Category Archives: Restaurants

Remembering Sandy Soennichsen

Sandy Soennichsen — a frequent commenter on “0688o” — died Sunday.

According to an obituary in the Connecticut Post, Klaus “Sandy” Soennichsen was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1947, He immigrated to the U.S. 3 years later.

Sandy Soennichsen

Sandy Soennichsen

Sandy grew up in Weston, and graduated from Staples High School in 1965.

After joining the Air Force during the Vietnam War, he graduated from American International College before settling in Westport in 1979.

Since retiring as a high stakes supervisor at Foxwoods Casino, Sandy enjoyed spending time with his family, and having coffee with his friends at Oscar’s.

Sandy is survived by his wife of 47 years, Carol of Westport; his son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Despina of Weston; 3 grandchildren, Markus, Angelika and Nikoletta, and cousins Eric Flaig and Linda Glasschroeder of New Hampshire.

Calling hours are tomorrow (Wednesday, May 25), 5-8 p.m. at the Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 South Benson Rd. Fairfield.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Westport EMS, 50 Jesup Road, Westport.

For information, or to sign an online guest register, click here.

Oysters R In Westport’s Season

For months, Westporters have seen — and wondered about — the wooden structures visible at low tide in Sherwood Mill Pond.

They’re used to grow oysters. And though only those folks living on the Mill Pond — or enjoying the view there — have noticed them, they won’t be “secret” for long.

Westport oysters are coming back. In fact, they may be our town’s fastest-growing industry.

And one of our most important.

Last month, near low tide, JP Vellotti snapped this photo at Sherwood Mill Pond. The tops of oyster cages peek above the water.

Last month, near low tide, JP Vellotti snapped this photo at Sherwood Mill Pond. The tops of oyster cages (center) peek above the water.

Oysters are not new. In the mid-1800s 2 men — a Mr. Nash, and a Dr. Deifendorf — grew oysters in the Mill Pond.

The Nash family may be best known for their own pond — off Kings Highway and Woodside — but they have a long oystering history here. In 1908 — several years after Captain Walter Dewitt (“Cap”) Allen married Lida Nash, he bought a small oyster house (the first part of Allen’s Clam House), and 30 acres on the pond.

Accessible only by boat, the house had been built in 1747 with remnants from the cooper shop. It was moved to the middle of the pond at the turn of the 20th century, as the home of a guard who watched the beds for poachers.

The house had been cut into 3 pieces, then dragged out at low tide by a team of oxen. It was built into the island house by Cap’s father Samuel, a carpenter.

When Cap died, his daughter, Beulah Northrop, inherited the island house. She later gave it to her nephew, Sandy Allen, who then sold it to Jeff Northrop Sr.

I learned all this from Jeff Northrop Jr.. His father (Jeff Sr.’s) great-aunt was Lida Nash Allen. For generations, those 3 families have been intertwined.

Some of the oysters harvested last summer from Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Some of the oysters harvested last summer from Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Captain Allen grew clams and oysters. He ran Allen’s Clam House for several decades. He died in 1954.

The Uccellini family had been involved in the restaurant since World War II. They took over Allen’s Clam House after Cap’s death — but the clamming business ended.

During the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19, the only cure was said to be clam broth. Believing there were only enough clams to feed the locals, men with guns defended the Mill Pond from New York marauders.

Jeff Sr. was born in 1952. At age 4 he sat on Captain Allen’s lap, eating his first oyster. He lived on Grove Point, and spent summers playing at the tidal gates.

From 1957 on, the pond lay dormant. Jeff grew up, and worked in the boat business.

In 1971 — after graduating from Staples — he began growing oysters with Rand McNeill. They took their crop to Fulton Fish Market. Older buyers there immediately recognized the distinctive Mill Pond taste, from decades earlier. Eventually though, the business died.

In 2008, Jeff Sr. sold his boat company. He wanted to revive the family’s oyster business.

Automated tidal gates help drain Sherwood Mill Pond -- a boon to oyster production. Last summer, a Weston boy played near the gates -- just as Jeff Northrop did when he was a kid.

Automated tidal gates help drain Sherwood Mill Pond — a boon to oyster production. Last summer, a Weston boy played near the gates — just as Jeff Northrop did when he was a kid. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Just before his 2 million oysters were ready for their first harvest, Hurricane Sandy roared in. Sand sucked from the Saugatuck River was deposited in the Mill Pond. The oysters — planted on the bottom — suffocated.

But Jeff and his son are determined to bring oystering back. They re-examined growing techniques, and raised enough capital to do it all again. They call their venture Hummock Island.

A company studying the water called Sherwood Mill Pond one of the best oyster-growing mediums they’d seen. It usually takes 3 years to grow mature oysters. Because this pond is so nutrient-rich, oysters need just 18 months.

The Northrops now grow their oysters in bags. Placed in cages off the pond floor, they’re away from sand and crabs. Those 500 cages — in 2 rows, each 600 feet long — are visible only at low tide. They hold another 2 million oysters.

