last week’s Lynn U. Miller image — showing a collage of scenes from Staples Players’ shows — can also be found at the diner. This one is just inside the front steps, in the waiting area, foyer or whatever you call it.

Madison Malin, Bill Holden, Phil Hurd, Drew Angus, Mark Lassoff, Jeanine Esposito, Rebecca Wolin and Andrew Colabella all followed quickly. (It was Andrew’s 2nd straight Sherwood/photo challenge win.) Click here for the image, and all the guesses.

I guarantee the rest of you will never again not notice that Players photo at the diner. Or the pay phone.

This week’s photo challenge is a bit different.

 

It’s easy to tell what this is: a portrait of some guy.

He hangs in a private home. But who is he?

If you think you know, click “Comments” below.

Selma’s Bloodroot Turns 40

In January, hundreds of local women protested the new president. Earlier this month, some skipped work to demonstrate the impact of “A Day Without a Woman.”

If they wanted a place to organize, strategize — and eat a delicious, healthful meal — they could have headed to Bloodroot.

For 40 years, the Bridgeport restaurant/bookstore has been a feminist hangout and outpost. It was there at the start of the women’s movement. It nurtured the hearts, minds and stomachs of generations of activists.

It’s still there. But how many people know of Bloodroot’s Westport roots?

In 1961, Selma Miriam was a self-described “mama with 2 kids.” A landscape designer working with the famed Eloise Ray, her one requirement for a house was that it have a garden.

She found a perfect spot on Hiawatha Lane. Nearly 60 years later, it’s still home.

During her first decade in Westport, Selma got involved in the burgeoning women’s movement. She was president of Westport’s NOW chapter. So was Noel Furie.

It was the 1970s. Women’s bookstores were opening around the country. Selma and Noel liked the idea.

They also liked to cook. The idea of a vegetarian restaurant/bookstore was born.

She and Noel looked at locations along the Post Road, and in Wilton. Everything was ugly.

Then they heard about a plot of land in Black Rock, right on Burr Creek. There was room for a garden. Birds flitted. The light was natural.

Bloodroot is tucked away, off a residential street in Black Rock.

Selma went to nearly every bank in Fairfield County. None would give a woman a mortgage — though they never said it quite that way.

Finally, Harvey Koizim — the founder of Westport’s County Federal Bank — agreed to a 10-year balloon mortgage.

Bloodroot opened in 1977, on the spring equinox.

Selma liked the idea of women working together, sharing common wisdom. She did not like the idea of women serving anyone. To this day, diners give their orders at a window by the kitchen, then pay. When meals are ready, their names are called. When they’re done, they bus their own dishes.

The menu, the kitchen, and Noel Furie.

It took a while for people — especially men — to understand Bloodroot. Salesmen would arrive, look at Selma, and ask for her husband.

Irene Backalenick wrote about Bloodroot for the New York Times. When an editor called to arrange a photogapher, Selma asked for a woman.

The paper sent a man. He used a fisheye lens, which Selma says “made all our heads look swollen.”

The other day — for a story on Bloodroot’s 40th anniversary — the Times sent another photographer. She was all over the place, taking hundreds of shots. Her husband — a Times opinion page editor — simultaneously served as her assistant, and held their 8-month-old baby.

“What a difference!” Selma says. “And it all seemed so natural.”

Selma Miriam, during a quiet moment at Bloodroot.

During its 40 years, Bloodroot has employed countless people: high school and college students, dropouts, middle-aged, part-time and full-time. All are women.

Several current employees come from Mercy Learning Center, Bridgeport’s literacy and life skills center for low-income women. They’re Haitian, Ethiopian and Congolese. “Such wonderful people,” Selma says. “They have great cooking knowledge. And an incredible work ethic.”

Bloodroot’s Ferris Avenue location — in the middle of a residential neighborhood — is not easy to find.

“We don’t get walk-in trade,” Selma says. “People have to find us.”

But find Bloodroot they did. They came for the food and/or the books. They stayed for the community.

One big change has been in the bookstore. In the beginning, Bloodroot played a huge role helping women find feminist books and magazines.

Over the years, two factors — Barnes & Noble, then Amazon — have destroyed women’s bookstores. (Including, ironically, the Amazon Cooperative in Minneapolis, the first feminist bookstore in the country.)

The bookstore section of Bloodroot.

Now, Selma says, she sells one book every couple of weeks. She took up the slack by publishing cookbooks. There have been 4 so far, plus a 2-volume “Best of Bloodroot.” There are calendars too, with 13 new recipes a year.

Of course, you don’t have to buy her recipes. Ask, and she’ll tell you. “The more we share with each other, the better we’ll all be,” she says.

