Tag Archives: Westport Pizzeria

Westport Pizzeria Parties Like It’s 1968

In October 1968, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey battled it out for the presidency. Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave glove-and-fist black power salutes on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics. “Hey Jude” sat atop the record charts.

And on October 12, 1968 — its opening day of business — Westport Pizzeria sold a slice for 25 cents.

Joe and Mel Mioli, with a wai tress and customers in the early days.

In October 2018, we all know what happened after Nixon became president. We’ve seen how far our country’s race relations have progressed — and how much further we have to go. “Hey Jude” is still a great song.

It costs quite a bit more than a quarter to buy a slice these days. Westport Pizzeria is no longer an anchor on Main Street.

Westport Pizzera on Main Street. This photo could have been taken in 1968, or 2008.

But it hasn’t gone far — just around the corner, on Post Road East. And the special, basic-but-so-good recipe has never changed.

This Friday (October 12) the pizza place celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special deal: They’ll sell slices for 25 cents. Sodas are even cheaper: 15 cents.

In 1968, Westport Pizzeria was the only game in town. Now there’s competition everywhere, from thick-crust Planet and gourmet Tarry Lodge to train station Romanacci.

But the Mioli family — the founders and still the only owners of Westport Pizzeria — must be doing something right. A restaurant doesn’t last 50 years here on luck alone.

Some don’t even last 50 days.

Some things never change.

Restaurant Churn? Not These!

A recent “06880” photo of the Compo Beach palm tree got an alert — and hungry — reader thinking about lobster rolls.

That reminded her of clam chowder, which made her think of Westfair Fish & Chips. She’s been a fan ever since she was a student at Staples High School, back in the mid-1980s.

The small, unassuming takeout-or-eat-in spot behind the strip mall opposite Stop & Shop has been a Westport favorite for over 30 years. And that got the “06880” reader wondering about other restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Three decades is a great achievement for many things: a career, a marriage. But it’s particularly remarkable in the constant churn that is Westport’s restaurant scene.

She and I came up with a list of places we think have been here for at least 3 decades. They include:

Gold’s. The anchor of Compo Shopping Center since it opened in the late 1950s, and the anchor 6 decades later for anyone who loves a quintessential deli.

Viva Zapata. Probably the oldest continually operating restaurant in town, especially when you consider its predecessor, at the entrance to what is now Playhouse Square.

Westport Pizzeria. Opened in 1968 on Main Street, where it stood proud and unchanging for over 45 years, “Westport Pizza” moved around the corner to the Post Road in 2014. Its special recipe thankfully remains the same.

The Black Duck. A star turn on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has not changed this waterfront favorite one bit.

(Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Dunville’s. Around the corner from the Duck on Saugatuck Avenue, another down-home place that’s the same now as when its present owners grew up here.

Sherwood Diner. Or, simply, “the diner.” It’s no longer open 24/7, but is still the go-to spot for Staples High School seniors, senior citizens, every other human being in Westport, and anyone wandering in off nearby I-95.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Sakura. As steady as she goes. It — and the gorgeous cherry blossom tree outside, which gives the restaurant its name — has been a fixture opposite McDonald’s since the fast-food franchise was Roy Rogers. And before that, Big Top.

Fortuna’s. With limited seating, this is not really a restaurant. But stop quibbling. Its winning formula has filled the stomach of Staples students, Post Road workers and everyone else since the Ford administration.

Coffee An‘. If it’s good enough for Bill Clinton, it’s good enough for the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a president or a peon. The donuts are the same — unbelievable — for all.

Little Kitchen. When it opened on Main Street, it really was a “little kitchen.” Now it’s bigger, and the granddaddy of all Asian fusion places in town.

Da Pietro’s. One of Westport’s best — and smallest — restaurants, earning praise and love since 1987.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Tavern on Main. This cozy 2nd-floor Main Street spot has not been here as long as its predecessor, Chez Pierre — but it’s getting close.

I couldn’t find out for sure when a few other long-lived (though probably less than 3 decades) restaurants opened. But these too have stood the test of time: Tengda. Tarantino’s. Finalmente. Via Sforza. Planet Pizza. Tutti’s. Positano’s (at 2 different locations).

Special mention goes to 2 fantastic delis that offer a wide variety of hot and cold food, and serve as community centers: Elvira’s  and Christie’s Country Store. 

Plus, of course, Joey’s by the Shore. It’s not a restaurant or a deli. But the beach concession occupies its own special. much-loved niche. And if it hasn’t been here for 30 years, it’s at least 29.

Finally, 2 other downtown delis have been around for decades. They’ve changed names, and — particularly with one — substantially updated the interior.

