Tag Archives: The Whelk

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

Remembering Jessica Shure

Jessica Shure — a Staples Players star in productions like “Guys and Dolls,” “Mame,” “The Mystery of  Edwin Drood” and “The Sound of Music” — died on Wednesday of a brain aneurysm.

The 2001 graduate is remembered by Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long for her “exceptional soprano voice, quirky sense of humor and devotion to musical theatre.” Here she is as Deirdre Peregrine/Rosa Bud in “Drood”:

As a senior, she performed a memorable spring concert solo with Alice Lipson’s choir.

She headed to Northwestern University and pursued acting after Staples, then changed careers and focused on food. She became a valued pastry chef at Bill Taibe’s Whelk and Kawa Ni. (Click here for a profile of her there.)

Jessica Shure (Photo courtesy of CTEatsOut.com)

Friends are invited to stop by the Shure house today (Saturday, December 30), from 1 to 6 p.m.

Her sister Caitlin and brother Dan suggest that contributions in her name can be made to a local animal shelter or the American Civil Liberties Union,

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Saugatuck Redevelopment Schedule Set

In his twin roles as RTM member and executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Matthew Mandell keeps his eye on the town.

He wants everyone to know what’s happening with redevelopment plans for Saugatuck — the RTM district he represents. Yesterday, he told constituents that the study committee will meet — without the consultants — this Tuesday (December 19, 8 a.m., Town Hall Room 201).

The public may attend, and will be given the option to speak. However, Mandell says, “It might take a bit to get to you. I think the committee will have a lot to talk about.”

He included a link to the Executive Summary (click here to read).

A map in the Executive Summary shows possible developments in Saugatuck.

Three days later — on December 22 — consultants will submit the draft report/plan to the town.

Mandell says, “Personally, I think this might be too quick, figuring there might be a whole slew of changes and requests from the committee. But hey, it’s a goal from the chairs.”

On January 11 (Town Hall, 8 a.m.), the committee and consultants will discuss the plan.

A public evening session is set for January 22 (7 p.m.).

The final draft will be submitted to the town on February 2. Three days later — 9 days before the deadline — it will be submitted to the state.

Mandell says there is one thing he has not seen: when the committee itself votes on the plan.

The previous redevelopment of Saugatuck brought a retail/residential complex that includes The Whelk, Saugatuck Sweets, Downunder and 20 apartments. It is separate from the new redevelopment plan.

Ryan Fibiger Crafts Quite A Business

Less than 5 years ago, owner Ryan Fibiger was carrying a whole pig from his van to his new shop: Saugatuck Craft Butchery.

A startled passerby called the cops.

The officer who arrived heard Fibiger describe his new venture: a shop dedicated to “better sourcing and better butchery.” The world deserves a sustainable alternative to factory farming, he said, and he planned to lead the charge through innovative ideas and traditional practices.

The policeman was fascinated. He stayed, looked around, and became one more convert to the better-butcher-store cause.

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Ryan Fibiger, hard at work.

A lot has changed since that November 2011 day. The store grew, moved across Riverside Avenue and expanded. Fibiger and partner Paul Nessel merged with Fleishers Craft Butchery, and took on the new name.

Perhaps most importantly, they educated customers about humane treatment of animals, hundreds of types of meat cuts, and the incredibly flavorful joys of cooking the craft butchery way.

Along the way, Fibiger’s store became first a pioneer, then a mainstay of the new Saugatuck Center — and a destination for food lovers throughout Fairfield County.

Including, improbably, plenty of former vegetarians.

fleishers-logoThe story begins when Fibiger realized he hated his work as a banker/consultant, and had to get out. He found a Kingston, New York company — Fleishers — that was  committed to the art of butchery as a means for improving and growing a strong food community.

He apprenticed for 6 months, then opened his own store. It was a small operation — just he, Nessel and a couple of employees — but it was fresh, different, and a key to the nascent redevelopment project on the Saugatuck River plaza.

Customers saw — in addition to the owner hauling a pig on his shoulder — whole lambs on the counter. All the butchering was done out in the open, in full view of the store.

Some people were horrified. But those who stuck around learned about a lost art.

