Category Archives: Restaurants

Unsung Hero #42

Across Fairfield County, Food Rescue US volunteers are gearing up for April 25. That’s when the non-profit — which delivers extra food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries and caterers to soup kitchens, food pantries and other hunger relief organizations — throws its annual fundraiser. “Food For All” features amazing food and fun from over a dozen great restaurants, including Amis, Kawa Ni and Match Burger Lobster.

One of the volunteers working hardest on the event is Nicole Straight. But that’s no surprise. In the 4 years she’s been involved with Food Rescue US (formerly known as Community Plates), she’s saved untold tons of food.

And helped feed countless county residents.

A private chef, cookbook author and creator of Time to Eat! — a longtime cooking class for busy parents — Nicole is passionate about her volunteer work.

“In a community as fortunate as ours, it’s easy to oversee the invisible and sometimes uncomfortable hungry in our towns,” she told fellow food rescuer Ria Rueda.

“They are in Westport, Fairfield, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich and Bridgeport. In the current culture, many people feel overwhelming powerlessness, a what-can-I-do feeling?”

Nicole Straight, rescuing food.

For Nicole, service means “boots on the ground” small acts. She loves helping her immediate community, easily and in under an hour.

Food rescue can be done alone, or with family or friends. An app allows anyone to find out when a food run is needed, 7 days a week.

“I love this job because it humanizes and connects me to people in our community I might never have met,” Nicole says.

Since becoming site director in 2016, Nicole has increased the volunteer base from 300 to 500.

But food rescue is not all she does.

Nicole volunteers weekly at the Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

Nicole Straight, with students at Cesar Batalla School.

And she teaches poker at Westport’s Senior Center.

Which is just one more reason we are proud to “hand” this week’s Unsung Hero award to the very aptly named Nicole Straight.

(For more information on the “Food for All” fundraiser, and tickets, click here. For more information on Food Rescue US, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

And The Pizza Winners Are…

Over 1,700 pizza lovers cast votes during last month’s Great Westport Pizza Contest.

Sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, 14 restaurants competed in 7 categories.

When the votes were tallied, you chose:

  • Best slice: Westport Pizzeria
  • Best plain pizza: Westport Pizzeria
  • Best meat pizza: Joe’s Pizza
  • Best gluten-free pizza:  Joe’s Pizza
  • Best veggie pizza: Tutti’s Ristorante
  • Best delivered pizza:  Jordan’s Restaurant
  • Best personal pizza: Rizzuto’s Restaurant and Toscano Pizzeria (tie)
  • Honorable mention:  Romanacci Pizza Bar and Planet Pizza lost by only 2 votes in the “Best personal pizza” and “Best delivered pizza” categories, respectively.

Mel Mioli’s Westport Pizzeria may have moved to the Post Road, after 45 years on Main Street. But it’s still a Westport favorite.

The victors did not get any dough — just the satisfaction of coming out on top (and free publicity).

Any way you slice it, the Great Westport Pizza Contest was a winner.

March was Westport Pizza Month. That’s not just an idea — it was an official proclamation from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (2nd from left). Joining him were (from left) Westport Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell; Ira Bloom of event sponsors Bercham Moses, and Joe Canicatti, owner of double winner Joe’s Pizza.

 

Any Way You Slice It, Julian’s Closes

Today is the final day to vote for your favorite pizza place in Westport.

But there’s one less contender than when the contest began.

Monday was is the final day for Julian’s, the brick oven pizzeria on Riverside Avenue.

An employee at the Post Road East location — which remains open — says the reason for the closing was a huge rent increase.

Sounds like the scourge of downtown has spread to Saugatuck.

At the 2016 Slice of Saugatuck, the line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

Be Careful Out There

There’s something about the Compo Shopping Center parking lot.

With scary regularity, cars plow into storefronts there.

This afternoon, it was Little Kitchen.

Fortunately, no one yet has been seriously hurt.

(Photo/Nancy Eckl)

[UPDATE] 3rd Site Proposed For Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The Planning & Zoning Commission meets April 5 to continue its public hearing on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Three proposals are on the agenda.

One involves the former Bertucci’s restaurant on the Post Road, near the Sherwood Island Connector.

The 2nd is for the old Blockbuster store.

The 3rd proposal is for 345 Post Road West.

That’s the Academy of Dance building, near the Norwalk border.

