Last week’s Photo Challenge was a good one. David Loffredo’s clever image showed the tiled plaza by the Saugatuck River, viewed directly from above on the patio between The Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets. (Click here to see.)
Unfortunately, sussing out the scene was lower on most readers’ lists than clearing debris, tossing food from the fridge, and otherwise dealing with the zillion chores and inconveniences that come with a major power outage.
There were just 3 responses. Fred Cantor had the lone correct answer. And he lives in Southern California.
Now that the juice is back on: Try this week’s Photo Challenge. We’re easing back into things with an easy one. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
Looking for a list of open restaurants and delis — those with outdoor dining, along with takeout and delivery?
The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce has you covered.
They maintain an up-to-date list. Click here for their website. As of this morning, the list included Arezzo, Bartaco, The Boathouse, Calise’s Market, Granola Bar, GG & Joe (the new acai bowl spot in Parker Harding Plaza, near TD Bank), Joe’s Pizza, Little Barn, The Naan, Pearl at Longshore, Rive Bistro, Rizzuto’s, Romanacci Xpress, Spotted Horse, Viva Zapata and The Whelk.
The Chamber site also includes FAQs, applications, and rules and regulations for restaurant owners.
There’s also this: a great new logo. It was created by (of course!) Westport’s go-to graphic designer, Miggs Burroughs.
On the long list of things people really, really want, then never look at again after wearing them once, the only thing less than a wedding dress is a graduation gown.
Except now. That goofy, floor-length outfit could save a life.
As healthcare workers lack personal protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19, they grab anything they can think of. Even trash bags.
Graduation gowns are a lot more effective than that. They cover legs and arms, and offer easy zipper access.
The Gowns4Good program provides graduation gowns to the men and women who desperately need them. Whether yours from years ago is gathering dust somewhere, or yours is spanking new for that less-than-raucous, socially distant 2020 ceremony: It can help.
Just click here. Fill out a short form. Select a medical facility from the dropdown list (pro tip: the closest to Westport is Stamford Hospital). Submit.
You’ll get an email back, with instructions on how to ship your gown.
Whether you graduated first in your class or last, you know: This is a very smart idea! (Hat tip: Becky Acselrod)
Despite the cigar smoke, these gowns will be useful.
Talk about “burying the lede”!
At the bottom of an email sent yesterday announcing new outdoor hours for The Whelk (Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m.), and the opening of a new Kawa Ni patio in “the next few days,” there was this momentous news from Bill Taibe’s group:
“With the seismic change that is happening in the world, we look at this as an opportunity to pivot and grow. Over the next few weeks Jesup Hall will evolve into Don Memo.
“While it is bittersweet to say goodbye to Jesup Hall, it is so exciting to create this new concept and be able to bring what we love about this cuisine and culture to downtown Westport. See you soon!”
“06880” will keep you posted. One thing is for sure: Don Memo won’t have to worry about creating outdoor seating. The patio in front of the old stone building next to Restoration Hardware — Westport’s original Town Hall — is already perfect.
Jesup Hall, soon to be Don Memo, aka the old Town Hall.
Westport’s Parks & Rec Department is posting clever new signs at their facilities around town.
Good thing they didn’t try to spell out “Recreation.”
If you wander by Jeff Franzel’s Saugatuck Island house any Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., you may hear him playing piano.
But you don’t have to live here to hear Jeff. His listeners span the globe, via Facebook Live. They suggest themes; he improvises. Original songs, plus those by Elton John, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish — he plays them all.
And very well. The Westport native has quite a resume. He’s played piano for the Hues Corporation (“Rock the Boat”), Les Brown, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme and Bob Hope. He wrote hits like “Don’t Rush Me” for Taylor Dayne, and others for the Temptations, NSYNC, Shawn Colvin, Josh Groban, Placido Domingo and Clay Aiken. He mentors songwriters around the world, and brings some to his Songwriting Academy, at his home.
Intrigued? You’re in luck: Today is Thursday. Click here at 5 p.m., for Jeff’s 10th concert.
Looking for a good read — and podcast? Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer interviews Westporter Emily Liebert. Her 6th novel, “Perfectly Famous,” will be published June 2.
And finally … it will be a while before we get 400,000 people together in one place.
Or even 40.
But the Youngbloods’ message is as relevant today as it was more than half a century (!) ago.
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)
A press release from the Selectman’s Office notes only that the town’s “annual tree lighting” ceremony will take place at Town Hall this Thursday (November 29, 5 p.m.).
Of course, the tree to be lit is a fir tree. You connect the dots.
It’s a fun, festive, kid-friendly event. The Staples High School Orphenians sing “seasonal” songs.
First Selectman Jim Marpe — and a bunch of little kids — lit the tree in front of Town Hall last year. Then came photo opps.
Speaking of Town Hall trees, this year the “Heritage Tree” — a longtime fixture in the building’s lobby — moves across Myrtle Avenue to the Westport Historical Society.
Each year, local artists add ornaments (yes, it’s that kind of tree). Past contributors include Mel Casson, Randy Enos, Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Leonard Everett Fisher, Jean Woodham and Hilda Kraus.
This year’s ornament comes courtesy of Victoria Kann. The author/illustrator of the popular “Pinkalicious” book series is a longtime Westporter.
Kids can help decorate the Heritage Tree this Saturday (December 1, 1 p.m.). Kann will read from one of her holiday-themed books (and sign them). Snacks will be served too.
The Heritage Tree — shown last year in the Town Hall lobby — moves across the street to the Westport Historical Society.
The next day — Sunday, December 2 — another tree lighting takes place. It’s at the Saugatuck Center plaza, between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. Everyone is asked to bring unwrapped toys for children 10 and under. Al’s Angels wrap and deliver them to needy kids.
It’s set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Santa arrives at 5:15 — so I’m on safe ground calling this an actual “Christmas” tree lighting.
And the 28th annual Tree of Light ceremony will be held Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. It honors the memories of family members and friends who have died.
The site is Saugatuck Congregational Church. So, yeah: That’s a Christmas tree lighting too.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
The 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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 + 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.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)