Category Archives: Restaurants

Aztec Two-Steps Into 323

Sometimes, the bands that play at 323 are pretty good. Occasionally they’re not. Usually though, they’re just nice background music to your dinner and drinks.

On Monday night, patrons at the Main Street restaurant had good reason to actually listen.

Aztec Two-Step — the folk-rock band that’s been a cult favorite since 1971 (!) — lugged their equipment, plugged in and played a full set.

Aztec Two-Step at 323. (Photo/Chip Stephens)

It wasn’t totally random. Westporter Dodi Pettit married Rex Fowler — the band’s co-founder — in August. (Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on their 5th album.)

Still, it’s pretty cool to have such a legendary group performing in such a down-home venue.

You never know what a restaurant’s Special of the Day will be, do you?

Unsung Heroes #75

It takes a village to raise a child.

It also takes a village to distribute extra donuts, far and wide.

I’ve written before about Food Rescue US. That’s the amazing, app-based organization that enlists volunteers — whenever it’s convenient — to deliver extra food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries and caterers to soup kitchens, food pantries and other hunger relief organizations.

In fact, last April director Nicole Straight was our Unsung Hero #42.

But man does not live by fruits and vegetables alone.

A while ago, alert “06880” reader Marjorie Almansi asked Max Kupperberg — a Staples High School graduate, and Donut Crazy employee — what that very popular train station breakfast-and-more place did with their leftovers.

He quickly put her in touch with owner Joan Tuckman. Just as quickly, they got Food Rescue involved. Now — every day — those donuts find happy donated homes.

Donated donuts — especially Donut Crazy’s amazing varieties — bring smiles to everyone’s faces.

Three times a week, Latisha Williams brings them to Jettie S. Tisdale Elementary School in Bridgeport. She teaches 7th grade social studies there, and says that teachers she never knew before are all friendly to her now.

The donuts go to Westport’s Gillespie Center a few times a week too.

Marjorie often brings them to the custodians at Staples High School. If there are extras, she’ll give them to anyone else she sees.

So — on the eve of Thanksgiving — today’s Unsung Heroes are once again the wonderful Food Rescue US volunteers, and all the participants like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Plus director Nicole Straight, Donut Crazy, Latisha Williams and Marjori Almansi.

Those donuts are crazy!

Re-Opening Soon: Athena Diner

It’s not Christie’s Country Store.

But the Athena Diner — closed since June — will soon live again.

New owners are doing site work and renovations.

That’s good news for Westporters. Southporters. And drivers everywhere, looking for a quick stop off I-95 Exit 19.

Athena Diner (Photo/Andy Bangser)

Christie’s Closes Soon. Another Westport Institution Is Gone.

In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.

The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.

John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.

Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)

It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.

Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.

If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.

Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.

The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.

Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.

Christie’s handsome front porch.

They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights  (Saturdays too).

But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.

Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.

“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”

So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.

That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”

“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.

Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.

Really, everyone in Westport should be.

A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.

Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.

And Christie’s, for 92 of them.

Big Love From Little Barn

Dining out with a 2-year-old is never easy.

For Joy Mermelstein — the mother of a non-verbal, autistic boy — it’s particularly tough.

But Little Barn advertises itself as “kid-friendly.” They’ve got high chairs, special menus, and a patient staff.

The other day, Joy’s family — with her son Charlie — headed to the popular Post Road restaurant. He acted out a bit. A couple nearby — with their own young child — did not mind.

But another diner did. And said something.

Joy sat down. She teared up.

What happened next is remarkable. The wait staff, the manager — everyone — went waaaay out of their way to make Joy and Charlie feel welcome.

I won’t tell you exactly what happened. Joy describes it far better than I can.

And she does it on a video she posted to Facebook and YouTube. (Be sure to watch it to the end!)

It should go viral.

And if it does, Little Barn should add plenty of seats and tables. Because they deserve to be packed — every meal — with the kind of patrons who appreciate a good restaurant, run by and with great people.

(Hat tip: Peggy Lehn)

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)

Community Thanksgiving Feast: New Look For Old Favorite

For nearly 50 years, Saugatuck Congregational Church has hosted — and done all the work for — the Community Thanksgiving Day Feast.

But just as traditions change — someone new in the family takes over the meal, somebody brings a great new dish — the longstanding Westport event has a different look this year.

Saugatuck Church is passing its turkey baster to the Inn at Longshore’s OnTheMarc catering. They’ll do the cooking — and the meal will be served at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Many hands help with the Community Thanksgiving Feast.

Dan Levinson and Monique Bosch have stepped up to coordinate the feast.

But many things have not changed.

For one, everyone is invited.

For another, it’s still free. Partners — including Main Street Resources, Saugatuck Congregational, Christ & Holy Trinity, the Unitarian Church in Westport and Temple Israel — are making the day possible.

And — perhaps most importantly — tons of volunteers are needed. All ages are welcome. To help in any way, click here.

