Woog's World / A different pace for this summer place
Summer's here -- it arrived officially Wednesday -- and, according to Martha Reeves, the time is right for dancing in the street.
Which, in Westport, is pretty dangerous. So is running in the street, biking in the street or even driving in the street. We take our lives in our hands every time we take to the street. It's the Westport way.
But life is full of danger. Undercooked meat, we now learn, can kill us. That's why it's impossible to get a rare burger in any restaurant anymore. Ask for "rare," and it comes medium. Ask for "medium," it's well done. Don't ever ask for "well done" -- you'll get a petrified black mass, suitable for door-stopping or shot-putting.
Thankfully, this is still America, damn it, and we can cook our burgers any way we want them on our backyard grills. Not that we use them for burgers anymore. Over the years they (the grills) have grown and mutated, culinary versions of McMansions. Gone are the days when you could slap down a few patties, light some charcoal briquettes -- remember those? -- and call it a cookout.
Backyard grills, 2012-style, are massive affairs. Forget the portable, spindly-legged ones; grills today are built into walls. They're fed by complicated gas lines, with a cooking area vast enough to feed everyone at Bobby Q's for a week. Grills have joined the bigger-is-better suburban arms race, alongside ever-larger television screens and quickly expanding garage bays.
Thankfully, you can still cook the old-fashioned way at Compo. Each year, South Beach grills and picnic tables get more use. For a while, they were so popular you couldn't even use them. Half of Brighton Beach, it seemed, discovered our charms. That was good for Parks and Recreation Department revenue, not so good for Westporters who wanted a choice spot by the cannons.
But every problem has a solution, and we've devised our own. Those "Tables May Not Be Reserved" signs are simply ignored. If we plan an evening picnic on a popular day -- say, any one ending in "y" -- we deploy someone to head down at dawn. He or she unfolds a tablecloth, plops a vase in the middle of a table (or two) (or three) (four), drapes a towel on a bench, scatters a few beach chairs around and -- voila! The cookout is ready to go, a mere 14 hours later.
Of course, we don't have to cook out to enjoy the beach. Joey's by the Shore is happy to help. Gone are the days when a beach concession stand sold only the basics: ice cream, soda, hot dogs and burgers ("rare, medium or well?"). Joey's menu has expanded as steadily as Americans' waistlines. Wraps, salads, lobster rolls, gelato, Westport T-shirts, beach chairs -- like Alice's Restaurant, you can get anything you want.
Except beer and wine. You have to bring your own. (Feel free to ignore the "no bottles or glasses" rule; everyone else does). But good news: Connecticut recently became the 49th state to allow alcohol sales on Sunday. The bad news: That used to be the one day off for liquor store owners and employees. So, the next time you stop by to buy booze (after reserving your picnic table), you might not want to jauntily tell the clerk, "Well, we're heading to the beach! See you there?"
Speaking of beaches, most of us are so fixated on Compo that we ignore other shoreline spots in town. Old Mill has been in the news lately, thanks to Positano's little land grab. (The Hillspoint Avenue restaurant built a patio partly on town land 12 years ago and recently applied to use it for outdoor dining. They would have explained their actions at a town hearing, but the valet parking guy was off duty, and they couldn't get out of their own lot.)
There's also Burying Hill. Once upon a time this was an actual beach, but thanks to nature and complicated engineering erosion issues it now consists of just six grains of sand and a lifeguard stand. There are, however, a few great cookout grills, with a wonderful view on top of a hill that may or may not contain the remains of dead Indians.
Westport also owns a couple of tiny right-of-way beaches in Green's Farms and Saugatuck Shores. They lack parking, but are accessible to anyone who knows where they are. I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you. Unless the homeowners living nearby killed me first.
So that's the state of summer in Westport, 2012-style. With its arrival two days ago, there are only 89 days left. What are you waiting for? Get going -- the time is right for dancing in the street.
After, of course, reserving a picnic table.