But Rye Ridge (formerly Oscar’s) and Winfield Street Coffee (previously Art’s, and definitely not on Winfield Street but right over the bridge) keep doing what their predecessors have done.

And what every other place in this story does: provide excellent food and continuity to generations of Westporters.

(Have I missed any longtime restaurants or delis? Click “Comments” — and my apologies!)

Pizza Principles 101

For years, Westporters have watched Jacques Voris turn dough and tomato sauce into delicious pies at Westport Pizzeria. He figures he makes 25,000 a year.

Many are awed by his pizza-making skills. Others wonder: How hard could that be?

Everyone (age 13 and up) now has a chance to try. Voris and his restaurant are offering “Pizza Principles”: a (truly) hands-on class in pie-making.

There are sessions every Sunday this summer, from 10 a.m. to 11.

It’s a group activity (up to 3 people per group). Each makes its own pizza, from start to finish.

You won’t take your finished creation home, though.

You’ll eat it right there.

Jacques Voris, at work.

 

(The cost for each “Pizza Principles” group is $30 — and includes all ingredients. To register, click here.)

And The Pizza Winners Are…

Over 1,700 pizza lovers cast votes during last month’s Great Westport Pizza Contest.

Sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, 14 restaurants competed in 7 categories.

When the votes were tallied, you chose:

  • Best slice: Westport Pizzeria
  • Best plain pizza: Westport Pizzeria
  • Best meat pizza: Joe’s Pizza
  • Best gluten-free pizza:  Joe’s Pizza
  • Best veggie pizza: Tutti’s Ristorante
  • Best delivered pizza:  Jordan’s Restaurant
  • Best personal pizza: Rizzuto’s Restaurant and Toscano Pizzeria (tie)
  • Honorable mention:  Romanacci Pizza Bar and Planet Pizza lost by only 2 votes in the “Best personal pizza” and “Best delivered pizza” categories, respectively.

Mel Mioli’s Westport Pizzeria may have moved to the Post Road, after 45 years on Main Street. But it’s still a Westport favorite.

The victors did not get any dough — just the satisfaction of coming out on top (and free publicity).

Any way you slice it, the Great Westport Pizza Contest was a winner.

March was Westport Pizza Month. That’s not just an idea — it was an official proclamation from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (2nd from left). Joining him were (from left) Westport Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell; Ira Bloom of event sponsors Bercham Moses, and Joe Canicatti, owner of double winner Joe’s Pizza.

 

Friday Flashback #53

In 1979 2009 — as her 30th Staples High School reunion neared — Peggy Lehn made this collage:

Now — 8 years later — she dug it out of her garage, and sent it along.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. If you were in Westport then: How many of these places and things do you remember? Westport Pizzeria and Liberty Army Navy seem to be the only 2 stores still around.

If you were not here: What are you most curious about? I’m guessing the Minnybuses — and the bizarrely named S&M Pizza. (Trust me, nothing crazy went on there.)

Click “Comments” below to share memories — or ask questions.

End Of An Era: Safe Rides Shuts Down

SafeRides has saved its last life.

The program — which ran Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., providing free, confidential transportation home to any high school student in Westport — will not reopen in September.

Directors cite 2 reasons: lack of volunteers, and Uber.

SafeRides began in May, 2009. It was the inspiration of Staples High School senior Alex Dulin — a 1-girl tornado who had recently moved here from suburban Seattle. Just 5 months later, she received the 2009 Youth Leadership Award from the Connecticut Youth Services Association.

For nearly a decade, SafeRides thrived. A board of directors — all high school students — organized volunteer drivers. It was a lot of responsibility, with plenty of training.

SafeRides volunteers, waiting for calls.

But it was fun too. Working in a room donated by Christ & Holy Trinity Church — and munching on pizzas delivered free every week by Westport Pizzeria — dispatchers and drivers ferried teenagers too drunk (or otherwise incapable or unable) to get in a car, from parties or friends’ houses back home.

There was plenty of support. The Westport Police Department backed the program. Kiwanis Club provided an insurance policy. And Westport Wash & Wax offered free cleaning to any driver whose passenger got sick. (It happened a few times.)

But starting last year, numbers — of volunteers and riders — dropped drastically.

A year ago there were 7, 10, 12 calls a night — with 12, 15 or 18 riders. Now there were just 1 or 2 calls, with 2 or 3 riders.

Several times this past school year — lacking enough volunteer supervisors, dispatchers and drivers — SafeRides did not operate.

“The kids on the board tried hard to keep it going. A lot of people tried,” SafeRides president Maureen Coogan says. “There just weren’t the numbers.”

She noted that  SafeRides collected users’ cell numbers — and would only drive teenagers home, not to another party, the diner or McDonald’s.

