Batali's Tarry Lodge adds celebrity heat to Westport cuisine scene
Updated 10:46 am, Friday, July 22, 2011
The latest restaurant from celebrity chef Mario Batali fired up in the town's Saugatuck neighborhood this week, as hundreds of epicureans descended on the new Tarry Lodge Enoteca Pizzeria.
The 100-seat restaurant on Charles Street, which formally opened to the public Tuesday, was fully booked Wednesday night. Patrons streamed in throughout the evening to sample the Tarry Lodge's pizza, pasta and wine offerings. The bar next to the wood-fired pizza oven proved a particularly popular spot, as children and adults alike stared at the pizzas being hoisted into the oven's flames.
"We want to be considered your go-to neighborhood restaurant," said Nancy Selzer, a managing partner in the restaurant. "We're trying to give the best possible experience in a fun environment."
Batali and business partner Joe Bastianich opened the first Tarry Lodge restaurant in Port Chester, N.Y., in 2008, followed by the Tarry Market last year. The Westport restaurant is the Batali partnership's first in Connecticut.
Batali owns 17 restaurants in the New York City area, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, including Babbo, Del Posto, Esca and Eataly NYC. In February, Batali and partners acquired the Saugatuck property for $900,000, according to Town Clerk's Office records. The site had been vacant since the April 2010 closing of the Abbondanza specialty food store and catering service and Bonda restaurant.
The Westport Tarry Lodge, Selzer said, represents a "casual reinterpretation" of the first Tarry Lodge restaurant.
Housed in a building that was once an automobile garage, the Westport Tarry Lodge also incorporates industrial elements in its decor and features bars made from steel and marble. Outside, the new Tarry Lodge has 22 on-site parking spaces.
Selzer is a longstanding business partner of Batali and is also a member of the management team for the Port Chester Tarry Lodge. She is joined in Westport by another management veteran of the Port Chester restaurant, Mike Cirillo, who is now general manager at the new Tarry Lodge.
"People are enjoying their food, and we've had a really good reception so far," Cirillo said. "Hopefully, we'll be here for a long time."
The new Tarry Lodge's opening reflects the emergence of an increasingly vibrant dining scene in Westport.
On Wednesday, the Shake Shack burger chain opened an outlet at 1849 Post Road East.
And another high-profile eatery will open within the next year, after the owners of the Gray Goose restaurant in Southport signed a lease to bring a new establishment to Church Lane in downtown Westport.
Currently serving dinner Tuesday through Sunday, the Westport Tarry Lodge will expand to lunch service and open for business seven days a week "as soon as we feel we've got everything down," Selzer said. In the long-term, she said the Westport Tarry Lodge plans to offer carry-out and possibly delivery service.
About 15 employees work at the restaurant, but that total will likely double when the restaurant expands its service, Selzer added.
While more casual in its ambiance, prices at the new Batali restaurant are very similar to the Port Chester Tarry Lodge. At the Westport restaurant, a chopped salad costs $11, a margherita pizza is also $11, while the black fettucine costs $17. The establishment also has an extensive list of red and white wines.
Awareness of the latest Batali-helmed restaurant has already spread, with patrons Wednesday coming from throughout southwestern Connecticut.
"I had heard about this Tarry Lodge and had to come," said John DeChello of Hamden. "The pizza and pasta were excellent. It was a great experience."
Many patrons were well-acquainted with the Batali brand, such as Patrick and Marion Filley of Wilton, who have dined several times at the Port Chester Tarry Lodge.
"This is a great addition for Tarry Lodge," Patrick Filley said. "And it's good to see some variety in the restaurants here in Westport."
"It's amazing how they've transformed this place after Abbondanza," said Marion Filley, gazing at the restaurant's green stucco exterior.
Joined by their daughter, Jocelyn, the Filleys also lauded the restaurant's fare.
"I had the (fettucine) carbonara and the squash blossoms, but I'm intrigued by the black truffles pizza," Patrick Filley said.
"He'll be back," Jocelyn said.
"Yeah, I'll be back," her father added. "I'll need more than a single visit."