Tag Archives: Black Duck

Restaurant Churn? Not These!

A recent “06880” photo of the Compo Beach palm tree got an alert — and hungry — reader thinking about lobster rolls.

That reminded her of clam chowder, which made her think of Westfair Fish & Chips. She’s been a fan ever since she was a student at Staples High School, back in the mid-1980s.

The small, unassuming takeout-or-eat-in spot behind the strip mall opposite Stop & Shop has been a Westport favorite for over 30 years. And that got the “06880” reader wondering about other restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Three decades is a great achievement for many things: a career, a marriage. But it’s particularly remarkable in the constant churn that is Westport’s restaurant scene.

She and I came up with a list of places we think have been here for at least 3 decades. They include:

Gold’s. The anchor of Compo Shopping Center since it opened in the late 1950s, and the anchor 6 decades later for anyone who loves a quintessential deli.

Viva Zapata. Probably the oldest continually operating restaurant in town, especially when you consider its predecessor, at the entrance to what is now Playhouse Square.

Westport Pizzeria. Opened in 1968 on Main Street, where it stood proud and unchanging for over 45 years, “Westport Pizza” moved around the corner to the Post Road in 2014. Its special recipe thankfully remains the same.

The Black Duck. A star turn on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has not changed this waterfront favorite one bit.

(Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Dunville’s. Around the corner from the Duck on Saugatuck Avenue, another down-home place that’s the same now as when its present owners grew up here.

Sherwood Diner. Or, simply, “the diner.” It’s no longer open 24/7, but is still the go-to spot for Staples High School seniors, senior citizens, every other human being in Westport, and anyone wandering in off nearby I-95.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Sakura. As steady as she goes. It — and the gorgeous cherry blossom tree outside, which gives the restaurant its name — has been a fixture opposite McDonald’s since the fast-food franchise was Roy Rogers. And before that, Big Top.

Fortuna’s. With limited seating, this is not really a restaurant. But stop quibbling. Its winning formula has filled the stomach of Staples students, Post Road workers and everyone else since the Ford administration.

Coffee An‘. If it’s good enough for Bill Clinton, it’s good enough for the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a president or a peon. The donuts are the same — unbelievable — for all.

Little Kitchen. When it opened on Main Street, it really was a “little kitchen.” Now it’s bigger, and the granddaddy of all Asian fusion places in town.

Da Pietro’s. One of Westport’s best — and smallest — restaurants, earning praise and love since 1987.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Tavern on Main. This cozy 2nd-floor Main Street spot has not been here as long as its predecessor, Chez Pierre — but it’s getting close.

I couldn’t find out for sure when a few other long-lived (though probably less than 3 decades) restaurants opened. But these too have stood the test of time: Tengda. Tarantino’s. Finalmente. Via Sforza. Planet Pizza. Tutti’s. Positano’s (at 2 different locations).

Special mention goes to 2 fantastic delis that offer a wide variety of hot and cold food, and serve as community centers: Elvira’s  and Christie’s Country Store. 

Plus, of course, Joey’s by the Shore. It’s not a restaurant or a deli. But the beach concession occupies its own special. much-loved niche. And if it hasn’t been here for 30 years, it’s at least 29.

Finally, 2 other downtown delis have been around for decades. They’ve changed names, and — particularly with one — substantially updated the interior.

But Rye Ridge (formerly Oscar’s) and Winfield Street Coffee (previously Art’s, and definitely not on Winfield Street but right over the bridge) keep doing what their predecessors have done.

And what every other place in this story does: provide excellent food and continuity to generations of Westporters.

(Have I missed any longtime restaurants or delis? Click “Comments” — and my apologies!)

Pic Of The Day #458

Black Duck dock (Photo/Nancy Lewis)

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)

 

Friday Flashback #79

The Black Duck — Westport’s favorite dive/karaoke bar — has sat tilting in the Saugatuck River forever, right?

Well, sort of.

Seth van Beever posted this painting on Facebook:

He wrote that his grandfather — Gerry Haehl — owned the barge, and ran a bait and tackle shop there.

Seth says the barge was later replaced by a new one.

In the early ’70s, it looked like this:

Some things never change.

Others change very, very slowly.

Day Tripper

Yesterday’s New York Times NY/Region section included a “Day Trip” feature to Westport.

Readers in the tri-state area — around the world, really — learned some interesting things about our town.

The itinerary begins at Match Burger Lobster, Staples grad Matt Storch’s new restaurant next to Fleishers Craft Butchery. Who knew that his kitchen crew shucks more than 500 pounds of lobster each week — or that lobster tastes better in winter, because cold water makes it sweeter?

