Woog’s World: Work up Restaurant Week appetite by walk down menu lane
Published 6:43 am, Friday, October 9, 2015
If you missed Restaurant Week, no sweat. Here in Westport, we treat the annual Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce event the same way developers treat empty lots: We super-size it.
“Restaurant Week” is actually 11 days. It is running through Oct. 18. Participating venues offer a prix fixe meal; lunches are $15, $20 or $25, dinners $25, $30 or $35. It’s a chance for Westporters to try new spots, visit regular favorites, and — hey, it’s a marketing tool — go out to eat at a time of year when dining may not be at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
Speaking of lists, the participating restaurants are an interesting bunch. Newer Westporters might think they’ve always been here. Long-time residents know better.
So here’s a culinary walk through Westport’s Restaurant Week — then and now.
The only constant for 323 Main is its address. 323 Main St. — at the intersection of Canal Street — has been the site of many spots, all basically the same. Most recently it was Bogey’s; before that it was Oliver’s, among others. It’s always been one of those “let’s-meet-at …” restaurants. Every town needs at least one.
Acqua Ristorante was Pancho Villa’s, before Westport drowned in Mexican cuisine. Earlier it was Mark’s Place, a “discotheque” before they morphed into “discos.” The music was live and loud. The partying was plenty hard.
Arezzo has been a succession of places, none particularly successful. The current spot has done a great job maximizing its riverside location, while minimizing parking issues. Plus the food is really good.
Blue Lemon boasts an interesting pedigree. Back in the day, it was the Pickle Barrel — an inexpensive lunchtime spot, whose most interesting feature was an actual (of course) pickle barrel.
DaPietro’s has been on Riverside Avenue for quite a while. Before that, it was Pearl’s. Both spots are tiny. Both have minimal parking. Both were well known for careful attention to great food.
Little Barn is a great meeting place, particularly for folks in the eastern part of town. It’s not fancy, but a lot fancier than its predecessors: Swanky Frank’s and, before that, Woody’s. Even earlier though, it was a Dairy Queen. Every town needs a DQ. And this was not Westport’s first. Well before McDonald’s, we had a Dairy Queen closer to downtown. We know it today as Qdoba.
Matsu Sushi makes this way-back-when list not because it was a restaurant, but because it served food. Well, sort of. For many years this place on Jesup Road was the Fine Arts III movie theater. Instead of sushi, they sold Jujubes and sodas. Probably for the same price you now pay for California rolls and salmon sashimi.
Pane e Bene also has been many other spots, none of whose names I remember (was there a Mexican place there a while back?). Since opening a few years ago, it’s developed a loyal clientele. That’s not easy — it’s not exactly on Restaurant Row, and shares a strip mall with a vacuum cleaner store. But food has been served there for decades, dating back to the Elmwood Diner, which I just retrieved from some place way too deep in the recesses of my brain.
Pink Sumo is the second incarnation of a restaurant, following Zest. For its first 100-plus years, it served as a bank’s safe deposit area. That, of course, was in the days when Westport had only two or three banks (and zero nail salons).
Positano’s has relocated from Hillspoint Road (the old Café de la Plage) to the building next to Westport Country Playhouse. Ah, the former Dressing Room, you say. Right! But once upon a time — a time when Alan Arkin, Jane Fonda and Karl Malden were starring onstage — the restaurant next door was called Players’ Tavern. It was a hot spot, with a lively bar. And bartenders who served anyone who wandered in, which in the 1960s and ’70s meant a substantial number of Staples High School students.
Post 154 was never a restaurant. It was, since the 1930s, Westport’s Post Office. (The “Post” in the title comes from the Post Road, so named because it was the original mail route through this area.) The only reason it makes this list is because the new — and certainly not improved — post office is now in Playhouse Square, in space once occupied by Friendly’s.
Other restaurants have other pedigrees. Rive Bistro was the Mooring. Rizzuto’s was (to relative newcomers) John Harvard’s and (to real oldtimers) Manero’s. Sakura took a 180-degree turn from its time as a Bonanza Steak Pit. Tarry Lodge was Abbondanza.
And Tavern on Main, the quintessential New England dining spot that looks like it’s been there since the 1700s?
Mais non. For years, it was Chez Pierre, a French restaurant.
Which may be the only cuisine you won’t find available during our current Restaurant Week. For the complete list of restaurants participating in Westport Restaurant Week, visit www.westportchamber.com/restaurantweek.