Category Archives: Saugatuck

Nothing Says Christmas In Westport Like…

…the Minute Man Monument, decked out in a Santa cap …


(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… and the William Cribari/Bridge Street bridge, decked out in Al’s Angels lights:

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.



Not Time To Make The Donuts?

Donut Crazy was supposed to open on the eastbound side of the Westport train station on October 1.

The small chain — with locations already in Shelton, Stratford and Bridgeport — will replace Steam, the former coffee shop concessionaire.

So far though, nothing.

Maybe they couldn’t raise the dough?

This is what you'll see when Donut Crazy finally opens.

This is what you’ll see when Donut Crazy finally opens.


Bar ‘Bucha: Not Just Any New Business

A new store opened Saturday in Saugatuck. Bar ‘Bucha — next to Tutti’s — fits right into the revitalized neighborhood. Offbeat, funky and fun, it introduces kombucha — a fermented drink made with a black tea base — to Westporters, who always seek the next healthful thing.

But that’s only half the story.

Here’s the kicker. Bar ‘Bucha is owned by Aishah Avdiu. It’s her 1st commercial venture. That makes sense: She’s still just a senior at Staples High School.

You wouldn’t know it to talk to her. With a family background in business — her father is a real estate developer, her mom works in the fashion industry — and her intense, no-nonsense manner, she’s ready to make her mark.

And she’s doing it her way.

Aishah Avdiu

Aishah Avdiu

Aishah’s family has enjoyed kombucha for years. Probiotic, low in sugars and calories, it’s used to treat intestinal issues and clean up skin.

Kombucha is “a delicious drink with a super kick,” Aishah says. With a 1 to 2 % less than 0.5% alcohol content — not enough to qualify as an alcoholic drink — it comes in a variety of flavors. Bar ‘Bucha will serve ginger, mixed berry, lavender chamomile, citrus hops and others, in bottles and from taps. There will be healthy snacks too, but no other food or drink.

If that does not sound like an ordinary business venture, you’re right. And if it does not sound like a business a teenage girl would start, you’re even more right.

Aishah Avdiu, with her kombucha taps. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Aishah Avdiu, with her kombucha taps. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Aishah is no ordinary teenage girl. As a sophomore, she took accounting on a whim. Inspired by teacher Lenny Klein — and realizing she had good business sense — she signed up for every business course Staples offers.

Advanced Placement Economics with Jon Shepro, and 2 semesters of Personal Finance with Sarah White, stoked her interest and creativity.

Last May, Aishah looked at the notes she’d kept on possible businesses. A kombucha bar stood out. It was an unfilled niche, in a fitness-conscious town.

She researched sources, traveling to other states to sample the best products.

She found empty space next to Tutti’s, then sold the landlord on her plan. She got an investor, and secured loans. She even joined the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

With advice from her parents — and knowledge gained in her classes — Aishah dove headfirst into the work of zoning, building and health permits.

She hoped to open in October. HVAC issues pushed that back to last Saturday. It was one lesson in the reality of retail.

Another reality: You can’t personally staff a store on weekdays, when you’re still in school.

Aishah’s arranged for coverage when she’s not there. But when the bell rings, she’ll head to Riverside Avenue.

Bar ‘Bucha is not her after-school job. It’s her fulltime business.

We’ll drink to that.

Some of Bar 'Bucha's selections. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Some of Bar ‘Bucha’s selections. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

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.

Mind The Gap!

The William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge is not the only local span that occasionally opens, to accommodate Saugatuck River traffic.

This was the scene earlier today, at the Westport train station:


Alert “06880” reader Frederic Chiu — who captured the scene — notes, “I sometimes forget Westport is a functioning river town.”

(Though “functioning” is debatable. His train was delayed due to “drawbridge failure.”)

Minute Men To The Rescue!

An alert — and relieved — “06880” reader writes:

Last week, I hosted over 30 people for Rosh Hashanah dinner at my house.

I’d taken out several hundred dollars from the bank, to pay for various expenses. By the end of the night I was exhausted. When I looked for the money, I couldn’t find it.

I was distraught. But it was the New Year, and such a nice night that I put the loss aside.

minute-men-cleanersA couple of days ago, my husband received a call from Minute Men Cleaners. They found my money in the pocket of pants I’d sent to be cleaned — and put it in their vault for safekeeping, until we could pick it up.

