Tag Archives: Bertucci’s

Just Alyson’s Luck: One River Art + Design Comes To Town

Growing up in Westport, Alyson Luck was surrounded by art.

Her mother enrolled her in kids’ and adult classes. She studied with Carol Young in that gifted instructor’s garage, then with Roe Halper in her noted studio.

“I was always part of an after-school group,” the 2000 Staples High School graduate recalls. “My art friends and I always had a place to go, and be together.”

At the University of Michigan she majored in art history, and discovered museum education. She earned a master’s in the field from Bank Street, then spent over a decade at New York’s Jewish Museum and Guggenheim. She managed teaching artists, worked with educators and directed family and teacher programs.

Alyson Luck (right) at work.

Along the way, she and her husband started a family. They moved to the suburbs — in fact, into the house she’d grown up in.

“Most people get stuck living in their parents’ home,” she says. “But I love this little cape. This was my dream.”

However, raising 2 small children meant she left her great job behind. She never thought she’d find anything like it here.

Not long ago though, she spotted a listing on Indeed for the One River School in Westport. You haven’t heard of it yet. But you will.

Founded in 2012 in Englewood, New Jersey — “one river” west of New York City — by former School of Rock CEO Matt Ross, One River School of Art + Design aims to transform art education in the US.

Alyson Luck

Drawing students of all ages — with classes less structured than traditional “art schools,” and featuring a contemporary focus — One River offers year-round programs, a flexible curriculum, and instruction in a variety of art forms.

Its 11th school opens soon in part of the former Bertucci’s restaurant, on the Post Road near the Sherwood Island connector. Its director: Alyson Luck.

She’s excited by Ross’ vision, and invigorated by the chance to bring One River to the newly refurbished, easily accessible and airy space. (“I realized I always studied art in a basement,” Alyson laughs.)

For younger artists, One River will provide project-based classes, taught by a contemporary artist. Adult classes are less structured.

The school will run year-round, not the traditional “semester” model.

The Bertucci’s space will include 3 classrooms, and a digital design lab. There’s a gallery too, for emerging artists to show their work. The target for opening is early May.

“We’re modernizing art education for everyone’s busy lives. This is not just for retirees!” Alyson says.

One River Art + Design will occupy part of the former Bertucci’s building.

Alyson envisions One River to be an integral part of the town’s art scene. She’s encouraged that although it’s not yet open, it’s already making waves.

She’s heard from a number of artists — and organizations like the Artists Collective of Westport — welcoming One River to town. “They tell me about the importance of arts to the community,” she says. “They don’t know I grew up here! I totally get it.”

Art has been Alyson Luck’s life. Now she’s getting ready to bring art to her former and current hometown — in a space everyone knows, re-purposed for the future.

(For more information on One River Westport, click here.)

Progress Report: The Old Bertucci’s Site

Last August 1, I reported that work was proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y  — yes, that was the technical term I used — at the former Bertucci’s property, on the Post Road near the Sherwood Island connector.

Now it’s exactly 6 months later. It’s still not finished. But the end is in sight.

Ignazio’s Pizza will — as noted previously — occupy part of the former Bertucci’s floor. This will be the 2nd location for the thin-crust restaurant. The original is in DUMBO — it is literally down underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

An art and design firm will take up another part of that floor. That leaves about 2,100 square feet still available — which is why the “Building For Lease/Space Available” signs has Westporters wondering if Ignazio’s was just pie in the sky.

The view from the parking lot.

Not to worry. Steve Straus — of Fred Straus Inc., the Yonkers-based family real investment company — says that exterior work is done. When Ignazio’s finishes their interior work, they’ll open.

And, Straus says, there are “very good prospects” for the remaining first floor space.

Upstairs, there’s another 2,840 square feet of office space to rent.

Straus is proud of his company’s new landscaping, sidewalk, rain garden, facade, parking lot and lighting on the spot that many Westporters will long remember as Bertucci’s. (Older generations recall Tanglewoods. Real old-timers know it as the Clam Box.)

Straus says that the redevelopment of the property coincides with the construction of the office/retail/residential complex across the street, at the Post Road/Long Lots junction. He believes it will create a “village” environment in that part of town.

As for what’s going on clear across town, in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow property by the train station parking lot: Mystic Market announced they were moving in — back in November 2017.

When they’ll actually open is anyone’s guess.

[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.)

That Didn’t Take Long…

Last Friday, “06880” erroneously reported that Bertucci’s will close on Wednesday.

My bad. The restaurant actually shut its doors yesterday.

This morning, the sign was already down…

Bertucci's sign - 1 - Seth Schachter

…and headed to that great restaurant recycling bin in the sky.

Photos and hat tip: alert "06880" reader Seth Schachter.

Photos and hat tip: alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter.

Bye, Bye Bertucci’s

For years, Westport Sunrise Rotary met at Bobby Q’s. When they needed bigger digs, they moved to Bertucci’s.

Earlier this month, Bobby Q’s announced it will close on March 31.

Once again, the Rotarians will need a new spot. At their meeting this morning, they learned the restaurant — a Westport fixture for about 20 years — will close on Wednesday.

Bertuccis_thumb

An employee answering the phone this morning said the reason was a failure to come to an agreement with the landlord.

The Westport location is the only one in the chain that will close.

There is no word on what will replace the family-friendly Italian restaurant. Longtime Westporters remember the location as the site of the long-running, much-loved Clam Box — and after that, briefly, Tanglewoods.

Sorry - voting is limited to current restaurants only.

 

Merry Christmas From … The Clam Box?!

