“06880” always looks for ways to serve our community. Readers always look for ways to find out what’s happening around town – including where to eat.
Which is why “06880” introduces today a new feature: a “Restaurants” tab. It appears permanently in two places on our home page: at the top (directly underneath “06880”), and on the right side (under “Pages”).
It’s a way to feed the hunger of our readers — for both information and food.
The drop-down menu (ho ho) includes:
Links directly to a restaurant’s website
Its social media handles
Its phone number
And a 2- to 3-sentence description (from them) about why they’re special.
Each restaurant can choose its own category. (NOTE: Restaurants pay a small fee to be listed.)
Click here (or above, or on the right side of the home page) to access the “Restaurants” tab. For more information on being listed, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to eat tonight? Click on our “Restaurants” tab!
With a prime location — Riverside Avenue across from the Cribari Bridge — plus great Italian-and-more food, a booming bar, live music and plenty of parking, owner Bill Rizzuto was pleased. His 2009 decision to open in Fairfield County — his first Rizzuto’s was in West Hartford — was paying off.
Then came COVID.
Every Westport restaurant closed to in-person dining.
Many resorted to takeout. Rizzuto’s shut completely.
“Safety was the guiding light,” explains the owner. “We were concerned about the safety of our customers and our employees.”
Rizzuto’s reopened 2 months later, on May 22 — the first day outdoor dining was allowed in Westport — with both patio seating and takeout.
Rizzuto’s, on Riverside Avenue.
They saw an “exponential” increase in online orders, compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
He invested in new technology, to speed up and ease the process. “We became really good at takeout,” Rizzuto says proudly.
That’s just one way the restaurant has adapted to the new normal.
He looked into renting or buying tents. But, Rizzuto says they did not seem to offer a different experience than indoor seating. Diners were leery of that.
Then he had a “crazy idea” install cabanas in the parking lot.
The 8×8-foot structures provided physical barriers. for each party. People felt comfortable and safe.
Plus, he says, “they’re fun.”
In the winter came more fun: igloos. They’re safe too — and warm.
Rizzuto’s popular igloos. (Photo/Joel Treisman)
Rizzuto’s did not open its indoor space until October. By that time they’d redone the ductwork, renovated the HVAC, and installed ultraviolet lights.
Thirteen months later, they still have not added back all their furniture.
Rizutto’s igloos are here for a second winter. The owner thinks a fourth wave of COVID is coming.
He also thinks masks may be mandated indoors again. He wears one all the time. So do waiters and servers who enter the igloos.
There remains a “significant number” of people who will still not dine inside. “I respect that,” he says. “My wife is one of them.”
Yet — as he surveys the restaurant industry nationwide — Rizzuto knows he is lucky.
“I’m blessed we could expand into the parking lot,” he says. “And all of us in Westport have been blessed beyond belief at the support from Town Hall. Zoning laws that had been written in stone were bent, to allow people to survive.”
Without that — and outdoor dining, and takeout — Rizzuto says, “we would not be here.”
“Here” is decidedly different from before the pandemic.
Rizzuto’s live music is gone. So is happy hour. Lunch is served on weekends only. (Weekday lunches used to be driven by nearby offices. Most of those people have not yet returned, Rizzuto says.)
There’s been an uptick this year in holiday party bookings. (That’s all relative, of course. Last year there were none.)
But the groups are smaller. They keep things low-key. And organizers are waiting as long as possible before reservations, in case situations change.
During his 12 years in Westport, Bill Rizzuto has seen plenty of changes. COVID created new challenges, caused unforeseen disruptions, and prompted plenty of changes.
It may be a while before Rizzuto’s happy hour returns.
Rizzuto looks on the bright side. “I’m blessed with incredible customers. We’ve gotten to know them even better now. That’s incredibly rewarding.
“And I’m blessed with a great staff. They all came back when we reopened. This has brought out the best in people.”
Speaking of people: The owner has seen one other big change over the past 18 months: A lot more 212 and 917 area codes when people call to order takeout.
