Tag Archives: CT Bites

Take A Bite Out Of Hunger

As Westport heads toward the holidays, many of us will dine well.

We’ll enjoy meals at fine restaurants, with friends, family and colleagues. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

But it’s not such a great time for our neighbors who are hungry. So, as we eat and drink, we should also look for this logo:

“Hunger Bites” is a month-long campaign to end local hunger. Co-sponsored by Food Rescue US — a national organization (with a strong Westport presence) that moves fresh, usable food that would have been thrown away by restaurants and grocery stores to families that desperately need it — and the CTBites website, the month-long drive is a way to make a donation on your restaurant bill. It goes directly to folks in need.

With the cost of delivery just 5 cents a meal, adding just $1 to your check provides 20 meals.

National board member (and Westporter) Simon Hallgarten notes that this is far below the norm for most food non-profits. Food Rescue US is so efficient because there is no cost of storage or delivery. They crowdsource their volunteers, so there is no direct cost for pickup or delivery.

Participating restaurants in Westport include The Cottage, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Match Burger Lobster, Tarry Lodge, The Whelk and Winfield Coffee & Deli.

We’ve got a lot of choices for great dining over the next few weeks. Those places should be on everyone’s list.

Farmers’ Market Vendors Grow Food — And Businesses

Westport Farmers’ Market asks a lot of its vendors. In return for space at the Imperial Avenue lot every Thursday from May to November, the nearly 3 dozen sellers of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, coffee, meat and more must post about the market every week on social media; adhere to certain sign regulations, and participate in the market’s community service programs.

So, director Lori Cochran wondered last year, what was the Farmers’ Market doing to help those vendors?

Looking around, the energetic, forward-thinking director realized that while some businesses like Nothin’ But had shot to the top — thanks to solid financing and a strong business model, the maker of granola bars and cookies now sells in airports and to Whole Foods — others just moseyed along.

“They’re beautiful at creating what they do,” Lori says. “But they don’t have the time or the expertise to really grow.”

Westport Farmers' Market vendors are great at what they do. Director Lori Cochran wants to help them expand.

Westport Farmers’ Market vendors are great at what they do. Director Lori Cochran wants to help them expand.

Lori has a soft spot for mom-and-pop companies. “Our country was founded on them. And they’re still crucial.”

This year, Westport Farmers’ Market rolled out a 3-pronged educational program. Sessions are held at Sugar & Olives, the very cool restaurant/bar/ cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.

Sessions last 2-3 hours, and include general information followed by private, 1-on-1 meetings. Of course, they’re free.

Fairfield County Bank offered a session on finance. Topics included loans and micro-financing. It was so successful, a follow-up focusing on taxes is planned for fall.

An insurance broker will talk about changes in that industry, while next month the Cohen and Wolf law firm discusses ideas like whether a vendor should become an LLC.

September brings a session on social media, courtesy of CT Bites’ Stephanie Webster.

The Westport Farmers' Market is held every Thursday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is held every Thursday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot.

All presentations are pro bono. “These people are great,” Lori says. “They come in as educators, not salesmen. They understand our mission: helping the community. And the community includes our vendors, not just our shoppers.”

She has watched with joy as the Farmers’ Market businesses learn about — well, business.

“They’re talking to each other, and sharing ideas,” she says. “Our vendors are forming a real community.

“This is such a simple program. But it’s actually accomplishing a lot.”

CT Bites. Chew On That One.

If you’ve lived here a while, you know that in many ways, Connecticut bites. (Just check out the comments here last week, about a survey placing our state 49th in a poll of places residents would most like to move out of.)

But we do have a fairly robust (and ever-changing) food scene. And CT Bites covers it like guac on nachos.

The clever, wide-ranging, sometimes-irreverent-but-always-interesting look at food in Fairfield County includes information on restaurants, recipes, cooking classes, food festivals, wine tastings, chef comings and goings, teaching kids to cook, family-friendly spots, gadgets, and of course a chance to “dish” on whatever readers want.

