Sure, you could have blown off your family, friends and football, and spent Thanksgiving at a mall.
Or you could have blown off work and the kids, and spent yesterday shopping online, during the made-up holiday called “Cyber Monday.”
But it’s so much better to shop locally. So here — as Christmas creeps up on us, and Chanukah looms even closer (it starts Sunday!) — “06880” presents our 1st-ever Holiday Shopping Guide.
If you’re looking for something that says (or screams) “Westport,” consider:
“The Beautiful Pond.” This just-released book celebrates — in stunning watercolor and text — the historic, versatile and beautiful Sherwood Mill Pond.
A labor of love from Judith Katz and Robin Tauck — with all proceeds benefiting Sound Waters’ academic enrichment programs — it’s available at Barnes & Noble, Earthplace, and online here.
A restaurant gift card is always welcome. One of my favorite spots is Kibberia. Located on the Norwalk line, this unpretentious spot serves spectacular Middle Eastern food. Owner Nick Iskandar is one of the truly good guys, and deserves all the support we can give him.
A bit pricier — and like Kibberia, not always on everyone’s radar — is Positano. This summer the Scarpati family relocated from Old Mill Beach to the site of the old Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s a beautiful space, with the same regional Italian cuisine and family atmosphere diners have loved for years. Mangia!
From Positano, stroll a few feet to the Playhouse. Gift certificates are available there too, for events from the 2016 season to the Family Festivities series and Script in Hand play readings. Too often, Westporters overlook this cultural (and very cool) gem.
Speaking of food, the Farmers Market (winter version) is open Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Gilberties’ Herb Gardens on Sylvan Lane. You may not always think of artisanal breads and cheeses, meats, baked goods, seasonal vegetables and hydroponically grown salad greens as holiday gifts, but there’s also organic maple syrup, interesting teas, dog biscuits and the like. Hey, I’m just trying to offer some only-in-Westport choices…
The chainification strangling Main Street is thankfully absent from Saugatuck. That neighborhood is still home to unique shops. The funkiest, friendliest and most fun of all may be Indulge by Mersene. From her digs on Railroad Place directly across from the train station, Mersene (like Cher and Adele, she needs only one name) sells a melange of gifts. Local artisans’ works, gourmet foods, decorative pillows, jewelry, home decor — it’s all there. The owner is as much an attraction as her goods — and that’s saying something.
Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.
A couple of steps from Indulge by Mersene is Suited.co. This men’s store — offering custom-tailored suits, blazers and shirts — is a cut apart from traditional clothing shops. The fabrics and selections are both classic and hip. Suited.co is a little fish in a big sartorial pond, but definitely worth checking out.
You can add your own special organization to the list. I’m sure you’ve got other gift ideas too. I’ve only scratched the surface. Click “Comments” below, to share your favorites with the very giving, very generous “06880” community.
Bonus idea: Why not give “06880” itself? You’ll find items like these at the Westport Historical Society.
Patch is not exactly at the forefront of Westport media. That’s not surprising, since it is was owned by AOL — you know, the company that back in the last century was for a while the world’s largest distributor of CDs.
Kids! Ask your parents what these were!
But the other day someone sent me a link to Patch’s list of the Top 10 Restaurants in Westport (according to Yelp).
It must have been a slow news day over at Patch. But hey — it’s a slow news day at “06880” too!
So here is the Yelp list.
There’s no arguing with #10 and 9: Acqua and Via Sforza. Kibberia is #8, though I’d bump this great Middle Eastern spot a few notches higher.
Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.
#7 is Rainbow Thai, in Bridge Square. I’m glad it’s not overlooked.
Checking in at #6 is Yamafuji, which apparently is a sushi place across from Super Stop & Shop. I’ve never heard of it, but Yelpers give it rave reviews.
The Top 5 is where things get a little odd.
Yelp’s 5th most popular restaurant in Westport is Gold’s Delicatessen. Sure, it’s been around since Moses. And yeah, the lox and bagels are good. But when was the last time you heard anyone say answer “Gold’s!” to the question, “We’re looking for a really good restaurant in Westport. What do you recommend?”*
The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.
Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.
Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.
“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.
Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.
“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.
That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.
Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.
Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.
It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.
He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.
She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.
Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.
He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.
This has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.
It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.
But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.
The weather was perfect. The food was great. The crowd of over 100 was diverse: old and young, artists and bankers, 4th-generation Westporters and a woman who moved here 2 months ago.
Strangers made new friends. Folks on both sides of the political aisle laughed. Everyone marveled at the sunset.
It was just another “06880” day at the beach.
Rick Eason is a rising freshman at Staples. His drone flew over the “06880” party, and captured part of the happy crowd.
Audrey Hertzel baked fantastic cupcakes — and added this festive touch.
Enjoying the “0” in the “06880.” (Photo/Audrey Hertzel)
It was an “06880” party for the ages — all ages — at Compo Beach.