“Westport really embraced us,” Fibiger says. “We grew up in this community.”

Westporters grew up too.

“Most people are disconnected from where their food comes from,” Fibiger notes. “They’re disconnected from meat itself. They see it in a nice package on the grocery shelf. They recognize a few cuts. But there are hundreds of them.”

Fleishers' high-quality meat...

Fleishers’ high-quality meat…

“Whole animal butchery” is based on an old European model. Older customers tell Fibiger, “I haven’t seen that in 50 years.”

Fleishers — the Westport shop is now part of 5 in the small chain — sources from “real farms,” not feed lots.

...comes from humanely raised livestock.

…comes from humanely raised livestock.

As the store grew, so did the area around it. The Whelk opened across the plaza; Saugatuck Craft developed a partnership with owner Bill Taibe.

At first, the Saugatuck location was a risk. No one was certain the new development would succeed.

But now it’s hot. And, Fibiger notes, “I don’t think Main Street would have been right for us. It’s not where people shop for food.”

Food shoppers appreciate more than just Fleishers’ high-quality meat, and all-out-in-the-open butchering practices.

Every employee has an intimate knowledge of farms. They visit, talk to farmers, and see livestock being raised.

Fibiger is passionate about his store, his process, his accessible price points, his “insane transparency,” his meat and his customers.

But he has a special spot in his heart for kids.

In just 5 years, they’ve gone from being shielded by their parents from watching butchering, to being brought behind the counter to watch every step. They’re the future — of eating well, while supporting sustainable agriculture and humane practices — and Fibiger does his part to make sure they understand all that entails.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Something else has happened too. “Whether it’s medical or personal reasons, vegetarians are starting to eat meat again,” the owner says.

“They love coming to us. We talk about the humane treatment of animals. There are a lot of ‘ethical vegetarians’ out there. We share their values.”

Fibiger is proud that they trust him. He’s thrilled to celebrate his 5th year anniversary in Saugatuck. But like any good businessman, he’s always looking to improve.

Fleishers’ interior was recently updated. New products and cases were added. The restaurant is gaining momentum, as former chef Emily Mingrone — adored by the community — has returned. She plans exciting menu changes and dinner events this fall.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

And Fibiger just started working with a Pennsylvania lamb farm whose only other customers are 3-Michelin-star restaurants.

“We’re glad to be here,” Ryan Fibiger says, referring both to Saugatuck and “the romance of Westport.” He adds,  “We’re really glad that so many people understand and embrace what we do.”

Fleishers Craft Butchery is here for the long haul — and the whole hog.

Bill Taibe Honors Yesterday, Tomorrow

Starting with Le Farm — and continuing through the Whelk and Kawa Ni — Bill Taibe has offered diners 3 very different visions of what a great restaurant can be.

Now he’s preparing a new space.

It’s in Westport’s original Town Hall: the 1908 stone building next to Restoration Hardware on the Post Road, opposite Patagonia. The building already houses another dining spot — Rothbard Ale + Larder — in the lower level (once the town’s police headquarters, including a jail).

Westport's original Town Hall, on the Post Road next to Restoration Hardware. It's now home to Rothbard Ale + Lager -- and, soon, a new Bill Taibe restaurant.

Westport’s original Town Hall, on the Post Road next to Restoration Hardware. It’s now home to Rothbard Ale + Larder — and, soon, a new Bill Taibe restaurant.

Even as he builds, Bill is not sure of the menu. The other day, CTBites reported:

“Westport needs a real old time tavern,” Taibe told us. Unlike his other restaurants, there will likely be few twists, no high wire acts. “This menu would probably not be as aggressive,” he suggested. “Unlike the Whelk and Kawa Ni, we’d even have red meat.”

He loves the downtown location, and the site’s historic bones. So even though his new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant is a work in progress, Bill knows one thing.

He’s asking Westporters for old photos of the 1st Town Hall. You can donate other memorabilia too: menus or anything else from produce markets, shops, butchers, bakers, and fish mongers.

You can find him at wtaibe@aol.com.

Or any of his restaurants, current or future.

(Hat tip: Johanna Rossi)

Adieu, Le Farm

Six years ago, Bill Taibe opened Le Farm.

