Local residents Share what they LOVE most about their Town
Ask most locals what they love most about living here and they’ll wax poetic about the top-notch schools, the beaches or the arts. Sure, our selected insiders love these things, too, but today they’ve let us in on their personal favorites in Westport, Wilton and Weston. They’re talking about the greasy spoon that serves the juiciest burger, the scenic backcountry trails that offer a place to relax and reflect, the downtown shops that satisfy their need for a retail fix and the eateries they frequent for a killer meal served by people who know their names.
Julie Levitt & Dana Noorily
The Granola Bar/Westport
Although The Granola Bar has been packed since opening this past December, its “overnight success” is the result of a years-long partnership between Julie Levitt and Dana Noorily, two enterprising Westport women who saw a need for a truly delicious granola. Both were stay-at-home moms (with five kids between them) who were ready for a hobby, so they created Oats Granola and began selling it locally. It’s been a delicious success for the duo of taste.
Over a cup of coffee, Julie shares their story along with a few of their favorite local venues. She recalls, “One store led to another, led to another, and we were busy! We then realized that we wanted to bring the same passion for simple, healthy ingredients that we brought to granola to the restaurant world.”
Before opening The Granola Bar, they bought a food truck, painted it a shocking purple and tooled around Fairfield County, drumming up buzz for the brand and the coffee they pour before rolling out the restaurant. The Granola Bar, tucked into busy Playhouse Square (275 Post Road East), is a stylish little eatery serving coffee and a range of healthy breakfast items, as well as sandwiches, salads and other organic and simple fare with a twist.
Did they envision how it would fill a void? Julie says, “We imagined a place where we could go, work, eat healthy, and sit in a chic, comfortable atmosphere. We’ve succeeded at that and feel we bring a new look/feel to breakfast and lunch. We offer takeout and table service all day, from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
She adds that she and Dana feel blessed and happy that others agree with them about what was missing in Westport. “It is exactly what we were hoping to create, and each day we strive to make the experience better and better,” she says. “We are thrilled to be a great meeting spot for businessmen/women in town. We really want to create a local, warm, friendly environment for everyone, and we feel the menu we’ve created serves mom, dad and the kids.”
When it comes to ferreting out other local eateries, Julie shares a few favorites that top the pair’s list: “We love Double L in Westport. He [owner Lloyd Allen] helped to launch Oats years ago and always has an eye on what is high quality and fresh. We love Bill Taibe’s restaurants, but especially The Whelk. The Westport Farmers’ Market always has amazing local ingredients for our chef to source —gorgeous cheeses and greens!”
She also rattles off a few of their favorite choices: “We eat lots of sushi and love Pink sumo. LeFarm. Yum. With kids, we love Tendga and Shake Shack.”
When it’s time to seek a respite from a busy day, Julie says that it’s all about a good workout. “While the beach is a beautiful site, we tend to find our oasis in our workouts. We both love personal fitness. We love that it keeps our stress levels in check—and we certainly taste our share of food during the day, so it’s a great way to stay fit. We have both just started at Pure Barre Westport in our shopping center, which is a great workout and fun,” Julie says. As for main workouts, Dana is a big fan of Joyride, and Julie works out at Fast Fitness on Post Road East, a personal training gym co-owned by her boyfriend, Jay. Julie exclaims, “The trainers are incredible!”
Since The Granola Bar is a stylish little venue, one wonders where do the gals shop for their home décor? “Thankfully, we have a fantastic designer from Westport: Lisa Friedman. She is our guru for all things décor. She shopped for our store locally at Bungalow and Lillian August [in Norwalk] and in the city on one of her décor-hunting sessions,” Julie says. To dress the part, they enjoy retail therapy close to home. Some of their go-to’s in Westport include Steven Alan, lululemon, She La La, J.Crew, Groove (for kids and themselves) and Dovecote (for home accessories and jewelry).
These days, the Granola Girls don’t have much time to shop!
Kevin Meehan has a full plate as the programming/property manager at Wilton’s Ambler Farm and a science teacher at Cider Mill Elementary School. In addition to being a father of a fifth and an eleventh grader, Meehan is a surrogate father to a generation of aspiring junior farmers who’ve made their way to Ambler, a peaceful 200-year-old town farm oasis. Meehan grew up in a family with twelve children, all with an amazing work ethic, and knew he wanted to work the land. He jokes, “Living on a tenth of an acre in Fairfield, I used to cut the lawn with the Weedwacker once in a while just so I could be outside longer.”