“New residents really appreciate what we do,” he says. “They came here from a scary situation in New York. I’m glad we can be here for them.”
The Planning & Zoning Commission seldom hears “thank you.”
Their decisions are often controversial — or humdrum.
But this month’s unanimous vote to extend outdoor dining until further notice was met with effusive praise from restaurant owners throughout town.
From Tutti’s to downtown (where the other day all the well-spaced tables outside Basso were filled) — and even spots like Sherwood Diner — outdoor dining has been an important lifeline during a difficult time.
Basso. on Jesup Green (Photo/Dan Woog)
If neighboring property owners give consent, restaurants can use otherwise unusable setbacks, as Rizzuto’s has done with their popular igloos.
Rizzuto’s popular igloos. (Photo/Joel Treisman)
They can use adjacent property too, as Rive Bistro does.
Restaurants can even request Board of Selectmen permission to put tables in street parking and on sidewalks. Railroad Place (Romanacci, Tarantino, Harvest) and Church Lane (Spotted Horse, Manna Toast) are prime examples of town-restaurant cooperation.
The application process is simple. It’s managed by P&Z director Mary Young, with support from fire marshal Nate Gibbons, to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.
As the weather gets better, more outdoor dining options are sure to appear.
And who knows? They’re so popular, the P&Z may decide to keep them, long after the pandemic ends.
This is usually the time of year when we sign up for beach stickers, handpasses and the like.
In this year of COVID, the Parks & Recreation Department says:
Spring and summer are just around the corner. Our team is hard at work getting things ready to open up our facilities and provide programs!
We plan to provide offerings that we were unfortunately unable to offer last year due to COVID-19. Please anticipate modifications while we follow best practices and state guidelines as we strive to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants.
Keep watching for more information later this month on programs, beach emblems and more! Stay safe!
Despite the loss of signature fundraisers like the Yankee Doodle Fair, the Westport Woman’s Club held strong to its 114-year tradition of helping local organizations in need.
Last year, the WWC concentrated its donations on groups that offer COVID-related help. They include
Bridgeport Rescue Mission
Center for Family Justice
Circle of Care
CLASP Homes, Inc.
Department of Human Services
Domestic Violence Crisis Center
Family & Children’s Agency, Inc.
Filling in the Blanks
Food Rescue Us
Homes with Hope
Malta House, Inc.
Town of Westport: Department of Human Services Visiting Nurses & Hospice of Fairfield County Westport Volunteer EMS
Fingers are crossed for a Yankee Doodle Fair this year. But whether there is a full, scaled-down version — or none at all — the Westport Woman’s Club will find a way to make Fairfield County a better place for all.
On Tuesday, “06880” ran a photo of a mysterious sight photographed by Nancy Vener, from Saugatuck Shores. Other readers sent similar photos:
Ever-vigilant Wendy Crowther found this statement from NASA’ Keith Koehler:
A 3-stage suborbital sounding rocket was launched in the afternoon on March 3, for the Department of Defense from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The launch was to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.
After flying to an altitude of several hundred miles and about 500 miles offshore, the rocket’s payload released a small quantity of vapor into the near-vacuum of space. There is no danger to public health or the Earth’s environment from the vapor release.
MoCA Westport’s spring Exhibition, “Smash,” premiers April 2. It’s devoted exclusively to the videos of contemporary artist Marilyn Minter.
Both grandiose and intimate, in settings throughout the museum’s galleries, Minter’s videos will be exhibited together for the first time in a public institution. Seeped in lush imagery and moving between figuration and abstraction, his works encapsulate feminism, pleasure, voyeurism and notions of beauty, desire and chance.
Her custom-designed AMC Pacer –featuring an interior, surround viewing of her work “Green Pink Caviar,” will also be exhibited for the first time.
It’s not too early to think about Easter — well, the catering part, anyway.
Mystic Market across from the train station is early out of the box. Their appetizers and platters (artichoke jalapeño dip in a bread bowl, charcutier board…), salads, soups (carrot giner, potato leek), brunch quiche, breads, sides, dinners (roasted pomegranate lamb, potato-encrusted Chilean sea bass, roast beef tenderloin, salmon filet, beef lasagna…) and desserts) must be ordered by April 1.
