Category Archives: Restaurants

Westport’s Ritzy Oysters

This weekend, alert — and hungry — “06880” reader Keith Lombardo is at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. The hotel restaurant — Jack Dusty — has a great raw bar.

Keith asked about the oysters. The waiter said they had 3. But “the signature ones that everyone loves are from Westport, Connecticut.”

Keith did not order them. He gets his Westport oysters often enough at Pearl at Longshore.

But, he says, the waiter was right. Everyone in Sarasota loved them!

westport-oysters-in-florida

Westport Oysters Pop Up At Grand Central

Claus Meyer is a world-famous food activist, cookbook author, professor and TV host. A founder of the New Nordic cuisine philosophy, his Copenhagen restaurant Noma was rated the Best in the World 4 times (!) since 2010.

So it was pretty cool the other day when he showed up at Sherwood Mill Pond. He visited the Northrop family’s Hummock Island house, accessible only by boat — the base of operations for their famous oyster farm.

He and a few of his chefs sat with the Northrops, discussing the finer points of oystering.

Claus Meyer (left) and Jeff Northrop Jr. at Old Mill Beach, before their oyster farm tour and tasting.

Claus Meyer (left) and Jeff Northrop Jr. at Old Mill Beach, before their oyster farm tour and tasting.

But that’s not the whole story.

Meyer invited Jeff and his son (Jeff Jr.) to be part of his food operation in Grand Central Terminal.

That’s the 16,000-square foot Great Northern Food Hall in Vanderbilt Hall, which has taken the historic landmark by storm.

Which is why — all week long — commuters, other travelers and food lovers of all kinds have been stopping  in at the Hummock Island Oyster pop-up bar.

Pat Hanna and Kenny Varyruardrok of Hummock Island Shellfish opening oysters from Westport for the hungry masses.

Pat Hanna and Kenny Varyruardrok of Hummock Island Shellfish opening oysters from Westport for the hungry masses.

They’ll be there through next Thursday (December 22) tomorrow (Friday, December 16) from 4-8 p.m.

That’s good news for Westporters heading home via Grand Central.

But if you’re not — heck, even if you are, but you love Hummock Island oysters — you can get them at Pearl at Longshore, any day of the week.

 

Boathouse Restaurant: Saugatuck Secret Slips Out

It’s one of those enduring urban — okay, suburban — myths: The restaurant at Saugatuck Rowing Club is private. It’s for members only, but if you go there they’ll (wink, wink) serve you.

Once upon a time, that was semi-true. The restaurant was private, but signing in made you a member for the day.

Now it’s totally false. The Boathouse at Saugatuck is a full-fledged, legit, open-to-the-public restaurant.

And a great one.

With indoor and outside (enclosed in winter) seating, and a spectacular setting — overlooking the Saugatuck River — the Boathouse is one more in a long list of excellent dining options in the neighborhood that has become Westport’s dining hotbed.

Plenty of windows offer a view of the Saugatuck River -- including rowers from the club.

Plenty of windows offer views of the Saugatuck River — including rowers.

Several months ago, says manager and event planner Nancy Burke, the Boathouse added needed parking spots and changed their liquor license, to become an actual restaurant. They can now advertise, and market themselves to the public.

Word is getting out. Executive chef Paul Scoran — formerly of Paci in Fairfield — focuses on innovative American cuisine. There’s plenty of local fish, with other selections too. (I had a really interesting pasta dish, with lobster, shrimp and crab.) The menu changes seasonally. Full catering services are also available.

Westporters may still be confused by the relationship between the restaurant and rowing club. They share a building — and from the dining room you can watch rowers work out in the gym — but they’re 2 separate entities. Both, however, are owned by the same man: Howard Winklevoss, a Greenwich businessman perhaps better known as the father of Tyler and Cameron, twin Olympic rowers/litigants who claim Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea to create Facebook.

There's indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor -- and part of the 2nd -- is devoted to rowing.

There’s indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor — and the right side of the 2nd — is devoted to rowing.

Winklevoss’ Saugatuck Rowing Club helped jump start the revitalization of Saugatuck. Now his restaurant will draw even more folks to the neighborhood.

But although the Boathouse is relatively new — at least as a public venue — it is in some ways part of the “old” Saugatuck.

One of the waiters is Frank DeMace. His grandfather — Tiger DeMace — was the longtime owner of a restaurant that for decades had quite a name of its own: Mario’s.

boathouse-logo

 

1 Parker Harding Problem Solved. 999 To Go.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Okay, maybe not. But at least Parker Harder Plaza’s dumpster problem has been solved.

For several years, the big green receptacles near Starbucks have spilled garbage, attracted rodents, and sent this message to downtown visitors: “Blech!

parker-harding-dumpster

No more!