“After two years at Ambler, it became clear to me that this was where I was meant to be. Everyone has a ‘perfect purpose’ in life. I found mine. I can build things and farm. However, I am not a carpenter or a farmer; I’m a teacher. My classroom is the farm and the teaching is effortless, because I am passionate about the topic of how we treat the land and the things we grow. The only thing I am more passionate about is how we treat one another.”
Ambler Farm, located at 257 Hurlbutt Street, is one of Wilton’s treasures. Meehan notes that the farm is becoming part of families’ traditions: Christmas trees, maple syrup season, picking raspberries. “Our goal has been not only to produce organic food, but also to provide an experience which connects people with the land and each other,” he says. “The board members have done a great job of thinking carefully about Ambler’s development. We have a wonderful farmer in Jonathan Kirschner, who connects with people, whether they are buying produce, volunteering in his gardens, or kids attending the summer program.”
When Meehan and wife, Sue, are looking for a good meal off the farm, he says, “If I had one place I could go before the zombie apocalypse, it would be The Schoolhouse at Cannondale. Tim LaBant is an amazing chef who grew up in Wilton and is totally immersed in the local, sustainable food scene. His menu reflects his belief in supporting local farms. You’re not just eating, you’re having a dining experience.”
When it comes to his favorite getaway, Meehan doesn’t have to look far. He says, “I live on one of the most scenic properties in Wilton. The funny part, though, is that the most beautiful part of the farm is not the land. It’s the sky. I have seen more incredible sunsets at Ambler Farm than any one person is entitled to see in a lifetime. The sun sets every night just beyond our red barn, and it is often magnificent. The moon in the wintertime rivals the sunsets.”
When he does get off the farm, he says his getaway is The Village Market in the center of town. “I’m there five days a week before it opens. I’m there so often, I know most of the employees by name: owners Mike and Tim, Nancy, Brian, Pierre, Nellie, Mrs. Lee, Mr. Lee, Lou, etc.,” he says. “I drink two of the small complimentary coffees and eat the day-old croissants. It sounds mundane and, yet, it is one of the things I look forward to. Before the store opens, I hang out in the produce department with my brother, Terry, who is the produce manager and my best friend.”
Every town has its go-to venue, for Meehan, that place is the Wilton Library. He explains, “Their programming for kids to seniors is absolutely extraordinary, including the jazz concerts. I don’t know how they do it. The library is the center of our community. (However, I find it very difficult to get a burger at the library, as they do not serve food.) I just ate at the Wilton Deli. The Warrior Burger is far better than you would expect to find in a deli. It’s incredible. My burger fell apart as I was eating it. That’s a good sign. I used thirteen napkins, one after each bite. That’s another good sign. If you do not like your hands to get messy when you’re eating a burger, you should probably be eating a Caesar salad.”
Gault Energy & Hamilton Development/Westport
Sam Gault has lived in Westport for fifty years, and his family has been here for more than 150. His great-great-grandfather, Robert Gault, migrated to the United States from Northern Ireland during the potato famine and worked on the Erie Canal before settling in Westport in 1860 and starting the family energy business. Sam says, “Since that time, our family has become deeply rooted in the Westport community and presently has the sixth generation working with the company.”
One of Gault’s recent high-profile projects is the new Saugatuck Center, which Sam says has exceeded the family’s expectations for creating a sense of revival and community in the Saugatuck area. “Our vision was simply to create a project whereby people could work, live, shop and eat,” Sam begins. “The idea that we could bring back a sense of neighborhood to Saugatuck was attractive. Careful thought and selection of the retail tenants was important to create a community feel and to utilize the Saugatuck River. The public access to the water was a key design element in the development of the boardwalk and the marina. We could not be happier by the way the community has embraced the new Saugatuck Center project.”
When quizzed about some of his favorite places in town, Gault shakes his head and says, “Having lived here for fifty years, there are so many places that I consider ‘favorite stops.’ Westport is fortunate to have so many local places that are run by the same people for years. They care about our community.”
Finally, he relents and offers some of his go-to’s: “I have known the Mitchells family my entire life, and they truly set the bar when it comes to friendly customer service and a can-do attitude. In this day and age, I appreciate that experience more than ever. We strive to deliver the same personal, high-quality experience to our customers each and every day.”
When it comes to grabbing a bite, he mentions Art’s Delicatessen: “Anyone who experienced Art’s Deli back in the day will tell you it was a great day when they returned to town. The anticipation was as crazy as the day they opened. Still the greatest sandwiches around.”