I want to let you know about this really great experience. With so much bad going on, it’s nice to share good news!

Friday Flashback #10

The post offices of our imagination are solid, imposing buildings.

Certainly Westport’s was — at least, from the 1930s till a few years ago. Then the Post Road post office moved to Playhouse Square. Today it’s a cramped, crowded, crummy shell of its former self.

Saugatuck had a fine — if smaller — post office for many years. It’s now an auction house. (There is a mail drop nearby, on the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets. That’s a step up from the interim trailer, which squatted off Saugatuck Avenue.)

Saugatuck’s very first post office was located at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Railroad Place. Some Westporters know it as Desi’s Corner. There’s a newspaper stand there now.

Back in the day, it must have been a great post office. And — across from the bustling train station — quite a meeting spot.

(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

Railroad Parking: Less Is More

The other day, an alert “06880” reader asked if the recent renovation of the train station’s westbound parking lot (#1) resulted in the loss of any spaces. (He was pretty sure it did.)

I did not know the answer. But I knew who would.

Foti Koskinas — who as Westport’s police chief is also responsible for railroad parking — responded (as usual) almost immediately.

He said: Yes. The original plan would have meant 6 fewer spaces. When another exit was added, an additional 2 were lost.

During the project however, realignment of spaces and crosswalks added 2 back. So the 1st number stands: There are now 6 fewer spaces than before.

The reason for the loss, Foti noted, is that the old lot was non-conforming to current regulations. Spaces were too narrow, resulting in many dented doors.

Pre-renovation: an aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center).

Pre-renovation: an aerial view of train station parking lot 1 (center).

But Foti added lots (ho ho) more information. And it’s all good.

Throughout the summer, the Police Department examined every parking area. New spaces will appear, sometime before the holidays:

  • 12-14 additional parking spots in Lot #2 (the smaller westbound lot, just up the hill from Lot #1 and Luciano Park)
  • 8 new spots on Park Street (coming down the slight hill from Exit 17, opposite the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow restaurant)
  • 15-17 more spots on one side of Franklin Street, under I-95
  • 54-60 additional spots in Lot #7, off Franklin Street (due to leases the town took over from the state — not easy, but they got it done!).

But wait! There’s more!

The department has contacted the next 150 commuters on the wait list. They’re in the process of getting their permits.

And more permits may come, once the projects in the bullet list above are completed.

Now, if only Metro-North could respond as quickly and efficiently as the Westport Police…

Click on or hover over to enlarge this railroad station parking map.

Click on or hover over to enlarge this railroad station parking map.

Good Food, Great Prices Mark Restaurant Week

If you think Fairfield has stolen all of Westport’s culinary thunder, I have 2 words: “Restaurant Week.”

In fact, our dining options are so many and varied, we can’t fit Restaurant Week into just 7 days.

The annual event runs from this Sunday (October 2) for 2 weeks (through October 16). If you want to be technical, it all started earlier this month, with sidewalk samples provided by the Slice of Saugatuck.

Tutti's owners Pasquale and Maria Funicello -- and their family -- are proud partners in Restaurant Week.

Tutti’s owners Pasquale and Maria Funicello — and their family — are proud partners in Restaurant Week.

This year’s list includes 25 eateries, and 1 specialty cocktail bar. They’re spread from Saugatuck to Southport, and all offer prix fixe menus and drinks. The range is $15-$25 for lunch, $25-$35 for dinner. Brunch begins at $15.

Restaurant Week is promoted by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, and sponsored by Castlekeep Advisors, WEBE 108 and WICC 600.

Here are the participating restaurants. If you can’t find one you like — well, there’s always Fairfield.

  • 323 Main
  • Arezzo
  • Boca (2nd week only)
  • Da Pietro’s
  • Fleishers Craft Butchery
  • Gray Goose
  • Harvest
  • Jeera
  • Le Penguin
  • Paci
  • Pane e Bene
  • Pearl
  • Positano’s
  • Rive Bistro
  • Rizzuto’s
  • Sakura
  • Spotted Horse
  • Tarantino
  • Tarry Lodge
  • Tavern on Main
  • Terrain Garden Café
  • The Boathouse
  • Tutti’s
  • Via Sforza
  • Wafu
  • And … Vine  Wine Bar