The Academy of Dance, on Post Road West.

The dance studio sent out this message:

It has been brought to our attention that our landlords have filed an “Application for Special Permit” to attempt to make this location eligible for a CT Medical Marijuana Dispensary. We were not aware of these intentions and we are working with our landlords to better understand their recent actions.

It is important for our dance community to know that we are bound by a current lease that entitles us to remain at 345 Post Road West as we have done successfully for many years.

The Academy says their “classes, performances, privacy and typical routines” will not be disrupted or infringed upon. They’re not closing, and they don’t intend to move.

Sounds as if the applicant — “FFD Westport LLC” — has found a location smaller than the 2 big locations so many residents complained about at the last meeting.

But it’s clear the current tenants are not going to just waltz away.

(The P&Z meeting on Thursday, April 5 begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.)

Celebrate With Olive My Stuff

Generations of Westporters loved Oscar’s. One of the main reasons was longtime owner Lee Papageorge.

Another reason was Ali. One of Lee’s 2 daughters, she grew up in the downtown hangout. Like her father, she welcomed regulars and newcomers with friendliness and energy.

Ali always loved retail and service. Last March, she started opened a consignment shop. Olive My Stuff is named after her youngest daughter, Olive — Lee’s grandchild.

Ali, Lee and Olive Papageorge.

Her store is on Main Street — in Monroe. She would love to be on Westport’s Main Street, but rents are prohibitive.

Her goal is to build her business, move here, and serve some of her dad’s former customers.

This Saturday (March 24) marks her first anniversary. She’ll celebrate with prizes, refreshments, and pop-up vendors.

Olive My Stuff is hip and eclectic. Oscar’s fans will recognize Ali’s unique style.

Plus, they’ll see a photo of Lee Papageorge, in a place of honor at the front counter.

(Olive My Stuff is at 590 Main Street, Monroe.)

Ali Papageorge, in front of Olive My Stuff.

Westport’s Neat New Restaurant: OKO

First it was a fire station.

Then it was De Rosa’s Brick Oven Pizza. Eventually the tall, slender building on Wilton Road became Neat: a coffee shop by day, wine bar at night.

Now the former Vigilant Firehouse — tucked between Bartaco and The ‘Port — will become OKO.

Chef Brian Lewis

The Japanese restaurant has great promise. It’s the latest project for chef Brian Lewis, who draws raves for his innovative cuisine at The Cottage in Colonial Green.

Lewis has studied Japanese cooking techniques for many years. He’s layered Japanese influences into his cooking. But when he introduced the Okonomiyaki — a savory Japanese pancake filled with seasonally inspired ingredients — to the Cottage menu, he realized he was on to something special.

Guests loved the dish — “Japanese street food with some rarefied touches,” he calls the immediately popular dish.

But it’s not easy to say “Okonomiyaki” (unless you’re from Japan). So, in a non-tongue-twisting tribute, Lewis is calling his new venture OKO.

Lewis will of course include local ingredients on the OKO menu. An opening date has not yet been announced.

But the sign went up this afternoon.

Fox And Honey

Normally, the announcement of a gourmet cooking class and tasting in a Westport store would not be “06880”-worthy.

It’s nice and interesting, sure. But there’s a lot going on in Westport, and with 10-15 requests for publicity a day — and 1/3 of my blog’s readers living outside Connecticut — any event I preview must be very remarkable.

Or have a way cool back story.

This one is all about the back story.

On Tuesday, March 13 (6 to 8 p.m.), Fox Schanzer leads that cooking class at Savannah Bee Company, the artisinal honey and body care store in Bedford Square.

For $25, you’ll master — and taste — 5 recipes, featuring honey from around the world.

Here’s the “wow” factor. It involves Fox — and not just because he has one of the coolest names this side of Rip Torn and Slim Pickens.

Fox — Savannah Bee’s “educator/resident” chef — is just 17 years old.

Fox Schanzer

He graduated from Staples High School early — in January. That’s 3 years after he discovered his love for the culinary arts, in chef Cecily Gans’ class.

Fox followed his passion by working for the top chefs in Connecticut, including Anthony Kostelis at The Whelk, and Brian Lewis of The Cottage.

Fox began working at Savannah Bee Company last fall. He immediately impressed customers with his extensive knowledge of pure raw artisinal honey, from around the globe.