At 82, Selma still loves Bloodroot. She is especially excited about the menu.

She continues to develop new dishes. She’s using more plant-based food, and has introduced vegan cheese, butter and whipped cream to diners.

The warm, welcoming interior of Bloodroot.

Three things keep Selma going. “The place is beautiful. I love to cook. And I love the diversity of people,” she says.

Her customers are loyal. (And — despite her initial belief that men would  not come — they include both genders.) The staff, in turn, feels a strong connection with their diners.

Selma has big plans for Bloodroot’s 40th year. She’s looking back by playing women’s music from the 1970s and ’80s.

And she’s looking ahead by inviting vegetarian restaurants from around the state to her place.

They bring their best dishes, to show Bloodroot customers the wide variety available. “I don’t cook Indian food or Jamaican food,” Selma says. “But that’s vegetarian too.”

She invites them for another reason too: to bring people together, in a warm, beautiful place.

That’s the community Selma Miriam created.

That’s Bloodroot.

(Click here for more information on — and directions to — Bloodroot.)

And The Best Chicken Parm In The State Is…

I usually don’t post “best of…” polls.

But this one is truly important.

USA Today — with the help of local experts CT Bites — is asking readers: Who makes the best chicken parm sandwich in Connecticut?

The winner could be right here in Westport.

Three of the 20 nominees serve that favorite dish right here.

Gaetano’s Deli, Tutti’s Ristorante and the Winfield Street Italian Deli (formerly Art’s) are all in the running.

Click here to vote. (NOTE: You can do it once a day, through April 10).

Mangia!

The Winfield Street Deli chicken parm.

Steve Ruchefsky’s Gang Of 50

For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.

That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.

Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.

It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.

“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.

At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”

He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.

The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)

Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”

Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.

Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.

Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.

Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.

Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.

Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.

“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”

Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.

Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.

Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.

That’s one story. It’s a great one.

Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.

Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.

The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”

Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.

Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.

“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”

A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.

Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).

Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.

Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”

“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.

One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”

But what a gang!

Arrivederci, Vespa. Welcome, The ‘Port.

In its 2 1/2 years in Westport, Vespa earned the loyalty of many customers.

Unfortunately, they came almost entirely on Friday and Saturday nights.

Owner Bobby Werhane thought there was a demand for “a New York style, modern rustic restaurant” in that location.

There was. But attracting diners on more casual weekdays was tough. Though the 155 seats inside were filled — and in summer, the 60-seat patio was packed — the size of National Hall, plus the difficulty of scheduling employees for both peak and slow times, led to what Werhane admits was “inconsistency.”

“The Cottage and the Whelk are small enough to do well consistently,” he says. “They’ve got a small, constant staff, and a tight menu. Their expenses are manageable. It was a lot tougher for us.”

The Inn at National Hall. Vespa most recently occupied the ground floor.

One of the things he enjoyed most about  Vespa was establishing strong relationships with guests. One was Sal Augeri.

A 14-year Westporter with 2 kids, Augeri — a Wall Street guy — was thinking about the next phase of his life. He’d always been interested in restaurants; he was involved in his town, so …

… welcome to the new spot that’s taking Vespa’s place. It’s called …

… The ‘Port.

It aims to fill a niche that Augeri believew is lacking in Westport’s restaurant scene: an “approachable, authentic experience.” He calls it “a place to go after your kids’ practice, or for a quick bite with friends. But a place that also has a definite local flavor.”

The ‘Port — our town’s sometime nickname — hopes to convey a real Westport vibe. Vespa’s white walls and beautiful surfaces will remain; some banquettes and communal spaces will be added, and “Westport stuff” put on the walls. Soon, the owners hope, the iconic building will be filled with people, 7 days a week.

“Owners” is exactly the right word. Augeri’s company — SMA Hospitality — is the majority owner and operating partner. Twenty-three investors have joined the 10 original Vespa backers. That’s 33 families, all with young kids and town ties.

Local designers Alli DiVincenzo and Michele Cosentino teamed up with Westport architect Lucien Vita of the Vita Design Group to brand and design the interior of The ‘Port.

The restaurant will also hire Staples students as busboys. (The last place that did that may have been the Arrow.)

The ‘Port will be “family friendly.” Augeri says that means “simple, basic, good food that people want”: an excellent burger. The “Port Club” signature chicken sandwich. Fish, pastas, fresh salads, great wings.

Milk and fresh lemonade for children — drinks that are healthier than most restaurants’ sodas and juice boxes.

Dessert includes homemade brownies and Chipwiches. “I don’t need tiramisu,” Augeri laughs.