Uber has none of those requirements. It often arrived quicker than SafeRides.

And — by using a parent’s credit card — Uber seemed as “free” as SafeRides actually was.

“It’s sad for kids who don’t have their parent’s credit card,” Coogan says. “What are we showing our kids — that it’s okay to take their parent’s credit card and do whatever they want?

“And for the community, it’s sad. My daughter had a blast volunteering with her friends. It’s sad that kids will grow up without that sense of giving up a couple of Saturday nights, to volunteer.”

There’s no way of knowing how many lives SafeRides saved. But Westport has not had a teenage traffic fatality in many years. It certainly worked.

Now saving lives is Uber’s responsibility.

Sconset Square/Post Road Redevelopment: The Sequel

Sunday’s post described a new vision of downtown Westport.

It explained that David Waldman — the Westport-based developer who conceived of and completed Bedford Square — is under contract to buy both Sconset Square and 155 Post Road East. They’re contiguous properties: Sconset is the small shopping center off Myrtle Avenue with stores like Bungalow and Le Penguin restaurant, while 155 Post Road is the cement building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

(Though the Westport Pizzeria building may at some point be part of some deal in some way, don’t worry: It’s open, and will be for the foreseeable future.)

If Waldman buys #155 and Sconset Square, parking areas behind them could be utilized more efficiently. And #155 could potentially house organizations like the Westport Arts Center and Westport Cinema Initiative

155 Post Road East, across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

That story generated a decent number of comments. But because Sunday was Easter — and the most beautiful day of the year — it may not have reached every “06880” reader.

And not everyone with an opinion might have responded.

A few town officials asked if I thought the comments posted — generally positive, some not — reflect the feeling of most Westporters.

I have no idea.

So here’s another opportunity to respond. Click “Comments” below.

This is far from the final word, of course. But on a matter like this, the more voices, the merrier.

Sconset Square. Redevelopment of the area could open the backs of the existing stores to shoppers too.

Jeera Thai: The Downtown Secret Is Out

It takes courage to open a (non-Italian) restaurant in Westport. In a small space.

In January.

But plenty of Westporters are glad that Darapon Wongchame — you can call her Dara, or Pook — did.

A year ago this month, the Thai native welcomed diners to Jeera Thai. Located next to Finalmente — opposite the old post office/aka the enormous and now shuttered Post 154 — it proves that a wonderful, authentic restaurant can succeed in a tiny space.

Jeera Thai, nestled in a small space off the Post Road.

Jeera Thai, nestled in a small space off the Post Road.

Pook does not have a lot of money to advertise (though she donates generously to every fundraiser that asks for a gift card or ad, and bought a booth at last summer’s Downtown Arts Festival). Success has come largely through word of mouth.

Because the mouths that Jeera Thai feeds love every savory bite.

Boards list the specials in Thai and English.

Boards list the specials in Thai and English.

Pook was born near the Mekong River. She came to the US in 1992, and helped her family with their restaurants in New Haven and Guilford. (Her mother — “a great cook” — taught her well.)

She laughs that she came to Westport for the shopping. But she found the people here “very nice, friendly, kind and helpful.” When she spotted the space available next to Finalmente, she did not hesitate.

Pook likes the location, on the busy Post Road in the heart of downtown. She trusted her instinct that her menu — truly authentic  Thai food, not watered down for the American palate — would resonate with Westporters.

It has. “People here have open minds,” Pook says. “They travel a lot. If food is not cooked right, they know.”

Her customers are “smart eaters. They don’t just swallow things down.” Many are pleased that her dishes can be vegan, and gluten-free.

Pook uses “correct” herbs. She pays a bit more to import brands from Thailand. Other ingredients come from New York, where there is a robust Thai dining scene.

Clockwise from top: Su Kho Thai, a very spicy noodle soup; curry puffs (chicken with cucumber sauce); Bangkok Stir Fry, another spicy and wonderful dish.

Clockwise from top: Su Kho Thai, a very spicy noodle soup; curry puffs (chicken, potato, onion with cucumber sauce); red jasmine rice; Bangkok Stir Fry, another wonderfully spicy dish; ginger tea.

Much of her business is takeout. She also delivers via UberEATS. (It’s expensive for her, but she wants to make customers happy.)

There is seating for 30. Pook has no liquor license, but diners can bring their own drinks.

In just a year, Jeera Thai has become an integral part of Westport’s dining scene. Pook’s customers have made her feel welcome — and she loves them back.

Meanwhile, she has adapted well to our town. Like any local, whenever she craves a certain food, she heads right over to her neighbor: Westport Pizzeria.