A typical CT Bites page includes plenty of information.

A typical CT Bites page includes plenty of information.

Now, editor-in-chief/founder Stephanie Webster and executive editor Amy Kundrat have collaborated on a handsome — and very handy — new book.

It’s called Extraordinary Recipes from Fairfield County Chef’s Table, and it features recipes from over 50 excellent restaurants.

Westport is well represented:

  • Bobby Q’s (Brisket and Beef Burnt Ends; Pit Beans)
  • DaPietro’s (Ravioli Alla Campagna with Salsa on Burro a Nocciole)
  • LeFarm (Burrata with Sweet & Sour Summer Squash; Brined Pork Chops with Corn & Pepper Chow-chow)
  • Matsu Sushi (Ruby Angel; Salmon Confetti Salad)
  • Michele’s Pies (Apple Raspberry Crumb Pie)
  • Saugatuck Grain & Grape (New Beginning)
  • SoNo Baking Company & Cafe (Caramel-Apple Tart)
  • Tarry Lodge Enoteca Pizzeria (Pizza Margherita)
  • Terrain Garden Café (Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Apple-Corn Bread Waffles)
  • The Whelk (Shrimp & Grits with Jalapeño Butter & Tennessee Country Ham; Seared Scallops with Farro, Corn, Beans & Bacon)

There’s also a recipe from The Dressing Room (Goat Burgers with Bacon & Apple Marmalade), which goes to show that putting together a book takes a loooong time.

Clockwise from upper left: the book; Amy Kundrat; Stephanie Webster; Sugar & Olives' pancakes.

Clockwise from upper left: the book; Amy Kundrat; Stephanie Webster; Sugar & Olives’ pancakes.

The recipes are great. The photography is fantastic. But there’s much more.

Each restaurant and chef gets an in-depth write-up. Sidebars cover food charities; farms and farm dinners; “diners and dives”; coffee roasters; frozen treats; burgers; food trucks; juice bars; noodle bars; pizza — even train station eats (who knew?).

Whether you make Seared Ahi Tuna and Lime-Chutney Polenta with White Chocolate, Jalapeño & Cilantro Sauce (Chocopologie) — or just reservations — for dinner, this book deserves a place at your table.

Martha Stewart: “Eat” your heart out.

(To purchase a copy, click here. This Saturday — May 17, 1 p.m. — Stephanie Webster and Amy Kundret will be at the Westport Barnes & Noble for a book-signing and Q-and-A. They’ll be joined by chef Jon Vaast of Norwalk’s Sugar & Olives, who will bring his Chocolate Pancakes with Bourbon Whipped Cream recipe.)
 

4 Jewish Women Walk Into A Google Hangout…

…and 8 weeks later, come out with a cookbook.

But bubbe, not just any cookbook. This one is 4 Bloggers Dish Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors. The recipes cover the whole megillah — traditional, vegetarian, gluten-free; appetizers, soups and salads, main courses, sides, desserts. From beet latke with cucumber jalapeño relish, through “nuts for you” chicken schnitzel, to creamy vanilla cheesecake with matzah nut crust, these are not your grandmother’s recipes.

Though she would be very, very proud.

And– we have to kvell — one of the 4 authors is longtime Westporter Liz Rueven.

Liz Rueven (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

Liz Rueven (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

She got her 1st taste of writing at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. She contributed to CTBites. Then nearly 3 years ago she began Kosher Like Me. Like many who keep kosher at home and honor its rules in restaurants by eating vegetarian, she craved “exhilarating, varied” choices — not always the same ol’ salmon.

Her recipes, restaurant and product reviews, personal profiles and calendar listings drew a devoted audience. Not all keep kosher — or are even Jewish. Many readers just love Rueven’s great vegetarian style.

(It sounds meshugenah, but Relish.com named her 1 of the top 5 Jewish bloggers, thanks to her post-Thanksgivukkah recipe for beer-braised turkey tacos. It was to die for.)