Chef Justin Kaplan last worked in Lake Tahoe. This will be the 7th restaurant he’s opened.

He looks forward to “rustic, home-style cooking done right. We’re designing this menu for our guests — not the chefs’ egos.”

Chef Justin Kaplan (left) and operating partner Sal Augeri. (Photo/Allyson Monson)

“Family friendly” means the owners hope The ‘Port will be the place that Staples Players and middle school actors go to celebrate after shows. What about the diner — the current favorite spot? “We’ll do special events for the cast,” Augeri promises.

He will also provide discounts for veterans, police officers and firefighters, along with special post-Back to School Night promotions. Augeri adds, “teachers will be glad we’re there. A lot of times they’re looking for a 4-to-6 p.m. spot.”

A couple of TVs will draw guests for big events, like the NCAA Final Four, US Open tennis or a Premier League championship. But — although he’s deeply involved in the Westport PAL, and he hopes teams will gather there after big wins — Augeri claims, “this is not a sports bar. It’s a restaurant with TVs.”

The projected opening date is a month from now. See you at The ‘Port.

Have You Seen The Rotary Club Sign?

For as long as the Red Barn has been on Wilton Road — maybe longer — a sign for the Rotary Club of Westport stood on the side of the road.

Made of handsome cast iron, with a blue background, it noted when and where the club met.

Rick Benson — longtime Rotary member, and the guy you call on whenever something needs doing — had the chains replaced in 1994, and the sign repainted.

The Rotary Club sign. (Photo and artwork/Lynn U. Miller)

The club is ready to put up new signs at 7 prominent gateways to Westport. One will be at the (former) Red Barn site.

Much to their surprise, members discovered recently that the old sign is gone. All that’s left is a vine-encrusted metal post.

Rick canvassed club members. He called a few folks who might have picked it up for themselves. He checked with the Westport Historical Society.

Because he’s that kind of guy, he even had the area scanned with a metal detector.

Nada.

The missing sign, on Wilton Road.

So he’s asking “06880” for help. If you — or anyone you know — has intel on the whereabouts of the Rotary Club’s old sign, email Rick: ben3rb@aol.com.

Or — for complete confidentiality — contact “06880” (dwoog@optonline.net). I’ll get the sign back to Rick, no questions asked.

FUN FACT: The Westport Rotary Club turns 100 on March 7, 2024. That makes it more than a decade older than the Merritt Parkway, whose Exit 41 is near the old (and new) sign.

Remembering Drew Tursi

Drew Tursi — a 2005 Staples graduate who was on the fast track in his cooking career in Charleston, South Carolina — died in his sleep Saturday night. He was 30 years old.

His death stunned the tight-knit restaurant community in his adopted home. On Friday night La Farfalle — where Tursi served as sous chef — participated in the 1st-ever Charleston Food & Wine Festival. There was an opening night party, and a visit from Daniel Boulud.

Drew Tursi

The La Farfalle website said that Tursi had worked in restaurants in Pawleys Island and Charleston, before moving to New York and the 1-Michelin star A Voce.

After returning south he satisfied a dream: traveling to Italy. He spent a year there, working half the time at the 2-Michelin star Taverna Estia in Naples. He honed his craft, and immersed himself in Italian language and culture. He returned to Charleston in January

The La Farfalle site added that Tursi loved “being on the boat, Thanksgiving dinner, and watching his brother (Brad) play in his band, Old Dominion.

Le Farfalle will be closed on Thursday (March 9) to host a celebration of Tursi’s life with his friends and family, immediately following a memorial service at Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina at 10 a.m.

Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives

In 2010, Josh Kangere fled the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent  the next 7 years in Kenya.

It took nearly all that time to be vetted as a refugee for admittance to the United States. When he finally got clearance, it was almost too late.

Josh arrived in New York moments before President Trump suspended the American refugee resettlement program. Still, he underwent hours of intense questioning before being allowed in.

international-institute-of-connecticutWith the help of the International Institute of Connecticut, and local volunteers — including many from Westport — he now lives in a Bridgeport apartment, with 3 other refugees. He pays $350 a month.

One of Josh’s first priorities —  along with learning better English, and adapting to a very different country — was finding a job. In Congo, he’d worked as a hospital nurse. Much of his work involved documenting rape cases for legal prosecution.

He did not have the language skills or accreditation to work in the medical field here. (His main languages are Swahili and French; his English is workable.)

Josh had just started his job search when the Wall Street Journal published a story about him.

Jennifer saw it. A longtime Westporter, she’d been looking for cleaning and dish-washing help at Sugar & Olives, the restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.

