Tag Archives: The Dressing Room restaurant

Paul Newman Lives — At The Farmers’ Market

Westporters of a certain age remember Paul Newman as one of the most famous movie idols of the 20th century — and our neighbor.

The man. The legend. The US postage stamp.

Younger Westporters — and their counterparts all around the country — know him as a salad dressing, popcorn and lemonade guy.

Lost in all that is the fact in 2006 that Paul Newman — who, don’t forget, was also a race car driver, and the founder of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — teamed up with Michel Nischan to start The Dressing Room.

That superbly named restaurant next to the Westport Country Playhouse was Fairfield County’s first farm-to-table restaurant. And — thanks to the star power of its 2 owners — it helped kick-start a whole new way for local residents to look at food.

Here’s something else many folks don’t know (or forgot): The Playhouse parking lot was the original site of the Westport Farmers’ Market. The location was convenient and open. Both Newman and Nischan helped plant the seed, and watched it grow.

This September marks the 10th anniversary of Paul Newman’s death. To honor this remarkable man — one who during his 50 years gave tons of time, energy and money back to the town — the Farmers’ Market has created a special project with Newman’s Own. (The charitable foundation is one more of his legacies.)

Paul Newman often shopped at the Westport Farmer’s Market. He was a particular fan of the locally produced honey.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at this Thursday’s Farmers’ Market — and also on Thursday, August 16 — everyone is invited to share their memories of Paul Newman.

Newman’s Own will bring a life-sized cutout of their founder to the Market (now bigger than ever, at the Imperial Avenue parking lot). Video equipment will be on hand to record stories and tributes.

Clips may be shared by Newman’s Own Foundation, in a video and on social media.

Can’t make it to the market? Submissions can be emailed: social@newmansownfoundation.org.

There must be a million Paul Newman stories in Westport. Let’s start those cameras rolling.

Breaking Restaurant News: Positano’s Replaces Dressing Room At Playhouse

Old Mill’s loss is the Westport Country Playhouse’s gain.

Positano’s — the much-loved-but-too-seldom-visited restaurant kitty-corner from Elvira’s — is closing at its Old Mill Beach location. “06880” broke that news 2 months ago.

Positano's, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira's.

Positano’s, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira’s.

But it’s reopening in February, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s the space was occupied for 8 years by The Dressing Room. The Paul Newman-created restaurant closed last January.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano’s has been owned and operated by the Scarpati family for more than 15 years. Owner Giuseppe Scarpati was born on the island of Ponza, Italy. He learned to cook from his father, who studied with master chefs in Italy and was one of the island’s leading fisherman. Giuseppe focuses on all-natural cooking.

Under chef Michel Nischan, the Dressing Room was Fairfield County’s 1st farm-to-table restaurant.

So Positano’s stands poised to carry on that natural tradition — right next door to the 83-year-old Playhouse, with its own venerable history.

But the question remains: Will the tradition of an Old Mill Beach restaurant now be history, replaced by a large and imposing private home?

Paul Newman, Donuts And…!?

“The Interrobang !?” — yes, that punctuation is an interrobang, and part of the name — is a quirky website that scours the country looking for interesting, offbeat places to visit.

Recently, Connecticut’s number came up.

Though, the site said, our state is “usually thought of as just the Gateway to New England,” it  actually might be “our most underrated food destination in the country.”

Lest we forget, “The Interrobang!?” says the Nutmeg State is home to

  • pizza– some of the best in the nation
  • great hot dog joints
  • homemade ice cream
  • a coastline with great seafood
  • the nation’s first Hamburger
  • and a long list of amazing  farm to table restaurants.

Sadly, though, when the website listed specific places to visit, none of our pizza, hot dog, seafood or burger spots made the list.

We did manage 2 listings under “Other Great Local Restaurants.” (One is not, strictly speaking, a restaurant. But it is great.)

“The Interrobang!?” cites Dressing Room:

Our first pick is Paul Newman’s place.  This adorable country restaurant is tucked behind a local institution, the Westport Country Playhouse, and that would be a destination in itself even if the Dressing Room wasn’t on the premises….

You’ll find a brightly lit, comfortable and incredibly inviting spot, often with live music blaring from the door. Nothing here is pretentious and everything is completely shareable.  Comfort food meets creative, and it’s all very local.  The oysters are amazing, local cheeses and hand cured meats, mini burgers, mini meatloaf, Pork Belly Mac n Cheese  and it’s all done in harmony with Paul Newman’s food philosophies including his commitment to neighborly hospitality, local, natural and organic ingredients and regional American heirloom food.

The not-really-a-restaurant is Coffee An’. “Interrobang!?” says:

It’s a tiny little coffee shop-slash-diner.   It’s as cute as a button.  It’s family owned and run by the nicest people this side of the Mississippi.  And it’s everything that people miss about those “old days.”

They’ve also got a wall lined with photos of politicians, dignitaries and other assorted celebrities.

Why?  The donuts.  You’ve probably been settling for chain-store donuts for so long that you’ve long forgotten what a donut is supposed to taste like.  Go to Coffee An’ and it will all come rushing back.  Don’t expect a wall full of choices here though, there are only a few options.  Take our advice, don’t mess around — go straight for the chocolate glazed.

I’m sure “06880” readers don’t think our dining options begin and end with the Dressing Room and Coffee An’.