This week, Merri Mueller posed a great question on Facebook’s Westport Front Porch group: Where to dine outdoors in Westport? It’s getting cooler, she said — but she is not yet comfortable going indoors.
Suggestions poured in:
Pene e Bene. Rive Bistro. Pearl at Longshore. The Boathouse at Saugatuck Rowing Club. Little Barn. Harvest. Manna Toast. Walrus Alley. Tarantino. The Cottage. Rizzuto’s (where you can request heaters — and they’ll close your private tent flaps).
I’m sure there are more. I’m also sure that “06880” readers will add them in the Comments section below.
Rizzuto’s has always offered outdoor dining. There are more tables now.
But Merri’s query — and the responses — sparked an idea for more crowdsourcing here.
What else can Westport restaurant owners do for their customers, over the next few months?
The coronavirus will not go away. The holidays will be here before we know it. The weather will be much colder.
The speed, creativity and hospitality with which so many restaurants pivoted this spring and summer was impressive. With new delivery services, curbside pick-up, takeout and outdoor tables, they turned what could have been a disaster into an almost robust dining scene.
The next few months will be crucial for their bottom lines. With winter looming, it won’t be easy.
“06880” is here to help. Let’s hear readers’ creative ideas of what they’d like to see — outdoors and inside — at our many restaurants (and any other place that sells food).
You can be specific (mentioning one or two spots) or general.
So chew on this. Then click “Comments” below.
Church Lane, this summer. How can restaurants adapt this winter?
It’s nice to hear that Westport restaurants are reopening.
It’s also nice to hear that town and civic officials are doing all they can to help.
Rizzuto’s and The Lobster Shack were back in business Friday. Owner Bill Rizzuto says, “our Planning and Zoning people and fire marshal were fantastic. And a big hats-off to Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell, who worked tirelessly to support us all.”
Rizzuto’s offers outdoor dining Monday through Thursday 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 12 to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday 12 to 8 p.m. They’re continuing curbside service and delivery too. Click here to order.
The Lobster Shack is open for curbside pickup and delivery Monday through Thursday, 4 to 8 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 12 to 8 p.m.
Also reopening tomorrow at 7:30 a.m.: Coffee An’!
Aspetuck Land Trust — whose 40+ preserves have provided area residents with healthy, mood-lifting walking trails throughout the pandemic — is sponsoring its first-ever native plant sale.
It’s simple: Order online, and reserve a curbside pickup time. Plants can be picked up at Gilbertie’s Organics in Easton in 2 weeks.
Up to half of the purchase price is a tax-deductible contribution to Aspetuck Land Trust!
Choose from pollinator herb variety packs; pollinator garden kits; mailbox garden kits; shrubs and trees, and eco-type plants (plugs) for containers and gardens.
Prices range from $9 to $80.
Click here to order. To join a webinar this Wednesday (May 27, 10:30 a.m.) about the importance of planting natives, click here, then scroll down.
What’s a Sunday without former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on “Face the Nation”? At least this week his live-remote hometown got a shout-out on the chyron. (Hat tip: Alan Shinbaum)
Takeout meals are available through curbside pick-up. If you can’t leave the house — or don’t want to — they’ll deliver. It may take some time how to do it, Taube says, “but we’ll figure it out. Everybody’s got to eat!
“We feel this is necessary in order to do our part to help stop the spread of this virus,” says the owner of 3 of Westport’s most popular dining spots.
“If there’s ever a time to tip, this is it,” he adds.
For the time being, the doors to The Whelk will be closed. (Photo courtesy of Our Town Crier)
While not closing, other restaurants are taking their own measures during the pandemic.
Pearl at Longshore — which recently hired a new chef, reworked the menu and remodeled the interior — has removed some tables, creating more distance between diners. They offer 10% off on takeout orders, and will bring it outside for pickup.
Pearl at Longshore has made changes….
