Tag Archives: Bartaco

Adios, Chipotle

First there were dos.

Soon there will be cero.

Chipotle — the design-your-own burritos, tacos and bowls place in Compo Acres Shopping Center — will close next week.

An employee confirmed the news. The manager was not available for comment.

Chipotle follows Qdoba out of town. The similar fast-casual Mexican spot at the entrance to Playhouse Square closed in June.

Don’t worry. There are still over 2,400 Chipotles around the globe. And nearly 800 Qdobas.

Don’t want to travel far for Mexican fare?

Right here in Westport you’ve got your choice of Bartaco, Rio Bravo, Señor Salsa, Border Grille and Cuatro Hermanos.

And — of course — the granddaddy of them all: Viva Zapata.

It’s been around, I think, since Emiliano Zapata himself led the Mexican Revolution.

Westport’s 1st $10 Parking Lot Is Open For Business

Everybody’s talking about how much to charge for Compo Beach parking.

Fortunately, with two exceptions — the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms train stations — every other parking spot in Westport has been free.

Until now.

Last night I went to The ‘Port. Between that popular new restaurant and Bartaco, there’s now a great lively scene on the west bank of the Saugatuck River.

Sure, parking in the closest lot is tight. With the removal of some spots from behind the old Save the Children building, it’s tougher.

Of course, there’s always been the 3-level parking deck, a few steps away across Wilton Road.

Spots are also available next to the deck, by the office building at 11 Wilton Road. A semi-hidden sign warns “Reserved Parking 24 hours a day/7 days a week/Violators will be towed at Vehicle Owner’s expense.”

That deters most drivers. They simply head into the adjacent garage.

But tonight a teenage boy stopped everyone who entered. He charged $10 to park in the “reserved” lot.

And the lower level of the parking deck was chained shut.

He told drivers they could use the top levels of the deck — though they quickly filled up.

He said his father owned the reserved lot. He added that the lower level of the parking deck was “always” reserved.

I found one of the last remaining spots on the upper deck.

The Wilton Road parking deck. The private lot at 11 Wilton Road is on the left.

I had a fine meal (salmon, brussels sprouts) at The ‘Port.

When I headed back to my car, the kid was gone. The chain to the lower level was gone too.

It’s one thing to close off a private lot — cheesy, but legal. A Church Lane landlord next to Spotted Horse has done that for a while.

But charging 10 bucks for a spot in an unused lot — well, let’s just say that’s not the way we do things in the ‘port.

David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

A crane towers over Main Street. The old Tudor YMCA is being gutted. Concrete is poured near Church Lane and Elm Street.

But even as Westporters await the completion of Bedford Square — David Waldman’s project that will redefine downtown — he’s moving forward on his next project.

Waldman is a partner in the development group that owns the former Save the Children site across the river. Right now, a 60,000-square foot building blocks views from Wilton Road. A few yards away, the brutal Post Road/Riverside Avenue intersection makes that west bank neighborhood a don’t-go-there-unless-you-have-to afterthought to downtown shoppers.

Waldman wants to change all that. He hopes to build an office building and 18 high-end condos on the 2.6-acre site.

He’ll extend the boardwalk from National Hall and Bartaco all the way to the end of his property. He’ll help the town and other interested parties build a pedestrian bridge, linking his development with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island.

Plans for the new west bank project show ... (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Plans for the new west bank project show the new office building and residential condos, extended boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, dedicated left-turn lane and more. (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Most importantly, he’ll move the charming, old (and very much in-the-way) needle shop house from 1 Wilton Road, to his new project. That will allow construction of a left-turn lane onto the Post Road, easing congestion at one of the worst intersections in the state.

Plans have not been presented formally. But discussions are beginning with important town bodies, like the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Waldman is very familiar with the property, and the land around it. Compass Commons — across the street from Save the Children — was developed by his father in 1982.

Though Waldman knows the Save the Children site is in a flood zone — and is well aware of the traffic woes — he’s excited by its potential. It’s one of the last remaining developable sites downtown. The native Westporter thrives on challenges like these.

