A tantalizing banquet of culinary treats proved amazingly appetizing to a crowd of 300 Thursday at the 9th annual A Taste of Westport, a fundraiser for the non-profit CLASP Homes.
Attendees at the event in the Westport Inn feasted on bite-sized gourmet fare from more than two dozen local restaurants, food markets, bakeries and other food enterprises, and washed down their food with Black Bear wines, Beaver Beer and Onyx Moonshine. Dessert was courtesy of Michele's Pies and Blue Lemon, the latter of which served cranberry, chocolate and almond biscotti.
Saugatuck Craft Butchery was a big draw as owner and head butcher Ryan Fibiger and resident chef Mark Heppermann dismantled a pig into various cuts.
"I almost can't look. It's like a horror movie I saw," one person said. But most people were fascinated to see where their pork chops, bacon and pork shoulder cuts originate.
"Not since I was a child did I see people butchering meat," said Patty Richards, vice president of quality control for CLASP Homes. Richards said the organization encourages the residents of its supportive housing to shop at local farmer markets and make nutritionally sound choices.
Located at the table next to the butcher shop was a booth from Bobby Q's restaurant, which served pulled pork.
"Before and after," joked Bobby Q's Chef Tim Doherty as he gestured to the pig carcass and the food he was serving.
Other offerings included steak tartar, risotto cake topped with shredded Brussels sprouts and a salad of faro, beet, kale and fresh-made ricotta cheese. There was tuna sushi from Matsu Sushi, raw clams and oysters from Westport Aquaculture, and beet and ginger soup from Aux Delices Bistro.
Pietro Scotti, who has participated in all nine A Taste of Westport events, served stuffed Portobello mushrooms and beet salad from the table of his DaPietro's restaurant. Michel Nischan's The Dressing Room, a first-time participant, served pulled pork sliders with pickled tomatillos and ramp butter.
"It's good to get out and show our support for the community, and it gets people to know where we are," said Jon Vaast, executive chef of The Dressing Room, which is next to the Westport Country Playhouse.
A not-yet-opened restaurant took advantage of the event for some advanced publicity. Post 154 will not open in the former downtown Post Office building at 154 Post Road East until mid-June, but the restaurant's managers, Bob and Dawn O'Keefe, and executive chef Alex Rodriguez, were there serving lobster quesadillas; a hint of things to come.
There were some first-time diners, too. "This is my first time at this event, but I'm a longtime supporter of CLASP. I'm going to come every year now. This is great," said Alan Eugley of Westport.
Will Tennant, a Westport lawyer, was attending his fifth Taste of Westport event. Tennant, who has a brother with special needs, said, "I'm interested in supporting CLASP Homes because of that."
CLASP Homes, which celebrates its 31st anniversary this year, manages 12 group homes throughout Fairfield County including four in Fairfield and four in Westport, and nine apartments that provide housing for 80 men and women with autism and developmental disabilities.
Robin Hammond, CLASP's development director, called this year's A Taste of Westport "the best yet."
Tracy Flood, the organization's president, said the interest was so great that planners had to turn away some restaurant owners who wanted to be involved. "That was the first time we had to do that," she said. Among the participating businesses were familiar names like Blue Lemon and Garelick & Herb. Several new entries brought new flavors into the sampling mix, Flood said.
Last year's Taste of Westport raised $40,000 and Flood hopes this year's event will raise $50,000. A final figure was not immediately available. Proceeds will support CLASP Home's residential, recreational and vocational programs.
For more information about CLASP Homes, visit www.clasphomes.org