He constantly experiments with new dishes, which he shares with customers.

The owners and butchers at M.EAT — the old-school/organic butcher market a few doors over in Bedford Square — love Fox so much, they asked him to include a marinated meat selection at the March 13 event. To seal the deal, they offered to provide their meats free of charge — and grill them for him.

Fox — also an accomplished guitar player and rock climber, and who in his spare time cooks for the Gillespie Center — heads off soon to the Culinary Institute of America.

His dream is to open a small, 20-seat restaurant near here, to cook for friends and family.

Remember the name: Fox Schanzer. And if you go to Savannah Bee Company on March 13, one day you can say “he taught me how to cook, honey.”

(The $25 fee for the March 13 event includes wine, a tasting of 5 prepared recipes, and instruction. For more information, and to reserve a spot, email julie@savannahbee.com)

Cleanup Continues

Friday’s nor’easter has moved out to sea.

Power is back on. Roads are cleared.

But for this homeowner on Cross Highway, near North Avenue, recovery will take a bit longer.

Meanwhile, tides are still running much higher than normal. This was the scene earlier this afternoon, at the Black Duck.

(Photo/Ward French)

 

Zenabi’s Brains & Bands

Zenabi is a Westport company. Their headquarters are in the old Town Hall — the stone building next to Restoration Hardware that’s also home to Jesup Hall and Rothbard + Larder restaurants.

I’m not quite sure what Zenabi does. A spokesperson says it’s a “new pioneering tech and artificial intelligence company that helps Fortune 500 companies find signals in their data that drive growth and value.”

Their website says that Fortune 500 companies trust them to “help understand and grow individual relationships.” They also “enable companies to scale their ability to personalize interactions and offers.”

A screenshot from the Zenabi website.

But wait! There’s more!

“Built on cutting edge technology,” Zenabi can “harness powerful science to extract signals and deploy real-time solutions.”

And on and on.

I am sure Zenabi — which is a modern-day company name meaning “????” — is very good at whatever it does. Whatever that is.

But while they’re finding signals, personalizing interactions and deploying real-time solutions, they also want to connect with the local community.

So mark your calendars for Thursday, March 8 (7 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church).

Zenabi will host “Brains & Bands,” which a press release helpfully subtitles “A night to remember in Westport … an event unlike any other.” The release describes this as “some of the most brilliant minds in technology, business and music come together for an epic evening of inspiration and innovation…this self-proclaimed team of ‘Pirates’ and ‘Black Ops’ of the artificial intelligence world” — I guess that’s something else Zenabi is or does — “have the set the stage for titans of industry to share their paths to success with the local community.”

(“Black Ops” might be the right term. A web search for principals brings up a page with names like Michael Flynn and John Doe — and Latin “lorem ipsum dolor” filler in place of bios for all of them.)

The website goes on to describe the event as “documenting an autobiography of what makes an impact.” That sounds — um, something.

Brains & Bands’ “righteous speakers” — the press release’s words, not mine — include:

  • WSJ best-selling author James Altucher,
  • Emmy Award-winning Chris Fischer,
  • G2 investment group founder J. Todd Morley
  • Lead singer of the band Sponge Vin Dombroski

Well!

The press release says “these speakers will get candid about building a billion-dollar business, running the world’s largest Shark-Tagging research operation, and performing next to legendary bands like Kiss, Alice in Chains and Iggy Pop.”

One of these guys is apparently Vin Dombroski.

The CEO and founder of Zenabi — who, for some reason, is not named — says in the press release, “We’re merging the left and right brain at this event. I want people to know the most important thing you can do is take action in life. All you need is an idea and to carve your own path. We promise you’ll walk away with inspiration, ideas and having a good time.”

The event is free, and open to the public. Zenabi will collect donations there for Phoebe’s Phriends, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.

(There are 2 tiers beyond free — with all proceeds donated to charity. A $500 VIP pass offers “hours of influencer sessions, access to investors and mentors, access to B&B networking, join after parties + SWAG, access to future brains and bands media content movies and more.” A $1,500 Founders pass provides more than that, including “on-stage access.”)

To reserve tickets — free or paid — click here, or contact ellen@zenabidata.com. For more information, click here.

And if you’ve got a story on how Zenabi helped your company scale your ability to personalize interactions and offers, click “Comments” below.