Kosher Like Me also catapulted Rueven into the wide world of food bloggers (and the smaller niche of kosher and vegetarian writers). There she met Sarah Lasry of the Patchke Princess (“my crazy kosher life!”), Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry (“recipes and stories from my shvitzin’ kitchen”), and Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat (Henny Youngman they ain’t.).

Through a series of circumstances, the women decided to collaborate on a Passover cookbook. But they only had 8 weeks, from the moment they agreed to the deadline.

Oy veys mir!

Liz Rueven - coverWorking through Google Hangouts — they’ve never all been in the same space together — they wrote and edited feverishly. They were brutally honest with each other. If any woman couldn’t stand the heat, she would have left the kitchen.

But none did. The result — an e-book, fitting today’s fast-moving world — hit #1 in 2 Kindle categories. (Jewish Foods and Kosher Cooking. You had to ask.)

Some of Rueven’s favorite contributions are a slow-roasted salmon with easy beet relish appetizer; a French onion soup with cheesy matzah crackers, and a cheesy spinach matzah lasagna. (The lasagna uses local greens, and is topped with a traditional French sauce to stay moist. “Matzah can get pretty dry,” Rueven notes.)

Every recipe, from all 4 women, offers a twist. Even the cover shows mini-potato kugels — not the usual heavier-than-a-bowling-ball variety.

So which of Rueven’s recipes will she make for her own Seder?

None.

“I’m going to Israel,” she says. “My in-laws are there. They do it all. I can rest and relax. It will be great!”

(Click here for sample recipes. But then click here to buy 4 Bloggers Dish Passover from Amazon. Hey, big spender: It’s $3.99!)

Cheesy matzah lasagna -- mmmmm! (Photo/Liz Rueven)

Cheesy matzah lasagna — mmmmm! (Photo/Liz Rueven)

 

 

 

The 3rd Time’s The Charm

Actually, the 1st 2 are pretty charming as well.

Bill Taibe — owner of Le Farm and The Whelk — will open his 3rd Westport restaurant early this summer.

CT Bites reports that the site is the short-lived Bistro 88 space in Bridge Square — formerly Peter’s Bridge Market. It’s just a few steps away from The Whelk in Saugatuck Center.

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk.

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk.

Taibe — much beloved for his fierce dedication to locally sourced farms and distributors — told the food blog that the new spot will “take its culinary and design inspiration” from Japanese pubs. The emphasis is on small dishes, and great drinks.

He called it an Asian version of The Whelk — including a communal table — offering a mix of Japanese and Chinese dishes. You can also buy a bottle, write your name on it and store it for later.

Saugatuck has been on the culinary map for a couple of years now. In June, a new kitchen warms up — and the area will be even hotter.

 

Fine Dining, Fine Dunking

The blogosphere is filled with Westport dining news.

CTBites — the go-to site for Fairfield County foodies — recently profiled Fortina.

Sure, it’s in Armonk, New York. But area diners will go anywhere for “Italian food, cooked simply, in wood fired ovens” that is elevated “with a thoughtful culinary execution and a familiar, if familial, disarming vibe.”

What makes this just-over-the-border place “06880” worthy — besides its “rustic hipster vibe” — are its owners. Two of the 3 — Rob Krauss and John Nealon — are Staples grads.

They met at a place not normally associated with fine dining: the Wrecker football field. They’ve been good friends ever since.

John Nealon, Christian Petroni and Rob Krauss are the masterminds behind Fortina. (Photo/CTBites)

John Nealon, Christian Petroni and Rob Krauss are the masterminds behind Fortina. (Photo/CTBites)

CTBites says that Rob, John and non-Stapleite Christian Petroni seems “more like a brotherhood” than a partnership. And “this feeling translates across the restaurant’s service team and into its dining room.” All 3 formerly worked at Barcelona (whose co-founder is Staples graduate Sasha Mahr-Batuz).