From the restaurant, the story suggests, visitors can walk over the William F. Cribari Bridge. It’s named, the Times says, for “a beloved traffic conductor,” though “beloved traffic cop” is a bit clearer.

Bill Cribari, “beloved traffic conductor.” (Photo montage courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

“The short span provides vistas of the nautical town and entree to uninterrupted sidewalks through a Gold Coast neighborhood of mansions that are not above running weekend tag sales,” the paper excitedly reports.

The next 3 paragraphs talk about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s 1920 rental on Compo Road South, near the Longshore entrance. Friends said the couple were “reveling nude in the orgies of Westport,” even though Zelda called the town “unendurably dull.” Imagine what they would have done in a livelier place!

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

“Day Trip” moves on to “secluded Compo Beach.” The Times describes it as “rocky (and) shell-studded….Tranquil and contemplative in winter, the sunsets are gorgeous.”

The final part of a day in Westport, apparently, should be a stop at the Black Duck. The paper calls it a “watering hole,” and singles out this feature: the $11 martini.

The martini “may be the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard, a further way to unwind after a leisurely day. Founded in 1978, too bad it wasn’t around for the Fitzgeralds,” the Times concludes, with both lame humor and a dangling modifier.

The best place for an $11 martini. (Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

(Hat tip: Peter Perry)

Pic Of The Day #89

The Black Duck, and I-95 (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Pardon His Westport

After graduating from Staples High School in 1988, Chris Pardon headed to Marquette University.

“It was good to get out of the Northeast,” he says of the Milwaukee school. “I saw a part of the country and met people I wouldn’t have if I stayed in the area.”

But as a journalism and broadcast communications major, most work was on the coasts. His first job was as an NBC page — so he moved back home.

Then it was on to Turner Broadcasting, where he’s been ever since. He now works on the business side, with CNN.

Pardon’s career and personal lives followed a path familiar to many Staples grads. He lived on the Upper East Side, got married, had a kid, and landed in Brooklyn.

Though his son was in a “decent” public school, it was crowded. A year and a half ago Pardon and his wife Ria decided the time was right to move to the ‘burbs.

Chris and Ria Pardon, with their son.

Her family is from Scarsdale. Pardon’s parents still live here, in the same house they raised him in. So he and Ria started looking in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.

They spent a lot of time searching for the right spot. But Westchester property taxes were “staggering.” And, Pardon says, “there are places like Chappaqua, with great schools. But there’s nothing to do there.”

In Connecticut, they did everything they could to avoid Westport — mainly because of the long commute.

But the homes they saw in Greenwich did not appeal to them. In Darien, everything affordable and likable was next to 95 or Metro-North. New Canaan — well, it’s not on the water.

It took some convincing for his wife to agree to look at the town where Pardon’s brother Doug had just bought a house, and where his parents live too.

A couple of open houses opened her eyes. And, Pardon says, “We were surprised how much further our money went in Westport.”

He knew about “great music and arts in the schools. Compo blows other Fairfield County beaches away.” But, he admits, “If I didn’t know what I was getting into, I wouldn’t want to be this far out.”

Two days before Christmas, they moved into the Old Hill neighborhood.

One surprise was the 4-year wait list for a train station parking permit. Fortunately, the shuttle bus travels along Pardon’s new street.

The Westport transit bus is a great — and unexpected — Westport perk for Doug Pardon.

“The realtor told us, but I didn’t realize how important that is,” he says.

“I thought I’d just pay $5 a day for parking. But I take the bus every day. We didn’t have to buy a 2nd car. That’s the greatest thing ever.”

He uses the app to see where the bus is in the morning. In the afternoon, it drops him off in front of his house.

Some things have changed — there’s a “new” high school, and Bedford Square “is amazing” in place of the old Y — but Pardon settled quickly into his old/new home town.

His wife took their son to a Coleytown Middle School play. “They were blown away!” he says. She has gone to school breakfasts, and met other parents.

Pardon is also surprised by the number of people he recognizes. Far more than he realized have stayed around — or, like he, returned.

“I feel like a bit of a townie,” he says. “I know there are new restaurants, and I look forward to going. But so far we’ve only been to the Duck and Dunville’s — the towniest places around.”

Duck! It’s 25 Years Of Karaoke

In 1992, Leigh Henry tried to sell Pete Aitkin a karaoke jukebox.

The Black Duck owner said no.

But he asked Leigh — a 1968 Staples High School grad, with a long and varied music career — if he’d host a karaoke show instead.