Recently the Westport Downtown Merchants Association added a cleanup crew, initiated pest control, helped store owners review protocol and “addressed regular abusers.”

Ta da!

parker-harding-dumpster

Work is not finished. Still ahead: installation of upgraded and “significantly more attractive” enclosures.

We won’t hold our breath.

But at least while we don’t, we won’t hold our noses when we want some fresh food at Freshii.

Friday Flashback #14

Today is Veterans Day. Westporters — those who served our country, and those who simply wished to honor them — gathered in the Town Hall auditorium, for an 11 a.m. 11/11 ceremony.

Back in the day — the World Wars I and  II, Korean and Vietnam Wars day — Town Hall was located on the Post Road. It was a small, handsome building next to what was then the Fine Arts Theater.

town-hall-original-2

Today the old Town Hall is next door to Restoration Hardware — and it’s where you’ll find the Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurant.

There’s another reason it’s appropriate to run this photo today. Stevan Dohanos’ December 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover showed our town’s Honor Roll. It celebrated all our citizens serving in the armed forces that year — quite a while after the above photo was taken.

This was the 1st of Dohanos’ 136 covers for the magazine.

stevan-dohanos-veterans-cover

Today the Honor Roll is part of Veterans Green, opposite the current Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue.

Of course, there are many more names now than when Dohanos made Westport’s Town Hall famous, nationwide.

Vespa Is Very, Very Open!

I screwed up.

A reliable source told me yesterday evening that Vespa — the popular Italian and Mediterranean restaurant that has helped revitalize the National Hall neighborhood — was closed.

I called. I got a recording. It said the restaurant was closed Monday and Tuesday. But this was Wednesday.

I posted a story.

Vespa — I learned quickly — is quite open. I took down the story.

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue.

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue.

But damage had been done. Owner Bobby Werhane — one of the real good guys — fielded calls from guests who’d booked dinner and holiday events. He and his staff reassured everyone that they are indeed open for business.

My too-hasty post may have impacted not only all of Vespa’s many fans, but its over 40 employees.

So, to repeat: Vespa is alive and well.

Go there. Eat there.

Tell Bobby I sent you.

New Starbucks Replaces Old One On Post Road. Drivers Beware!

A new Starbucks opened a couple of hours ago, in the old Arby’s (previously Burger King, before that Carrols). It’s across the street and a few yards east of the previous incarnation, near the Sherwood Diner.

The new Starbucks...

The new Starbucks… (Photo/Matt Murray)

You would think that’s good news for Westporters needing enough spaces to park. (And bad news for “06880,” which may have to search elsewhere for photos of entitled/obnoxious/oblivious parkers.)

Right?

Wrong.

Alert “06880” reader Michael Traum reports:

After leaving their old Crazy Vin’s home with 24 parking spots and a relatively easy exit, their new home has a whopping 26 spots and a drive-thru (woo-hoo).

But the exit is nothing short of hazardous. For example, I witnessed a worker’s pick-up with trailer collide with a GBT Bus at around 1:30 today. No one appeared to be hurt, but watch out leaving this “‘new and improved” location.

I work across the street. I don’t recall any accidents when Arby’s was there, but no one really went to Arby’s much.

Left turns out of Starbucks by distracted and caffeinated drivers will be an adventure.

Especially during the morning rush hour, when traffic heading west is heavy to begin with.

Be careful out there!

...and the old.

…and the old.

Remembering Dino Nebel

Dino Nebel — the football-playing Staples High School Class of 1978 graduate, who entertained dozens of former employees at the now-legendary Arrow Restaurant reunion in 2012 — died recently. He was 56.

Dino came from a long Westport family. His grandfather — the famous sculptor Berthold Nebel — worked out of a barn he built on Roseville Road. His grandmother tended a beautiful garden there.

Dino worked for several years at the Arrow, starting around age 15. He had plenty of tales to tell of his time there — and he told them boisterously, as shown in these video clips:

 

The Arrow is long gone. So now is Dino.

But thanks to YouTube, both will live on forever.

(Hat tip: Zoe Kassis)

Ryan Fibiger Crafts Quite A Business

Less than 5 years ago, owner Ryan Fibiger was carrying a whole pig from his van to his new shop: Saugatuck Craft Butchery.

A startled passerby called the cops.

The officer who arrived heard Fibiger describe his new venture: a shop dedicated to “better sourcing and better butchery.” The world deserves a sustainable alternative to factory farming, he said, and he planned to lead the charge through innovative ideas and traditional practices.

The policeman was fascinated. He stayed, looked around, and became one more convert to the better-butcher-store cause.

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Ryan Fibiger, hard at work.