If “The Interrobang!?” ever comes through town again, where would you send them? Click “Comments” — and give culinary details!


Maria Says: Dressing Room Is #1

All jokes about $19 meatloaf aside, I love The Dressing Room.

So does Maria Rodale.

I’m just a local blogger.  My restaurant territory is limited:  from Tiger Bowl (on the Southport line) to John’s Best (Norwalk border).

Maria, though, is a nationally known (I guess) foodie.  Her Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen blog is a place to share “yummy organic recipes, thought provoking ideas and issues, organic gardening tips and techniques, recommendations for everyday happy and healthy living, and visits from (my) friends.”

(Oh, yeah.  Her day job is “chairman and CEO of the largest independent publisher left in America.”)

Maria has just posted her 3rd annual “Top 10 Farm-to-Table Restaurants” list.  Her criteria is simple:  “locally sourced organic food, cleanly cooked; not too pretentious; and most important of all, delicious and yummiful!”

There, sitting at the top of the list — above Back Forty, New Leaf Cafe and Rouge Tomate in New York; above Prairie Fire in Chicago; above even the Inn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee and (of course) Weczeria in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — sits our humble little Dressing Room.

“Chef Michel Nischan and his lovely wife Laurie serve food grown from their own garden,” Maria writes.  She adds:

But most important, it’s comfort food cooked with love and passion.  I’ve been meaning to get here for years, and it turned out to be an easy on/off from the highway on the way up to Maine.  The salad is divine.  Corn bread with honey?!  YUM.   Ribs.  And the cold cucumber soup was amazing, too.  I highly recommend you find your way here.

Westporters (and those from much further away — like Maria) have been finding their way to the tucked-away-next-to-the-Playhouse Dressing Room ever since it opened.

If you haven’t been there, too bad.  Besides the $19 meatloaf, the menu includes artisan cheeses, awesome salads, “cast iron corn bread,” raised-right-around-here oysters, lobster and swordfish, and a “heritage pork plate.”

If you’re really inspired, you can go tonight.  A special Christmas Eve menu includes stuffed leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes and pan jus, and seared duck breast with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, brussels sprouts and an orange jus.

Tell ’em Maria sent you.

RSA Takes Root

Farmers like to grow things.  They don’t like to market, advertise and transport them.

Bill Taibe likes to cook.  He loves using local ingredients — the fresher the better.

The convergence of area farmers and Taibe is good news for diners — and not just fans of Le Farm, Taibe’s Colonial Green restaurant that earns raves for showcasing market-based food cooked and presented in a homey, comfortable and very sustainable atmosphere.

Bill Taibe wears his convictions on his chest.

Thanks to RSA — “Restaurant Supported Agriculture,” a concept that Taibe knows needs a zippier name — 5 local restaurants now offer the best in local products.  Banding together, they guarantee farmers a market for their goods.

Promising to buy takes pressure off the farmers.  They reciprocate by planting what the chefs request.  Make no mistake:  It’s not just lettuce, tomatoes and corn anymore.

Taibe — who built 2 previous restaurants on the barter system, and admits he “may have been born in the wrong century” — explains that RSA is based on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model currently enjoyed by many Westporters at the Wakeman Town Farm.

RSA is less structured –shares are not bought in advance from farmers — but the concept is similar.

Once a week — via the Green Village Initiative — 5 restaurants (Le Farm, the Boathouse and Dressing Room in Westport, plus Wilton’s Schoolhouse and Fat Cat Pie Company in Norwalk) receive a list from local growers of whatever’s ripe.

By 4 p.m. each Monday the chefs respond with their own list:  what they want.

The farmers pick the crops on Tuesday morning; by 2:30 that afternoon GVI volunteers have gathered it, transported it back to Wakeman Farm, and it’s ready for pick-up by the restaurateurs.

“We sit around there for half an hour talking, eating each other’s tomatoes, and sharing ideas,” Taibe says.  “It’s fantastic.  Do you know how hard it is to get 5 chefs together any time?”

Then they head back to their restaurants, to cook.

Taibe enjoys working with RSA partners. “There’s a lot of jealousy and competition in this business,” he admits.  “But people don’t eat at just 1 restaurant.  They go to other places.  I prefer they go to places with like-minded owners and chefs.”

Taibe gives huge props to GVI.  “They get nothing out of this, other than fulfilling their passion.  I only wish to be so good-hearted.”

He also loves the “circular economy” that RSA helps develop.

“This gives hard-working farmers a guaranteed place to sell their products,” Taibe says.  “If we can get them delivered to us, they can stay and do what they do best.  And not worry about the rest.”

The Hickories in Ridgefield and Stone Gardens in Shelton are RSA’s 1st mainstay farms.  Soon, Taibe hopes to add milk, cheeses — and maybe protein and livestock — to the list of farms.

Right now, he says, “We need farmers to trust us, so they can plant what we want.  Everyone today grows a lot of the little stuff — kale, bell peppers, whatever’s safe.  We want to branch out.

“The key is for us to guarantee we’ll purchase what they buy.”

He hopes to continue the concept through the winter.  “Farmers have greenhouses,” he notes.  “We’ll keep getting products from around the state.”

RSA is, Taibe says, “a really simple formula.  It’s sure to grow.”

And, like all the food prepared and served so freshly and creatively at the 5 RSA restaurants, it will grow with love, care and goodness.