The former Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

The former Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

He and his partners worked for over a year on the concept. It includes residential units, because they’re called for in the downtown plan. Waldman knows there are many empty nesters in Westport looking to downsize, but stay here. Nationwide, older homeowners are relocating closer to downtown areas.

“I tried to hit all the buttons: what the town wants, how to incorporate visual access to the river, and get parking off the river,” Waldman says.

He notes that Save the Children at one point had 250 employees, but only 180 parking spaces. His plan will help add parking for restaurants like Bartaco and Vespa. Eight spots will be available for public access to the water.

His new buildings will be FEMA compliant. (Save the Children is not.)

Waldman is particularly excited by the opportunity to redesign the brutal Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.

He has an option on the house that right now huddles underneath the Wright Street building. He hopes to give that land to the town.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

The development’s architect — Roger Ferris + Partners — is coincidentally headquartered at 11 Wilton Road. They’d accommodate the redesign, ceding room for the new lane (and a nice pocket park.)

It won’t be easy — or cheap. Waldman estimates the cost of moving the house at $2.5 million. But he relocated Kemper Gunn from Bedford Square across Elm Street. He understands the value of both preservation and change.

He’d need a text amendment to increase the allowable height of his residential building to 48 feet. That would allow underground parking. According to Waldman, it would still be lower than the top of National Hall.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (right-center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left; Bartaco is in the middle.

In the early 1990s, the Tauck family breathed new life into that old building. A century earlier, National Hall was one of Westport’s central meeting places. After Fairfield Furniture’s long run, it stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Today it’s beautiful, and functional.

The old Vigilant Firehouse is now home to Neat. Bartaco recently infused more new energy into that area.

David Waldman stands poised to do the same. With Save the Children gone, it’s time to Save the West Bank of the Saugatuck.

Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 2

Yesterday, “06880” reported on the 1st day and night of Aaron and Susan Donovan’s journey by 18-foot kayak/pedal boat/sailboat, from Westport to New York City. In real life, Aaron — a 1994 Staples High School grad — serves as media liaison for the MTA.

Here is Part 2 of his story:

Aaron and Susan were in luck. On day 2 — and for the next 2 days– the prevailing westerly wind shifted out of the east. There was no need to lengthen the trip by tacking. Winds were a perfect 10-15 knots.

Off Darien, they encountered a sailing school. Aaron remembered his own summers at Pequot Yacht Club. It was “one of the greatest, most fun and educational things I did as a kid.”

They had 3 islands to choose from off Greenwich. They threaded the boat between Island Beach and Great Captain Island, landing briefly on Calf Island. It’s a publicly accessible bird sanctuary, but overnight permits are available only in advance, after submitting a “wildlife studies curriculum,” along with proof of knowledge of how to perform CPR (!).

Aaron and Susan had not done that. They considered pitching their tent on the boat — after all, that is not camping on the island.

But they pushed on, and pedaled through breakwaters and up the Byram River. They landed at the dock behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

The staff was very helpful. Aaron and Susan’s 2 main concerns were food, and recharging their phones, computers and homemade GPS.

Aaron learned that his boat was actually parked in the last slip owned by Ebb Tide Marina. He offered a damp $50 bill, and they had a spot for the night.

Aaron and Susan wandered around downtown Port Chester and its waterfront park, had an excellent dinner, then pitched their tent on the boat.

Sleeping behind a bar was surprisingly quiet. Until 2 a.m., that is, when a crew of loud, laughing people returned to a power boat docked next door. A woman fell into the water. Her friends fished her out, and they left. “Thankfully, they did not hit us,” Aaron says.

Day 3 was the smoothest yet. Aaron and Susan evaded some treacherous rocks off Manursing Island, then made a beeline for Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Surprisingly, they saw the towers of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges before spotting the lighthouse.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan's boat.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan’s boat.

When they got there, hosts Craig Morrison and Linell Lukesh — representatives of a nonprofit that bought the island and lighthouse for $1 — were sitting in lounge chairs in their yard (actually, a grassless, concrete and rocky slope).

Docking was tough. Except for a metal ladder going straight to the sea floor, the entire island is surrounded by riprap — large granite boulders that serve as a breakwater to prevent erosion.