(For more information on Jeera Thai — including the menu — click here.)

Pook Wongchame (right) with 2 of her staff (from left): Yada Nakarnchintranath and Nena Vong.

Pook Wongchame (right) with 2 of her staff (from left): Yada Nakarnchintranath and Nena Vong.

Kevin O’Brien Returns To Westport Pizzeria

As promised this morning, Kevin O’Brien — the once-homeless Westport teenager who turned his life around — came back to town today.

One of his dreams was to visit Westport Pizzeria. As noted in an “06880” post earlier this month, Kevin once subsisted on 25-cent slices, not far from “Needle Park” where he spent his nights.

A couple of years ago the pizzeria moved around the corner, from Main Street to the Post Road. But the slices taste the same. And this afternoon, owner Mel Mioli was there to greet Kevin.

Kevin O'Brien (left) and Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. (Photo/Jack Whittle)

Kevin O’Brien (left) and Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. (Photo/Jack Whittle)

Kevin is no longer homeless. He’ll spend tonight at the home of an “06880” reader, who reached out to him after reading his story.

Westport has changed a great deal since 1970, when Kevin was a kid.

Some of those changes are great. Others — not so much.

But we’re still a place that draws folks back. And once they’re here, it’s nice to know we still draw them close in.

Kevin O’Brien Remembers Needle Park

I’m often surprised how far this “06880” blog reaches. Approximately 1/3 of our readers are former Westporters, living all around the globe. Most have fond memories of growing up here. Otherwise, they would not be interested in what happens here today.

Of course, everyone has a story. It’s important to remember that not all of them are wonderful and rosy.

The other day, I got an astonishing email. I don’t know Kevin O’Brien. Yet his tale — which he allowed me to share — is like nothing I’ve heard before.

But — at least as much as everyone else’s — it needs to be told.

—————————————-

I lived in Westport 45 years ago. After dropping out of Staples High School, my sister kicked me out of her house.

I was a hippie type. I slept in Needle Park [the former hangout — now a concrete plaza — on the northwest corner of Main Street and the Post Road, across from the old YMCA Bedford Building], on a bench in the snow.

A kind young policeman sometimes checked on me to make sure I hadn’t frozen to death. I had just turned 17.

"Needle Park," circa 1970.

“Needle Park,” circa 1970.

Across from Needle Park was a diner. Early in the morning, rolls were delivered. If I hadn’t eaten in a while, I’d pilfer one.

I sometimes panhandled for change at Needle Park. If I got 25 cents I’d get a huge slice at Westport Pizzeria. When I wasn’t lucky I used kitchen packets and hot water to make “tomato soup.”

I was 6-1, 140 pounds. I often went days without eating.

I volunteered at the telephone hotline crisis intervention center in the Y basement. Seasonally, I worked directing parking at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Kevin O'Brien celebrating Christmas in Westport, 1970.

Kevin O’Brien (center) celebrates Christmas in Westport, 1970.

We had a group of mainly homeless friends we called The Family. I miss friends like Susan Burke and her sister Sarah, and Helen “Cricket” Wooten, none of whom I’ve seen since then.

Two other friends were Dee Dee and Marie. They occasionally used heroin, which was everywhere in Westport. I would like to find either of them.

For a while we rented the upstairs and attic at 35 Post Road West, across the foot of Wright Street.

We sometimes hung out at Devil’s Den, and imagined the dragon/troll that lived under the bridge.

There were seemingly a lot of aimless, homeless kids back then. Celebs like Paul Newman and many more never stopped or tried to help any of them. I never understood that. They were all very charitable, just not in their own hometown where kids really needed help.

As tough as life could be, especially in winter, I loved Westport and have many fond memories. I guess it’s the difference between experiencing all that at age 17 and 18, rather than age 62.

I’m brokenhearted to see what happened to Needle Park (on Google Maps street view). I’m glad the pizzeria is still there, even at a different spot. On a visit in the ’80s I left notes written on paper plates for lost friends on the wall behind the counter, but never heard from anyone.

Kevin O'Brien, in the Navy.

Kevin O’Brien, in the Navy.

Eventually I left Westport and returned to Florida. A few years later I enlisted in the Navy. After 10 years of senior enlisted service I was given a meritorious commission as an officer.

I retired from the Navy in 1998, was elected to city council, and became vice president/director of operations for an international corporation in Georgia. I later retired for good, and moved to North Carolina.

I’m planning a visit to Westport in a couple of weeks, on the way back from a road trip through New England. Having developed some serious health issues, this is a bucket list trip for me. Westport is a chief stop. God bless Westport.

I guess I’m living proof that a homeless, aimless kid living on the street in Westport can turn out okay.