Westporter Victoria Kann — author and illustrator of the Pinkalicious series — gave JP Vellotti a very interesting Christmas ornament:

Clam Box Christmas ornament

Westporters of a certain vintage recognize it immediately. The Clam Box was a Westport institution for decades, on the Post Road near the Exit 18 connector. Today, it’s Bertucci’s.

This trip down memory lane raises interesting questions: Were these ornaments a custom, back in the day? Did other Westport restaurants hand them out too? Does anyone have one from La Normandie? Cafe Barna? The Townly?

No? Well, okay. How about one from Bertucci’s?

Fine Dining, With Steaks And Shirley Temples

Alexander Lobrano knows his onions. And every other food.

Alexander Lobrano (Photo/Steven Rothfeld)

The Westport native — and, since 1986, Paris resident — was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until it closed in 2009. He has written about food and travel for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications. He has won several James Beard awards.

His blog is called Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants, but he ranges far beyond France. Alexander reviews eateries all over the world.

When he looks back on his culinary youth, Alexander is not your average Joe. And — as you would expect on a blog called “06880” — it all comes back to Westport.

Recently, he wrote:

When I was growing up in Westport, Connecticut in the ’60s and ’70s, the default “good” restaurant was a place down near the train station called Manero’s, an Italian-American owned steakhouse with a brick walls covered with shiny copper cookware and jovial older waiters with accents of indeterminable origin. [NOTE: Manero’s is now Rizzuto’s.]

This was where Grandmother Drake would take us for a birthday dinner or sometimes just a special night out, and with her pretty green eyes, Titian blonde hair in up-swept French Twist chignon, good jewelry, faux leopard jacket and quick wit, the waiters adored her.

The running joke at almost every meal was that it was her birthday, and they’d often bring out a baked Alaska with a candle in it for her after we’d eaten the exact same meal we always had: cocktails—bourbon for the adults, and Shirley Temples for the girls or Horse’s Necks for the boys, the difference being in name only, because they were the same concoction of ginger ale and grenadine syrup with an orange slice and a vivid Maraschino cherry (oddly enough, the concept of children’s cocktails seems to have gone completely out of style…can’t think why), shrimp cocktail, steak with onion rings, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and salad with blue-cheese dressing.

If the food at Manero’s was good, no one could ever have accused it of being interesting, but then in those days no one wanted food that was interesting.

To be sure, Westport had an excellent Chinese restaurant, West Lake, and the Italian food at the Apizza Center in nearby Fairfield was wonderful, too, but aside from a couple of New England-y seafood places—The Clam Box [NOTE: now Bertucci’s], etc., and a “French” restaurant downtown where they flambéed everything, but most of all the bill, the town offered slim pickings for anyone who really loved good food with the exception of the rather mysterious Café Varna [NOTE: actually Cafe Barna, on the site of what is now Mitchells of Westport], which served, rather amazingly in retrospect, Bulgarian food [NOTE: actually Hungarian].

The local restaurant pulse quickened in the ’70s with the opening of places like Viva Zapata, a Mexican place that Grandmother Drake heartily disapproved of — “Barbara,” she’d say to my mother, “You shouldn’t feed food like that to growing children” — and a fun little café called Bon Appetite.

During a recent trawl through southwestern Connecticut, I thought of this long ago gastronomic landscape and couldn’t help but be amazed by the variety of ethnic eating now on offer in the area, a reflection, I think of how Americans have become so much more adventurous at the table than they were 40 years ago.

That’s the introduction to his review of a New York restaurant called The Left Bank (“er, um, well, not quite,” Alexander writers, referring to its French aspirations).

It’s also a great introduction to a long-ago dining scene that long-time Westporters recall with a bit of fondness, some amusement, and much embarrassment.

Scrod, Scallops And Snapper, Oh My!

Menus these days are massive.  They’re thick as a phone book, laminated or bound, and include information ranging from the homeland of each head of lettuce to the distressing fact that shellfish, peanuts and undercooked food can kill you.

Recently, a friend showed me a menu from the Clam Box.  Back in the day, that restaurant (on the site of the current Bertucci’s) was one of the most popular spots in town.  Westporters — and travelers on the nearby “Connecticut Turnpike” — loved it for its simple seafood, plain interior and servers waiters who just asked for your order, without introducing themselves by name and complimenting you on your choice.

Its menu was similarly down to earth.

Times have changed, of course.  You can’t get a shrimp cocktail for $2, a 2-pound lobster for $10.50, or “loads of french fried onion rings made to order” for 85 cents.  (Onion rings “made to order”?)

The Clam Box menu is a window into the past.  It was a true seafood restaurant, from appetizers of clams and oysters on the half shell, to clam, oyster and lobster stews; all the way through the “fried fish in season belly burster,” Canadian smelts, Rocky Mountain rainbow trout, Long Island bluefish, Boston “mackrel,” newburg dishes, finnan haddie au gratin, Alaskan King Crab (garlic butter on request), Baltimore crabmeat cakes, and combination lobster meat, crabmeat and shrimp salad (served with potato salad and cole slaw).

There were only 3 items for “non-fisheaters”:  broiled chicken and fried chicken  (both “disjointed”), and a chopped steak platter with onion rings, french fries, and cole slaw or salad ($2.50).

Today, the Clam Box is just a memory.  So too is Allen’s Clam House.  Mansion Clam House is still around — and though it’s one of my favorites, its prices have zoomed beyond clam-shack territory.  (The king crab and Maine lobster bear the dreaded “$M/P,” for “market price.”)

Sure, $5 for lobster au gratin isn’t what it used to be.  You can’t buy a home in Westport for $25,000 either.  (Although the way housing prices are going, you never know…)

But being handed a cardboard menu, with plain-as-day choices in easy-to-understand English, might explain why the Clam Box lasted so long.

And is still remembered so well.