Krauss says, “There is a complexity to the simplicity.” CTBites believes that applies to the restaurant’s team, as well as the menu. They are “an extended family of sorts that works equally hard at the food as they do cultivating the culture at Fortina.”

Meanwhile, over on Sunday Diners — the blog about Fairfield County’s best breakfast spots, written by 5th grader Alex D’Adamo — the buzz was all about Cocoa Michelle.

Alex says the newest addition to Saugatuck Center makes you feel “like you’re in your own home. Everyone is really friendly, and it was filled with customers including a lot of kids. (She also had Wiki-Stix which kids love.)” He calls the food “exceptional!”

Alex D'Adamo and Cocoa Michelle's hot chocolate. (Photo/Sunday Diners)

Alex D’Adamo and Cocoa Michelle’s hot chocolate. (Photo/Sunday Diners)

Alex got “the kick” he was looking for from the pulled pork sweet potato hash. But he saves his biggest rave for the hot chocolate. And — either because he is an important blogger, or because she is just a really nice woman — owner Michelle Weber gave him “some of their really thick chocolate, the kind you usually dunk churros in.”

Alex’s father had a 3-egg omelet, with crushed rosemary-marble potatoes, buttered brioche with goat cheese, and fines herbes. “He loved it,” Alex reports. 

On his 5-star scale, Alex gives Cocoa Michelle 5’s for every category: food, service, looks and “bathroom.”

CTBites did not grade Fortina. But we are sure its bathroom is as cool as its food, too.

CT Bites Invites: Something New To Chew On

When Ellen Bowen launched the Southern Connecticut territory for Living Social — the website offering daily discounts to subscribers — she liked working with restaurant owners to design enticing deals.

But, she soon realized, the website got a lot better deal than the merchants.

“It brings in traffic,” she says of the discounts. “But most people were spending only the value of the coupon. And there wasn’t a lot of repeat business.”

Her now job — event curator at CTBites.com — is much more satisfying. The Westporter has helped site founder Stephanie Webster move beyond the wildly popular restaurant reviews.

Amy Kundrat, Stephanie Webster and Ellen Bowen (from left) represent CT Bites at last fall's Blues,Views & BBQ Fest in Westport.

Ellen and Stephanie have introduced CT Bites Invites. Each week, the website offers readers a special culinary event. Because Ellen works closely with owners and chefs, the results benefit everyone: the restaurants, those who work there, and Fairfield County’s enormous population of “foodies.”

“We get very creative,” Ellen says. For example, Bobby Q’s paired great barbecue dishes with craft beers.

“You can’t just walk in and ask for that,” she notes. “It’s insider access.”

There’s insider access to chefs too. A 10:30 cooking demonstration by DaPietro’s Pietro Scotti was followed by a special 3-course lunch.

Pietro Scotti of DaPietro's wows his CT Bites Invites guests.

Beyond the great food and behind-the-scenes activity, Ellen says, “It’s very social. People invite their friends. And it’s really creative.”

Since CT Bites Invites began in November (with a pairing of exotic tacos and various tequilas), every event has sold out. Some are so popular, extra dates have been added.

Feedback (ho ho) has been great. And Ellen is having a good time too.

“I’ve learned a lot about food, chefs and restaurants,” she says.

One example: Iberico, a very rare ham. It comes from special pigs in Spain. Raised only on acorns, they’re “happy and totally stress-free,” Ellen says. “Even when they’re slaughtered, there’s music playing.”

The result is “the most tender and delicious ham you can imagine.”

(Also, very expensive.)

Barcelona Restaurant paired Iberico ham with cheeses, wine and sherry. “It was very successful — and educational,” says Ellen.

On January 25, Bonda in Fairfield features an evening menu tasting with chef Jamie Cooper. Participants will give insights — and the results will help shape his next menu.

“For a foodie, learning about chefs’ training, watching them in action, talking back and forth — it’s heaven,” Ellen says.

“This goes way beyond ‘honey, where should we go for dinner tonight?'”

Good food, conversation and education await CT Bites Invites guests.