In addition to also removing tables, offering curbside pick-up and delivery (within 3 miles), Rizzuto’s has removed items like flowers and salt and pepper shakers from all tables. They’re printing menus on lightweight paper for single use. too.
… and so has Rizzuto’s …
The Boathouse has added curbside pick-up, and will soon offer delivery.
… and the Boathouse, at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.
They — and every other restaurant in town — have strengthened existing health policies, and implemented new ones, such as washing hands upon arrival at work; before and after serving or removing food and beverages; before resetting tables, and after every customer interaction, including credit card processing. They’ve also expanded and enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Restaurants also encourage patrons to buy gift cards. They provide much-needed cash now — particularly for small, great places like Jeera Thai — and can be used whenever you feel comfortable going inside.
PS: It’s not just restaurants. Customers can call Calise’s Market (203-227-3257). They’ll put together hot foods, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, homemade pizzas, drinks, snacks, milk, water, bread, eggs, butter, dry goods — whatever you want — all for curbside service or delivery.
Sandra Calise-Cenatiempo reports they just stocked up on pasta, sauces and many canned goods. Tomorrow (Monday) they’ll start making dishes that can be frozen.
If you own a restaurant — or store — and would like “06880” readers to know what you’re doing, click “Comments” below.
But restaurants are not the only small businesses reeling from COVID-19.
Savvy + Grace — the great, locally own downtown unique gifts-and-more store — will close for a while. But only the doors.
Owner Annette Norton — Main Street’s biggest booster — says:
As a small business owner I have been grappling with how to handle this.
I am responsible for the rent, vendor bills, expenses, yet with all of the information I am collection, it pales in comparison with our community’s health. Therefore, I have decided to close until further notice.
I will be inside, alone, processing all of our new merchandise for spring. Which, by the way, allows me to offer curbside delivery and call-ins, or direct message me on Instagram for shipping: @savvyandgracewestport. You can also call the store: 203-221-0077.
My store has always been, and always will be, about putting my customers first. This too shall pass.
I just want to do what is responsible, given the information available. It has been my pleasure to serve this community, and I am committed to seeing this through.
See you soon. Stay healthy!
Savvy + Grace, a jewel on Main Street. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Everyone in Westport calls it (redundantly) the “Bridge Street bridge.” No one uses the official “William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge” name. (He was a popular cop who, for years, theatrically directed rush-hour traffic at the Riverside Avenue intersection.)
In a while, though, everyone in town will be talking about it.
Preliminary discussions between local and state officials have begun regarding repairs — or perhaps replacement — of the 131-year-old, 287-foot structure.
It’s the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It carries 16,000 vehicles a day.
Maritime commerce in long-ago Saugatuck — and upriver, downtown Westport — depended on the bridge’s ability to open. It was a tedious, hand-cranking process.
It also put a lot of stress on the bridge — stress that’s been aggravated by tremendous vehicular traffic, and occasional collisions with vessels. Now its girders are rusting — and possibly cracking.
An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it’s filled with traffic.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has identified serious deficiencies with the Bridge Street bridge. They’ve got their eyes on it. (And many others — our infrastructure is not exactly healthy.)
Renovation or replacement would entail considerable disruption to a structure vital to our town. (Repairs a while back resulted in a temporary span being constructed adjacent to the permanent one. That’s when a much-needed northbound turning lane was added, coming off the bridge by the old Mansion Clam House.)
There’s no question something must be done. When it is, will other issues be addressed — like the congestion that currently clogs Saugatuck for hours each day?
Will there be discussion of (let’s say) using some of the land at (let’s say) Rizzuto’s parking lot for a roundabout, moving traffic continuously through without a light? It’s been done elsewhere.
“Improvements” are in the eye of the beholder. Would you like to see the old truss bridge remain? Would you prefer a completely new structure?
If you have ideas on how to improve the Bridge Street bridge — and the traffic mess on and around it — click “Comments.” Please use your real name. Feel free to add thoughts on when and how you use the bridge, and what you think of it.
The Bridge Street bridge and environs, as seen on Google Earth view.
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.
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