Over its long history, Westport has seen thousands of restaurants come and go.
Everyone has favorites. Here are a few. Click “Comments” to add your own.
Allen’s Clam House was a great place for celebrations and dates. It was demolished more than a decade ago. The site is now the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.
(Photo courtesy of Dave Stalling)
The Big Top was a beloved hamburger place that attracted everyone: doctors, lawyers, businessmen, high school students, stoners and (very famously) Paul Newman. Today it’s McDonald’s. If that doesn’t say something…
Here it’s the Ocean House. For many years though it was Chubby Lane’s — the first $1 hamburger restaurant in town. The meat came from Charpentier’s butcher across the street, and it was fantastic. Today, this is the site of Willows Pediatrics.
Pearl’s was a longtime Riverside Avenue favorite. It’s easily recognized now, as Da Pietro’s.
Who can forget the Arrow? For years, the Nisticos’ restaurant defined Saugatuck. These days, it’s Mystic Market.
West Lake on Main Street was Westport’s first Chinese restaurant. It was considered to be quite exotic.
Originally a stagecoach stop in the 1700s, the Three Bears closed after many years. It’s been remodeled as Chabad of Westport.
The Three Bears, in its heyday. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)
The Clam Box drew diners for its seafood. The location — on the Post Road by the Sherwood Island Connector — did not hurt. It was later Bertucci’s; now the spot is shared by Shearwater Coffee, and soon-to-open Ignazio Pizza.
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.
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.
Yesterday, I posted a photo of a Christmas tree ornament that’s lasted far longer than the Clam Box restaurant that gave it away.
Apparently, it’s not the only one out there.
Nancy Conklin sent along this shot. The ornament belongs to Cindy Backiel. Her father owned the bowling alley (now Pier 1) and the golf range next door, back when Westport had bowling, mini-golf and the Clam Box.
And Barbara Sherburne emailed this one, from 1950. The photo was taken by Mary-Ellen Jordan.
“06880” — and the Clam Box — wish Westport a merry, nostalgic Christmas!
A friend and I wonder how many restaurants there now are, and will be this fall with the new ones opening, plus the breakdown according to type of food and location. You’re the place to go to for this information. Maybe you should set up a page to rate them, too.
The answer is simple: Who knows how many? The Westport restaurant scene is like a video game: so much new stuff pops up all around, you can’t keep track of it all. So you concentrate on a few things, and hope you survive.
But crowd-sourcing is a good idea. Every Westporter — those with “227” phone numbers and those renting here for a week — can benefit from the wisdom (and taste buds) of others.
Here are a few categories; answer whichever you wish, and/or add your own. Click “Comments” — then make reservations.
Best casual restaurant
Best expensive restaurant
Best new restaurant
Best old place
Best place to take the kids
Best place without the kids
Best place for takeout
Place that most says “Westport” where you take out-of-towners
Restaurant for your last meal on earth
Make up your own categories
Sorry – voting is limited to current restaurants only.
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.
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.
Last month, “06880” wandered back to the Clam Box — the much-loved restaurant on the site of the current Bertucci’s.
Plenty of readers commented on the post, and passed it along to friends. It worked its way to Doris Gross Nussbaum. She’s the daughter of the original owner, and now lives all the way in Wilton.
Earlier this week, Doris emailed:
Back pre-1938 my Dad, George Gross, had a restaurant in New York City: Cooper’s Fish & Chips, on 44th and Lexington.
In 1939 he couldn’t take the commute from Port Chester. He opened the 1st Clam Box in Cos Cob. The name was easily picked because the front window flaps opened upwards and looked like a Chinese take out box.
My copy of the original menu has Fish & Chips for 25 cents. The place was successful, and a year later Dad opened in Westport. He made head chef Steve Zakos his 50% partner.
Integrity was big in those days, and Dad felt that Steve — who came from the coal fields of Pennsylvania, and had worked with him in New York City — deserved the “gift.”
Because they worked 12 to 14-hour days, 7 days a week, that was a gift with strings!
Both restaurants were successful, although Westport had to close during World War II. Steve became a chief petty officer and head cook on a Navy battleship.
After the war, when Steve opened again, it was a charm. Times were right, and business was very good. Eventually Steve married Claire Fitch, and had 3 children. They still live in the area. In those days every family member worked the same long hours in Cos Cob and Westport.
Maps showed how easy it was to reach all 3 Clam Boxes.
In 1965 a 3rd Clam Box opened in Wethersfield. My husband and I ran it for 15 years. The 10 Gross grandchildren and 3 Zakos kids all said “no more!” They had been to college, and found there were activities other young people did on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays besides work.
In 1985, the Westport and Cos Cob Clam Boxes were sold to the Marketing Corporation of America, and we all retired. We had a good run for sure — 48 years.
One of the comments you received asked why it was sold. I guess that person had never been in the restaurant business, with all its long hours .
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.
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