She hired him immediately.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh takes the bus from Bridgeport. It’s a long, unfamiliar trek, to do work that is below his skills, but he is happy to be there.

“I cannot be a man without a job,” he says. “Any job. I am ready to work.”

Jennifer — who feeds Josh dinner in part so he can save money, in part to introduce him to American food — knows she may be criticized for hiring someone who had been in this country for just a few days, instead of a local resident.

“Do you know how hard it is to find someone who cares about a job like this, and is willing to work hard?” she asks. “This is like looking for a nanny. The fit has to be right. If you don’t have a fire under your feet, you don’t belong in a restaurant. I need someone who isn’t just in this for the paycheck.”

Jennifer has welcomed Josh into the Sugar & Olives family — and her own. Her son August Laska — a Staples grad — has studied Swahili at Middlebury College. They’ve chatted a bit by phone. (Josh is also fluent in French.)

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer believes that “the beauty of America is giving everyone an equal chance at success — and that includes immigrants. We can only learn from each other. Keeping our borders open and safe is a positive thing.”

“I’m blessed,” says Josh, who hopes to return some day to the medical field.

He says Jennifer has “a love I’ve never seen. To help people she does not know, that is special.”

Everywhere in this area, he adds, “I meet good people. They want to help me. I’m so happy with everything.

“I hope with the grace of God, in the future my life will be good. God bless the American people.”

Jesup Hall Reinvigorates Downtown Dining

Westport’s dining scene takes another giant step forward next week.

And it does so with a gentle nod to the past.

Jesup Hall opens Tuesday, in the old Town Hall.

If you don’t know where that is: It’s the building with one restaurant already: Rothbard Ale + Larder.

And if you don’t know where that is — it’s the building next to Restoration Hardware. Opposite Patagonia.

The facade still says

The facade still says “Town Hall” (sort of). Starting next week though, 90 Post Road East will be known as Jesup Hall.

Though it served as Town Hall (and, for many years, police headquarters) from its construction in 1907 through the 1970s, the Revivalist structure with a stone facade is often ignored.

Now — thanks to talented restaurateur Bill Taibe — it will once again be smack in the middle of downtown action.

Taibe — who owned Le Farm in Colonial Green, then opened The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck — had been eyeing the Charles Street property that most recently housed the Blu Parrot (before that, Jasmine and the Arrow).

But the deal did not work. When he heard the historic town hall was available, he knew it was perfect.

“It’s got great bones,” Taibe said last night, at a preview opening. “It’s in downtown Westport. With Bedford Square opening up across the street, there’s a lot going on here. This is a fantastic place to be.”

Interior designer Kate Hauser — who worked with Taibe on the Whelk and Kawa Ni — has created a warm, welcoming environment in a very interesting space. With a long bar on one side, communal tables in the middle, and smaller tables (including a circular one) on the other side, Taibe envisions Jesup Hall as an all-day destination. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, plus — a first for him — Sunday brunch.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Chef Dan Sabia — most recently at the Bedford Post Inn, who has worked with Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — specializes in large cuts of meat, and loves vegetables. The fennel, kale salad, cauliflower and lamb served last night were especially noteworthy.

As with all of Taibe’s restaurants, local sourcing is important. “It will be seasonal, honest food,” Taibe says.

Taibe opened his first Westport restaurant — Le Farm — 7 years ago. “I really feel part of the town,” he says. “I adore it. It’s been so good to me.”

He felt a responsibility to the building, he says. But calling his new restaurant Town Hall — as some people suggested — did not feel right. Then he thought about nearby Jesup Green. He researched the family. So Jesup Hall it was.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall. Last night, it was used for a buffet dinner.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall.

Taibe makes sure all his employees know where they are — and who Morris Jesup was. He’s the grandson of Ebenezer Jesup, who owned the property we now call Jesup Green (and a nearby wharf). Morris funded the Westport Library (its original location, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, was dedicated in 1908, just a couple of months after he died).

He also helped found the Young Men’s Christian Association — the national Y organization — and was a major contributor to the Arctic expeditions of Robert Peary, the Tuskegee Institute and the American Museum of Natural History (which he also served as president).

The space has some challenges. There are two entrances — but one is set back from the Post Road; the other is in back, off the parking lot.

That’s fine. In the summer, the front patio will be filled with tables, making for a lively outdoor scene.

Jesup Hall may even share some outdoor space with Rothbard. “I love those guys,” Taibe says, of the downstairs restaurant, which serves Central European and German fare. “They’ve been so supportive the entire time we were building our space.”

Other downtown restaurant announcements are coming soon. But right now, the 2 words to keep in mind are: Jesup Hall.

(Hat tip: Dorothy Curran)