Encouraged by the success of Michel Nischan and The Dressing Room, the noted chef saw in the narrow Colonial Green space a chance to open his own seasonal, locally sourced restaurant in a town he felt would support the concept.

Westport did. From the time it opened, Le Farm was busy and vibrant.

Bill Taibe

Bill Taibe

But after a few years, Taibe was no longer its working chef. He opened The Whelk, featuring sustainable seafood and local produce in the newly developed Saugatuck Center.

An immediate success, that spawned Taibe’s 3rd restaurant: Kawa Ni, a creative Japanese-fusion place around the corner, in Bridge Square.

Now Taibe is back to only 2 Westport restaurants. Despite its success, he closed Le Farm. He felt he’d reached his goals there, and now wants to serve more people than he could in just an 850-square-foot space. He has embraced the title of “restaurateur.”

“I’m 40 years old,” he says. “I started working in a butcher shop at 16, and in restaurants at 20. I find great joy in finding great chefs. These days, I’m more of a ‘creative director.’ Le Farm no longer fit in that plan.”

Le Farm, in Colonial Green.

Le Farm, in Colonial Green.

He did not just dump the spot, though. He sold it to Brian Lewis, an excellent chef at Elm in New Canaan, who had been looking for his own restaurant.

“He’s super-talented, and sources his food well,” Taibe says. Lewis will open a new restaurant there in mid- to late-November.

It will be “a cool, casual incarnation” of the space, Taibe adds. “He may add more of a bar.”

It won’t be called Le Farm., though. Taibe retains rights to that name.

“There were lots of tears when I told the staff and customers,” Taibe says of the closing. “It’s a special place, and it’s important to a lot of people.”

Meanwhile, he’s on a hunt for his next — and bigger — Westport property.

Slicing Through Saugatuck

You never realize how many restaurants are in Saugatuck — until they start giving away free* food.

Viva’s, Julian’s, Rizzuto’s, Tutti’s; the Whelk, the Duck, Rainbow Thai and Tarry Lodge — all those and more handed out their specialties at today’s Slice of Saugatuck.

Add in Saugatuck Sweets, Garelick & Herbs, Craft Butchery — plus Dunkin’ Donuts and the Mobil Mini-Mart — and it’s a good thing there was lots of walking.

Today’s Slice also featured musical bands of kids and kids-at-heart; a steel band and calypso band (different spots); a bouncy house, and much more.

The only party poopers were a couple of restaurants that opted not to participate. And the private parking lot across from Dunville’s was completely closed, even though most tenants have fled.

That’s okay. We can deal. And if you’re reading this before 3 p.m. Saturday, stop! You’ve still got time for the Slice. It runs until then.

PS: Bands play at Luciano Park until 5.

*With the purchase of a $10 ticket.

Tutti's went all out -- and had some of the longest lines.

Tutti’s went all out to offer great food.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play on the plaza.

What kid doesn't like getting in a fire truck?

What kid doesn’t like getting in a fire truck?

Harvest does not take over the old Mario's spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Harvest does not take over the old Mario’s spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been part of the Slice.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been heading to the Slice.

Tarry Lodge was big on desserts.

Tarry Lodge was big on faro salad.

A young visitors checks off every restaurant she visited.

A young visitor checks off every restaurant she visited.

Patching Together Westport’s Top 10 Restaurants

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.

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.

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?”*

Westport's 5th favorite restaurant. (Photos/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

Westport’s 5th favorite restaurant. (Photos/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

#4 is Finalmente — that’s reasonable — but #3 is Westfair Fish & Chips.

Let me repeat that. The 3rd best restaurant in Westport is a place whose signature dish comes wrapped in newspaper.

Fortunately, Westport’s Top 2 are actual restaurants, with many devoted fans. The Whelk is #2, LeFarm is #1 — and Bill Taibe is a very happy man.

lefarm-logo

I know that ranking restaurants is subjective. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, to use a pretty gross but nonetheless apt saying.

Westport Patch invited readers to comment on Yelp’s Top 10 list. There were none.

I bet there will be a few here on “06880.”

*Around the last time you clicked on Westport Patch for the latest town news.

 

 

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.