When the Mill Pond was drained last summer, the Northrops got a chance to inspect their oysters. They're grown in bags, hung from cages that are usually submerged. (Photo/Dan Woog)

When the Mill Pond was drained last summer, the Northrops got a chance to inspect their oysters. They’re grown in bags, hung from cages that are usually submerged. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Because the Mill Pond can be drained, the Northrops have a unique opportunity to work on their oysters. Every day, tidal gates allow over 2.5 million cubic meters of fresh, nutrient-rich water to enter the pond. All the conditions align for bountiful harvests, with firm white meats, beautiful shells and an intimate meroir.

Oysters are very efficient sources of protein. They’re non-polluting. They produce no waste.

Plus, they’re feeder filters. Since they started growing, the water quality of the Mill Pond has increased dramatically.

A rare view of Sherwood Mill Pond, while it's drained. The view is from mid-pond, toward Hillspoint Road and Compo Hill beyond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A rare view of Sherwood Mill Pond while it’s drained, with the Northrops’ oyster cages visible. The view is from mid-pond, toward Hillspoint Road and Compo Hill beyond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A special boat comes into the channel. (The Northrops own the land used to get in and out of the channel.)

Hummock Island oysters are on the menu at restaurants like Pearl at Longshore. They’re available in local stores.

You can’t see the oyster beds, except at extreme low tide. Most Westporters don’t know they’re there. (Many don’t even know about the magical Mill Pond.)

But — just like years ago — the oyster world knows Westport.

(More exciting news: Tours of the oyster farm are in the works!)

Art (And More) About Town

Tonight’s Art About Town opening party drew hundreds of folks to Main Street.

Plenty of actual art was displayed, on sidewalks and in store windows. But there were other art forms too: street performers, musicians, face painters and more.

Plus (of course) food.

The annual event is sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. Artwork will remain in stores — and available for purchase — through June 19.

Painting with a Twist had a booth -- including (just like at their art sessions) a bottle of wine.

Painting with a Twist’s booth included (just like their sessions) a bottle of wine.

But is it art?

But is it art?

Builders Beyond Borders showed mosaics. This one was made out of pieces of photos, taken on a recent service trip.

Builders Beyond Borders offered mosaics. This one was constructed from thousands of photos, taken on a recent service trip.

Little kids can make art out of anything. Including sand.

Little kids can make art out of anything. Including sand.

Art About Town - 2 ladies 1

Two ladies.

Haitian artist Jean Benoit -- now living in Stratford -- showed off his works near The Gap.

Haitian artist Jean Benoit — now living in Stratford — showed his works near The Gap.

Boo!

Boo!

Jeera Thai was among many downtown restaurants offering dinner.

Jeera Thai was among many downtown restaurants offering dinner.

Art is all about free expression.

Art is all about free expression.

 

 

Play It Again, 323!

Last month, “06880” reported on a piano plea from 323.

Music lovers at the North Main Street restaurant hoped to raise $11,000 to buy a piano. The one used for 323’s popular Thursday night jazz series — lent by Beit  Chaverim Synagogue (through their leader, Greg “The Jazz Rabbi” Wall) — was not up to the job.

This was not just any piano, mind you. It was a fine 1937 Steinway “M” — from New York’s legendary Village Gate. For decades beginning in 1958, it was played by greats like Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Ahmad McCoy Tyner, Erroll Garner, Nina Simone and Sun Ra.

Would jazz lovers an hour from the city pony up the cash to give it a second life in Westport?

Yes! The deal has been closed. The new piano is already safely in its new home, right near the bar.

Steinway's classic piano, in its new 323 home.

Steinway’s classic piano, in its new 323 home.

The official welcome show is this Thursday (May 19, 7:30 p.m.). It’s billed as “Chris Coogan Meets the Jazz Rabbi.” All are welcome.

The fine print: The newly formed Jazz Society of Fairfield County has not yet raised the full amount. An interest-free loan from an anonymous jazz lover will tide them over for a few days. They  hope to reach their goal this week, and start a fund for periodic maintenance, regulation and tuning. Contributions can be made via PayPal (click here). For other arrangements, email JazzRabbi@gmail.com. For 323’s Jazz Series Facebook page, click here.

UPDATE: Bravo Is Not Closed

Last Saturday, Bravo was closed. There was no one inside. No sign outside. No one answered the phone.

Now they’re open again.

So noted.

Bravo logo

 

Arrivederci, Bravo?

On a Saturday night when most restaurants in Westport are booked solid — believe me, I tried to get reservations at several — Bravo appears to be out of the running.

An alert “0688o” reader found the door locked, and this scene inside:

Bravo

If the food was anything like I enjoyed when it first opened, that’s too bad.

If the service was anything like the last two times I was there, I’m  not surprised.

All That Jazz!