Craig pointed to a newly installed open mooring. It took a bit of maneuvering and hard work, but finally they landed.

The lighthouse was the highlight of Aaron’s trip. From the top, they could see Port Jefferson, Stamford, New Rochelle and Manhattan. There were 2 regattas underway, and plenty of fishermen in shallow-draft motorboats.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

Craig and Linell barbecued, then Aaron and Susan retired to their room.

The lighthouse has 2 guest rooms, each with 2 cots. The charge is $300 per room — tax-deductible, as a donation to the lighthouse preservation fund. But they’re open on Saturday nights only.

If you want to get there without kayaking/pedaling/sailing from Westport, take the Port Washington Water Taxi. It’s a 15-minute ride to the island.

(Tomorrow: Days 4-5)

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Calling Bartaco. Sort Of.

Bartaco opened nearly 2 years ago. Almost immediately, Linda Gramatky Smith’s fax line rang.

Someone wanted to know something about the menu. That’s odd, Linda thought.

Then the fax rang again. There was a call about reservations. Then another, wanting to know if the restaurant offered takeout.

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda and her husband Ken have had their fax number for 22 years. (She’s a 1960 Staples grad; together they run Gramatky Galleries, handling the works of her late father, “Little Toot” illustrator Hardie Gramatky.)

The Smiths’ fax number is 203-222-8220. Bartaco‘s number is 203-222-8226. There would not seem to be much confusion — except “8226” is actually the same as “TACO,” on your phone’s keypad. The Wilton Road restaurant paid some pretty pesos for that easy-to-remember number.

Unfortunately — even before a tequila or two — plenty of people read the letter “O” as the number “0.”

Uh “oh.”

You or I would get pretty angry after the first couple of calls.

Fortunately, Linda and Ken are not you or I.

For 2 years, every time the fax line rings, they’ve answered it. Patiently, they explain the situation. Always, the callers are grateful. Nearly always, they compliment the Smiths on their patience and pleasantness.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

In fact, the Smiths do more than just answer the fax. If they’re not quick enough to pick up — and the caller hears the fax “beep,” and hangs up — the couple calls back and gives the correct phone number. That kindness is always met with awe.

“We like Westport’s restaurants. We want them to succeed,” Linda explains, as if every Westporter who received at least 300 calls in 2 years — her estimate — would be so sanguine.

Bartaco has been responsive. They’ve added the numerals “8226” to their website, which has helped considerably. But the calls still keep coming — a few last week, Linda says. She thinks there are still some places (“maybe Yelp?”) that say only “203-222-TACO.”

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in "TACO" -- er, "8226."

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in “TACO” — er, “8226.”

Actually, Bartaco has done even more for Linda and Ken. The other day, they invited the couple in for a complimentary meal.

The Smiths had a great time. They loved the lively river scene, and the food was great.

Linda and Ken thanked the staff for an excellent meal.

In person. Not by phone.

Qdoba Is No Longer The Newest Mexican Restaurant In Town

Last winter, word on the calle was that 2 popular Mexican restaurants were coming to town.

Qdoba came. Chipotle did not.

But when no one was looking, Señor Salsa snuck up on us.

Senor Salsa

The Westport outpost of the Fairfield-based Mexican grill just opened on Post Road West, at the corner of Sylvan Road South.

For years, that was the site of Connolly’s. During its long vacancy, there were rumors that Señor Salsa was coming in. Finally — long after everyone forgot — it’s happened.

The menu features burritos, tacos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas and more. It seems on the Qdoba end of the scale — perhaps Cuatros Hermanos — rather than Bartaco or Villa del Sol, both of which are quite different from each other.

And then there’s Viva’s, which has been here since (it seems) Emiliano Zapata himself was alive.

But Westport’s restaurant scene is a big tent.

¡Bienvenidos, Señor Salsa!

Senor Salsa menu

(Photos by — and a hat tip to — alert and hungry “06880” reader Lisa Shufro.)

Happy Labor Day!

Today’s weather wasn’t perfect.

But nearly all of the summer of 2014 was.

And after a brief storm this later afternoon the sun came out, just in time for the final Sunday of summer.