Nick Iskandar of the great Kibberia restaurant donated fantastic Middle Eastern food.
Betsy Phillips Kahn captured this wonderful Westport sunset, as the “06880” party wound down.
Recent Staples grad Lindsay Kiedaisch was there too. She captured the lighthouse off shore.
Rick Eason — a rising freshman at Staples — brought his drone to the party. The crowd got bigger later (when the light faded), but here’s a unique view of South Beach and the rest of Compo. Thanks, Rick!
(Special thanks to Mary Hoffman and Jennifer Hershey for helping organize the party; Audrey Hertzel for the cupcakes, and Kibberia restaurant for the food!)
Alert “06880” readers know that my favorite new Westport restaurant — nothing else comes close — is Kibberia.
Located on the Post Road, at the Norwalk line — site of the old John’s Best — it offers fantastic, healthful food; warm, comfortable decor, and a very friendly and community-minded owner, Nick Iskandar.
So — trying to make sure this great spot does not suffer the fate of Cru and La Villa — I’m passing along some Kibberia-related news.
Nick has added music on Saturday nights. There’s a guitar player starting this week; more to come later.
You can order online. It’s easy — and you get 10% off your 1st order. Kibberia delivers, too.
Next: a belly dancer. (As soon as the weather warms up, Nick promises.)
Some restaurants open in Westport with all the hype of a Hollywood blockbuster. The Little Barn, Post 154, Bartaco, Spotted Horse — you’d have to be living without a stomach to not know they’ve arrived.
For a couple of months though, another restaurant has quietly served some of the best — and freshest, and healthiest — food in town.
Kibberia opened in the former John’s Best Post Road West location, on the Norwalk line. The name is a takeoff on kibbeh, a delicious Lebanese dish of ground lamb with bulgar wheat, onions and seasonings — think “kibberia,” like “pizzeria.”
But that’s where the comparisons with John’s Best end.
Owner Nick Iskandar took out walls, added colorful chairs and nice lights, and created a warm, comfortable space. Workers flock there at lunch from nearby offices; families love it for dinner.
Finally, Westport has a Middle Eastern restaurant to complement all our pizzerias and hip gathering spots.
Nick’s sister-in-law Carole Iskandar is the chef. She came to the US 30 years from Lebanon to study, landing in — of all places — Louisiana. Her cousin lived there; besides, French-educated Carole thought the Cajun influence would remind her of home.
Of course, Louisiana is nothing like Lebanon — or the Northeast US, where she moved when her husband got a job with Nynex.
Carole always wanted to open a restaurant, and after her 3 children were grown, she got the chance. Her 1st Kibberia was in Danbury. It quickly developed a reputation for fresh, healthy food, served casually and lovingly (and very inexpensively).
Nick had also gone to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, earning a degree in electrical engineering. He returned to Lebanon in the 1990s, but hoped to come back to the States. When Carole got a chance to open the Westport Kibberia, he came.
The Iskandars — Carole and Nick — take a brief break at Kibberia.
The other day, the pair served up fantastic food. The very popular lentil soup is different from the American variety. This one has no cream or milk — but savory red lentils.
The falafel featured fresh herbs and seasoning. Shish kebab came with a garlic sauce that customers tell the Iskandars to bottle and sell. A lentil dish with sauteed onions, rice and cabbage salad offered wonderful flavor.
Pita bead is thin and moist. There are flatbreads with healthy toppings — a Mediterranean-style pizza. Soups are all homemade; salads are fully customizable. The Iskandars use no preservatives or MSG.
Wines come from Turkey and Lebanon. Kibberia also stocks very good Lebanese beer. But Nick and Carole are fine if customers bring their own favorite bottles. It’s that kind of homey, happy place.
Westporters are sophisticated, Nick says. They know Middle Eastern food — and love its benefits. “Mothers feed hummus to their 2-year-olds,” he notes with pride.
Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.
About that kibbeh: Carole cooks up pumpkin, lentil, potato and vegetarian varieties.
“Vegans love this restaurant,” she says. There’s even a vegan baklava.
Also loving Kibberia: trainers from nearby gyms, like Intensity and the Edge. They eat there — and send clients over. “Trainers know no matter how hard people work, if they don’t eat right, they won’t see results,” Nick says.
He and Carole say some women “force” their husbands to come. “The men, they hear ‘healthy food’ and think they won’t like it,” Nick says. “But once they try it, they completely change. They come back, and now they bring their wives.”
Nick and Carole have loved meeting Westporters, turning them into passionate customers — and friends.
Has anything surprised them about this town?
“People are so friendly,” Carole says. “They even thank us for opening here.”
(Click here for the menu, which includes takeout. Kibberia is closed Sundays, but will open 7 days a week after New Year’s.)
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