Leigh said yes.

Which is why — a quarter century later — the Duck is celebrating 25 years as Westport’s go-to karaoke restaurant/bar.

Leigh is a storied figure in Fairfield County. While still a Staples student, his band — Mandrake Root — opened for the Doors, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Leigh spent 15 years organizing shows, then booked music for clubs and private events. For 3 decades his band Celebration has played weddings and parties. He’s the vocalist in another group — the Leigh Henry Band — and also DJs.

In the early ’90s Leigh was selling karaoke machines, like those in Asia where people pay to sing. But Aitkin thought that if the Duck sponsored karaoke, there should be a host.

Before the opening show, Leigh wondered if anyone would come. He still recalls the first person — a woman named Maureen. She sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

At that moment, Black Duck karaoke took off.

Black Duck karaoke, in the early days.

“Tuesday nights were wall to wall,” Leigh says. He added Mondays too, for 23 years.

Leigh’s karaoke fans like older music — classics. Not a lot of hip hop. The 3 all-time favorites, Leigh thinks, are “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Sweet Caroline.”

The Duck itself plays a huge role in Tuesday karaoke’s long success.

“The vibe is completely comfortable,” Leigh notes. “It’s a great equalizer. There are no pretensions. Bikers, tech guys, yuppies — everyone leaves their attitude at the door, and mucks in together.”

Just another Tuesday at the Duck.

The layout helps too. “There’s a bar where people sit safely. They can engage or not,” Leigh observes. “You can sit at tables. The place is small enough to be intimate, but large enough so there’s a lot of energy.”

Mike “Wolfie” Connors — the popular bartender from Day 1 to 2015 — also played a big role, Leigh says.

Five years ago, the Duck celebrated 20 years of karaoke with a party — and a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Westport’s favorite karaoke spot.

For this 25th, Leigh upped the ante.

Tuesday, June 13 and 20 are “Applause for the Cause” nights. They’re like Relays for Life — except people sing to raise money, rather than walk.

The 1st night is “Only a Pay-Per-Tune”: donate $25 to sing a song.

The 2nd evening is a “Sing-a-thon.” Team leaders who raise $500 earn a 3-tune mini-set. They can perform themselves, or offer their slot to friends.

Leigh’s goal is $10,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Good times never seemed so good.

(To become a team leader, sign up for a song or make a contribution, click here. For more information, email lh@leighhenrymusic.com) 

Brett is one of many Black Duck karaoke stars.

Introducing: “06880 Pic Of The Day”

First — over 2 years ago — came the Sunday Photo Challenge. Last year I introduced the Friday Flashback.

Tonight I’m unveiling the newest “06880” feature — and the first one I’ll be posting once a day.

Let’s give a hearty welcome to the latest member of our online community: the Pic of the Day.

Every night around 9 p.m., I’ll send out an image of Westport. The photos will be recognizable and relatable. Some will be artistic; others whimsical or surprising. One might have cool angles or shapes; the next might make you look at a familiar scene in a different way.

All will be cool. None will be more than a few days old.

There won’t be any text, beyond a caption and photo credit. The plan is to provide a quick snapshot of Westport for you, before bed (or first thing in the morning).

Any image anywhere in town is fair game. However, I’ll stay away from sunsets. That’s WestportNow’s specialty!

Lynn U. Miller — Westport native, longtime friend and very talented photographer — will provide many of the shots. (She also came up with the superbly punning “Pic of the Day” name.)

But I’ll also rely on a stable of other fine photographers, like John Videler, Amy Schneider and Katherine Bruan.

And you. If you’ve got a photo you think would work for this feature, send it along: dwoog@optonline.net.

So here — without further ado — is “06880”‘s very first Pic of the Day. Enjoy!

Behind the Black Duck, on the Saugatuck River. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Remembering “Wolfie”

Mike Connors — for 30 years one of Westport’s best-known bartenders, at the Black Duck, then at Bogey’s and most recently at Partner’s Cafe, both in Norwalk — died this morning.

Connors — universally called “Wolfie” — apparently suffered a heart attack.

mike-connors-2

It took a lot to take down Wolfie. He graduated from Staples High School in 1978, where he had a storied football career. He went on to play at Syracuse University, then returned home and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.

Wolfie was the perfect bartender. He knew everyone, welcomed everyone, talked to everyone. Though he worked for the past couple of years one town over, and lived in Stratford, his big heart was always in Westport.

Details on services have not yet been announced.

Mike "Wolfie" Connors

Mike “Wolfie” Connors