Happy Labor Day

(Photo/Paul Curtis)

 

A Day Late, But…

…also timeless.

These photos — by 2 of my favorite Westport photographers — are definitely worth sharing.

What a great way to start the Memorial Day weekend!

A big thunderstorm blew in late yesterday. It left just as quickly, leaving this serene Mill Pond scene in its wake. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

A big thunderstorm blew in late yesterday. It left just as quickly, leaving this serene Mill Pond scene in its wake. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

The storm chased crowds from Compo Beach. Betsy P. Kahn captured this image.

The storm chased crowds from Compo Beach. Betsy P. Kahn captured this image.

Meanwhile, the Bartaco crowd was treated to this rainbow over downtown -- and its reflection in the river. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

Meanwhile, the Bartaco crowd was treated to this rainbow over downtown — and its reflection in the river. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

Today, skies were clear. And the Compo cannons stand ready for another summer of beachgoers.  (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

Today, skies were clear. And the Compo cannons stand ready for another summer of beachgoers. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

Looking Back Fondly On…?

From time to time, to the delight of some readers — and the annoyance of others — “06880” waxes rapturously about long-gone relics from Westport’s past.

The Remarkable Book Shop. Allen’s Clam House. Famous Artists School.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a week — even if you moved here this winter — you probably know those names.

Now it’s time to turn the tables.

Alert (and creative) “06880” reader Erik Marcus suggests looking ahead and back, simultaneously. How about crowdsourcing current Westport stores, restaurants and institutions that — 30, 40 or 50 years from now — would deserve as much respect, if they are no longer around?

To make it interesting — and because we’ve given plenty of props already to places like Westport Pizzeria and Oscar’s — let’s limit it to relative newcomers. In other words, you can only mention something that did not exist here before 2000.

Hit “Comments” to add your favorite future nostalgia-inducers. Add a few details. And please, use your full, real name.

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

Community Plates Serves Us All

As we round the corner toward the holiday season — America’s favorite glutton-gorging time — we might spend a second or two thinking about others.

Just like Community Plates always does.

The little-known, non-profit organization helps people in 3 states (Connecticut, Ohio and New Mexico) donate time, money — and food itself — to lessen the impact of hunger.

Americans throw away between 25 and 40 percent of our food supply. CommunityPlates moves fresh food that would have otherwise be tossed from homes, restaurants, stores and farms, to places it can make a difference: shelters, soup kitchens, food banks and food pantries.

Siobhan Crise is a Community Plates “food runner.” Whenever she can, she clicks on her CP app. She sees which “runs” need doing locally.

Community Plates appShe might grab 6 crates of the previous day’s fruit and bread products from the Trader Joe’s loading bay, and take it to the Gillespie Center. Or head from Bartaco to Norwalk’s Person-to-Person.

Thanks to the app, donors know their food will be picked up. Receiving agencies know fresh food (including meat) is coming in.

“The people who run Community Plates, and the ones you meet — especially at the agencies — are wonderful. Talk about dedication!” Siobhan says.

“And the runners are a really fun and diverse bunch.”

Siobhan likes the convenience of creating her own schedule. If she misses a week — even a month — no one harasses her. “It’s like NPR,” she says. “You give what you can.” (She does admit, “Some Catholic guilt kicks in if I miss a couple of weeks in a row.”)

She likes volunteering in her “scruffiest gym/kickboxing clothes.”

And, Siobhan says, “I can do it with my kids. I won’t pretend it’s their favorite task ever. But it’s important to me that they understand that Westport is an extremely wealthy, and in many ways unusual, town. ”

Community Plates logoLike all of us, Siobhan is busy. She wishes she had more hours to dedicate to the community. But Community Plates offers “so much bang for my volunteering buck. There’s no talking, no planning, no meeting, no egos, no blah blah blah. Just doing.

Her favorite run is to the Thomas Merton House in Bridgeport. Watching people line up for their food allowance, Siobhan knows  the fresh food she brings will be on their dinner table that night.

“They eat better because I had a spare hour and some wheels,” she says. “Am I selfish to say this makes me feel good?”

No, Siobhan. Not selfish at all. Because volunteering for Community Plates makes everyone feel good.

And does good, too.