A lot has changed since that November 2011 day. The store grew, moved across Riverside Avenue and expanded. Fibiger and partner Paul Nessel merged with Fleishers Craft Butchery, and took on the new name.

Perhaps most importantly, they educated customers about humane treatment of animals, hundreds of types of meat cuts, and the incredibly flavorful joys of cooking the craft butchery way.

Along the way, Fibiger’s store became first a pioneer, then a mainstay of the new Saugatuck Center — and a destination for food lovers throughout Fairfield County.

Including, improbably, plenty of former vegetarians.

fleishers-logoThe story begins when Fibiger realized he hated his work as a banker/consultant, and had to get out. He found a Kingston, New York company — Fleishers — that was  committed to the art of butchery as a means for improving and growing a strong food community.

He apprenticed for 6 months, then opened his own store. It was a small operation — just he, Nessel and a couple of employees — but it was fresh, different, and a key to the nascent redevelopment project on the Saugatuck River plaza.

Customers saw — in addition to the owner hauling a pig on his shoulder — whole lambs on the counter. All the butchering was done out in the open, in full view of the store.

Some people were horrified. But those who stuck around learned about a lost art.

“Westport really embraced us,” Fibiger says. “We grew up in this community.”

Westporters grew up too.

“Most people are disconnected from where their food comes from,” Fibiger notes. “They’re disconnected from meat itself. They see it in a nice package on the grocery shelf. They recognize a few cuts. But there are hundreds of them.”

Fleishers' high-quality meat...

Fleishers’ high-quality meat…

“Whole animal butchery” is based on an old European model. Older customers tell Fibiger, “I haven’t seen that in 50 years.”

Fleishers — the Westport shop is now part of 5 in the small chain — sources from “real farms,” not feed lots.

...comes from humanely raised livestock.

…comes from humanely raised livestock.

As the store grew, so did the area around it. The Whelk opened across the plaza; Saugatuck Craft developed a partnership with owner Bill Taibe.

At first, the Saugatuck location was a risk. No one was certain the new development would succeed.

But now it’s hot. And, Fibiger notes, “I don’t think Main Street would have been right for us. It’s not where people shop for food.”

Food shoppers appreciate more than just Fleishers’ high-quality meat, and all-out-in-the-open butchering practices.

Every employee has an intimate knowledge of farms. They visit, talk to farmers, and see livestock being raised.

Fibiger is passionate about his store, his process, his accessible price points, his “insane transparency,” his meat and his customers.

But he has a special spot in his heart for kids.

In just 5 years, they’ve gone from being shielded by their parents from watching butchering, to being brought behind the counter to watch every step. They’re the future — of eating well, while supporting sustainable agriculture and humane practices — and Fibiger does his part to make sure they understand all that entails.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Something else has happened too. “Whether it’s medical or personal reasons, vegetarians are starting to eat meat again,” the owner says.

“They love coming to us. We talk about the humane treatment of animals. There are a lot of ‘ethical vegetarians’ out there. We share their values.”

Fibiger is proud that they trust him. He’s thrilled to celebrate his 5th year anniversary in Saugatuck. But like any good businessman, he’s always looking to improve.

Fleishers’ interior was recently updated. New products and cases were added. The restaurant is gaining momentum, as former chef Emily Mingrone — adored by the community — has returned. She plans exciting menu changes and dinner events this fall.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

And Fibiger just started working with a Pennsylvania lamb farm whose only other customers are 3-Michelin-star restaurants.

“We’re glad to be here,” Ryan Fibiger says, referring both to Saugatuck and “the romance of Westport.” He adds,  “We’re really glad that so many people understand and embrace what we do.”

Fleishers Craft Butchery is here for the long haul — and the whole hog.

Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines!

It’s a tossup which event occurs more often in Westport: beautiful historic homes being torn down, or perfectly good cars being driven through strip mall storefronts.

It happened again Thursday. An SUV lurched into the front of the (fortunately vacant) former New York Sports Club.

car-into-building

Compo Shopping Center — where this went down — is a frequent target for this sort of poor parking. Gold’s and other nearby tenants have also been hit.

But it’s not confined to there. Up and down the Post Road, drivers plow through doors and plate glass windows with stunning regularity. On Riverside Avenue, Tutti’s was a victim earlier this year.

I’m pretty sure I know the reason for another type of accident: crashes at midday, on perfectly clear roads in beautiful weather. It’s drivers who text or otherwise use cell phones.

This epidemic is more puzzling. No matter how much we love our phones, we don’t use them while parking.

If you’ve got ideas — on the cause or the cure — click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, here’s my advice: Stick to Main Street. No one in Westport can parallel park. So everyone is very, very careful.

The aftermath of the Tutti's crash.

The aftermath of the Tutti’s crash.