PS: Need a ride? Just click here!

PPS: Homebound? The Senior Center is delivering Thanksgiving meals. Call Sue Pfister at 203-341-5098 to receive a turkey and trimmings.

(The Community Thanksgiving Day Feast is November 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

BREAKING NEWS: Black Duck Lives!

This was just posted on the Black Duck’s Facebook page!

We are beyond pleased to announce that after many days of discussions with our creditors, landlord, and investors, the Duck has been able to secure a financial package which will allow us to continue operations (hopefully for the next 40 years!).

The outpouring of support from our loyal patrons over the past few days has been deeply moving and gratifying, and we sincerely thank you. Like Phoenix, the Duck has risen from the ashes!

To celebrate, please join us this Sunday (November 4), for all day happy hour prices.

(Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Just another Tuesday at the Duck. The good times continue!

 

 

Westport Moms Offer “Local Love”

It’s easy to bemoan the sorry state of downtown Westport. We talk for hours about empty storefronts, long-gone favorites, and the impending disaster that is the opening of the Norwalk mall.

It’s a lot harder to do something about it.

Thankfully, Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post are on the case.

The Westport moms — who own and operate the wildly popular WestportMoms.com platform — are working hard on a new project.

“Local Love” debuts in late November. Running through 2 weekends, it’s a chance for store and restaurant owners to draw customers by offering discounts. The suggested draw: 20% off for stores, 15% for salons and spas, 10% for restaurants.

“Local Love” will draw shoppers to places they might not know about downtown — and throughout the rest of Westport .

But “Local Love” is a lot more than just a $40 coupon book. A portion of the sales will help build a playground near the new library.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and town officials are all behind the idea. And Megan and Melissa are involving shops and restaurants all around Westport — not just downtown.

When I said they were “working hard,” I wasn’t kidding. The duo have spent weeks talking to store and restaurant owners. More than 50 already signed up.

“They’re being very creative with what they offer,” Melissa says. “For example, a store like Tiffany can’t offer discounts.  So they may sponsor a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ You’ll get a lot for your $40.”

The Westport moms can’t hit every spot themselves. So they’re asking business owners to email them (info@westportmoms.com). They’ll announce the entire roster soon.

Watch this space for news about buying that $40 ticket.

Then show your “Local Love.”

[UPDATE] Black Duck Employees’ GoFundMe Page Shuts Down

NOTE: The GoFundMe page referenced below has been shut down. A note says “No longer accepting donations.”

———————————————-

Yesterday’s announcement was stunning: The Black Duck will close on Sunday.

No reason was given. Just like that — poof! — Westport’s iconic burger-and-bar joint will be gone.

Earlier today though, a GoFundMe page appeared.

Posted by “The Black Duck team” — described as “the remaining few long-time employees” — it offers a glimmer of hope. The goal is to raise $100,000, to keep the beloved barge restaurant open.

The crowdfunding plea reads:

The Black Duck Cafe, the last of “Old Westport,” the place of many first dates and first beers, home of famous burgers, wings and strong drinks, the place to “ruin your liver down by the river”…is drowning. We have been so fortunate to have served so many wonderful customers and friends for 40 years with the Saugatuck River as our backdrop, and are hoping to continue being able to serve you.

Our beloved old barge withstood Hurricane Sandy, the departure of near-celebrity status bartenders, rising food, liquor and utilities costs, and the takeover of Westport by brand name chains. Despite these changes, it is our long-time customers, camaraderie and meeting new customers that have kept us, the remaining few long-time employees, going.

Part of the Black Duck’s peril: increasingly frequent floods.

Consistency and “turning back of time” has been the Duck’s long-time appeal. Indeed, best-selling novelist Jane Green stated in 2017 that the Black Duck is “one of the few places where old Westport and new Westport meet.”

Yet this turning back of time, has also led to the accrual of increasing debts. Though we have had to increase our prices over the years, these increases have been disproportionately lower than the increasing food costs. In other words, our commitment to being one of the last affordable, laid-back restaurants in lower Fairfield County has caught up to us. In the last 6 months, we’ve been experiencing slower business and now have fallen on significant financial hardship, and are facing the biggest challenge of the Black Duck’s 40 years of business.

It is devastating to think that we won’t be part of Westport and a part of your lives anymore. If our small barge on Riverside Ave becomes empty, so many of you, our guests, will no longer have your go-to place to go to, so we the employees, are doing everything we can to keep it going.

We need to raise cash immediately. Our hope is that with the money raised, that the Duck will be able to stay open for this month and next month.  This money will get us through the slower time.  We would love your help and we are so thankful for your business over the years and for taking a look at our campaign!

Love humbly from the entire Black Duck team.

So far, $300 has been raised.

Duck-lovers: Now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. (Right around those wings, steamers and onion rings.)

Click here for the Black Duck’s GoFundMe page.

(Hat tip: Jennifer Rankine)