Greg Wall — the “jazz rabbi” — just celebrated his 1st year at 323. Most Thursdays, he and an ever-changing virtuoso cast entertains diners, drinkers and music fans at the North Main Street restaurant.

There’s only one problem: Their piano is not up to the job.

It’s a fine instrument for a casual home player. But it can’t sustain the constant playing of 323’s featured artists.

Fortunately, a fine 1937 Steinway “M” piano — from New York’s legendary Village Gate — is available. For several decades beginning in 1958, it was played by many jazz greats: Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Erroll Garner, Sun Ra and more.

A plaque on the Village Gate piano describes its vaunted history.

A plaque on the Village Gate piano describes its vaunted history.

The piano was featured on recordings by Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Nina Simone, and used for the original perfomances of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

The 323 crew hopes to raise $10,000 to buy the instrument. They’re starting a non-profit — The Jazz Society of Fairfield County — to ensure the piano will support jazz performances throughout the area.

They’ve got a week to pull off the deal. So they offer these premiums:

  • Donate $3,000 or more, and the Greg Wall Quartet will perform in your home, or for a private function.
  • Donate $1,000, and you’ll be treated to a night of solo piano by one of 323’s featured artists.
  • For $500 or more, you can dedicate an upcoming 323 performance in honor of a friend or loved one, or for a special occasion.

If the Jazz Society can’t purchase the piano, all donations will be returned. If they surpass their goal, excess funds will be used for regular maintenance, tuning and regulation, and the purchase of a humidity control device.

Let the music play!

(To contribute via PayPal, click here. To make other arrangements, email JazzRabbi@gmail.com)

Among the 323 regulars are saxophonist Greg Wall and pianist Chris Coogan.

Among the 323 regulars are saxophonist Greg Wall and pianist Chris Coogan.

 

Red Barn Has Moved!

You, I and the rest of the world may think that the Red Barn — the iconic restaurant opened in 1933, and operated continuously through last year — is located on Wilton Road, nestled up against Merritt Parkway Exit 41.

Think again!

According to a state Department of Transportation poster currently hanging in Town Hall, offering facts, photos and a map of ongoing Merritt “enhancements,” the Red Barn is across the river, one exit away.

Red Barn - map

Click on map to enlarge

See? It’s right there, at northbound exit 42 on Weston Road!

Let’s hope the DOT is a bit more diligent with their actual “enhancement” work.

Luxe Wine Bar Sold; Reopens As Bankside Social

Luxe is mixing its last drinks.

Owner Dave Morton has accepted an offer to sell his Main Street craft cocktail and wine bar. The final night is this Sunday (April 17).

Morton bought the unique after-dinner spot from previous owner Robert Reilly in November 2013.

“I appreciate all the great people, fun times and million laughs we shared,” Morton said in his announcement. “I’ll miss being part of the Westport community.”

He gave a special shout-out to Reilly, “whose vision made Luxe a special place to so many, for so long.”

Luxe Wine Bar & Craft Cocktails

Luxe Wine Bar & Craft Cocktails

Describing “mixed feelings” at the sale of his mixed drinks lounge, Morton invites friends and customers to stop by before closing. “Help us make the final week a memorable one,” he says.

After making some changes, the new owner will reopen as Bankside Social — a Mediterranean bistro, wine and dessert bar.

Morton says, “Please make them feel welcome, as you did for me.”

The soon-to-be-former owner has one more request: “I need a job. If anyone can help with that, I’ll figure out how to show my appreciation.”

Perhaps he’ll buy you a drink.

Presumably at Bankside.

Times Critic LOVES The Cottage

To earn an “excellent” review from New York Times critic Patricia Brooks, a restaurant basically has to be perfect. That means a spectacular menu, an uber-creative chef, flawless presentation and service. The bathrooms should probably be beautiful too.

But Brooks has just given an exceptionally rare “excellent” rating to The Cottage.

In tomorrow’s New York Times, she raves that the “small, cozy and very homey” Colonial Green eatery — the successor to Le Farm — boasts a menu “far more sophisticated than its simple setting would suggest.”

Brooks and her companions did not have “any disappointments, at either dinner or brunch.”

A cozy table, at The Cottage.

A cozy table, at The Cottage.

She says there were “too many high points at dinner to mention” — perhaps the highest praise she has given any restaurant.

“There were so many appealing choices, and too little time,” Brooks laments. She adores — among chef/owner Brian Lewis’ dishes — appetizers like crunchy tuna, Chioggia beets and Maine sea scallops; house-made pastas; cod and salmon entrees, and 4 “resoundingly ambrosial” desserts.

When Patricia Brooks gives a “very good” rating, restaurateurs can be set for life.

With this “excellent” review, you should call now — the day before the Times lands on your doorstep — for reservations. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait about as long you do for “Hamilton” tickets.

(Click here to read Patricia Brooks’ full story. Hat tip: John Karrel)