With food now on his mind, he also lists Organic Market, “with so much emphasis on organic healthy food, I have become a fan”; Commuter Coffee, “a great breakfast or lunch with fast and friendly service; you cannot beat it”; and Cocoa Michelle, “for a truly fantastic cup of coffee and really good chocolate.” He adds, “I am happy to have their new place, cm gourmet market, in Saugatuck Center. Chef Molly Brandt is doing incredible things in the kitchen—the food is fantastic.”
He adds a few more Saugatuck food spots: “Dunville’s, the Black Duck, Viva Zapata—you pick it! This is old-school Saugatuck. I have liked them all for different reasons over the years. All the owners are great people, and you can count on a friendly atmosphere.” Naturally, Gault dines frequently at The Whelk and Craft Butchery Cafe, both Saugatuck Center tenants. “I applaud Bill Taibe [of The Whelk] and Ryan Fibiger [Craft Butchery] for their culinary vision and innovative food concepts.”
His thoughts turning elsewhere, he says, “I am also really enjoying the restaurant revival that is happening downtown. David Waldman is doing great things on Church Lane, with Pink Sumo, The Spotted Horse and now Java. It’s great to see so much action within walking distance of each other, and it will continue to get better with his new plans for the old YMCA buildings [Bedford Square]. Bar Taco is another great addition on the river. I am glad to see that property owners are opening up the waterfront to the community. Greenfield Partners is a good corporate citizen and a welcome addition to Westport. I look forward to seeing the development of their entire westside project.”
When he needs a little peace and solitude, Gault stops by his parents’ place for lunch. “It’s relaxed and we get to catch up on things,” he says. “Other than that, I like to swim at the Westport Weston Family Y. I have been a swimmer since I was a kid, and there is nothing like getting in the pool to tune out and relieve stress. Of course, there is always the beauty of Compo Beach on a nice summer day. I don’t make it down there as much as I used to, but I like knowing it is always there for me!”
Saugatuck Grain + Grape/Westport
Stop in for a tasting at Saugatuck Grain + Grape and you won’t want to leave. Partners Mimi McLaughlin and Jeff Marron have created a cozy little wine shop featuring smaller producers and artisan spirits. With every day like a cocktail party, Mimi says, “We were looking to make coming into our shop an exciting experience.”
Speaking of Saugatuck Grain + Grape (40 Railroad Place), Mimi says, “We aim to be educators in a friendly, relaxing way.” Mimi left a long career in fashion to follow her passion as a wine collector, which led to a job as wine director for Saltwater Grille in Stamford. After an intensive sommelier course in NYC, she spent the next few years “tasting, tasting, tasting!” In 2009, she went to work as wine director for Bill Taibe, who was opening LeFarm. She says, “There I met Jeff.” They became partners and hatched the idea for their own place, which opened in 2010.
Mimi says, “From the get-go Jeff and I decided that SG+G would be like no other store in our town. When you come into SG+G, you’ll find a carefully selected and edited inventory that reflects our passion for the grape and the grain.”
Even for wine merchants, it’s nice to go out on the town for a drink. That’s when you can find Mimi and Jeff belly up to the bar at a few local joints. Jeff says, “On the cocktail front, definitely going to have to mention Luxe Wine Bar & Craft Cocktails in Westport. I manage the beverage program there and like to coordinate the wine list with what we sell in our store. The cocktail list is full of historically correct cocktails. Naturally, the ingredients can be found at SG+G as well.”
When they dine out, Jeff says they look for menus that support local, organic, sustainable farms. “Since we are personal friends with most of the local artisans and restaurateurs, this answer is easy: Lefarm, The Whelk, Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Westport Farmers’ Market (we are sponsors), Red Bee Honey to name a few.”
When he needs a caffeine fix, Jeff frequents cocoa Michelle’s, down the block from the store. “Not only is she a good friend, but she also adheres to the same good product, good service philosophy we do,” he says.
At lunchtime, Mimi and Jeff’s new obsession is the Saugatuck Craft Butchery Cafe, also just a short walk from SG+G. Mimi says, “We love the ‘Merican burger [two grass-fed beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, American cheese, pickles and onions]. It’s their version of the Big Mac, only better.”
When it’s time for a retail fix, “Jeff is a J.Crew guy,” says Mimi, “Classic, but with a twist. I am more apt to shop at Vince or Intermix. The clothing just fits my style. It’s modern fashion without being too trendy.”
When it comes to outfitting their own digs, they turn to Lillian August in Norwalk and Hiden Galleries Stratford Antique Center and the Antique & Artisan Center, all in Stamford, for unique home décor and accessories.
At quitting time, the two hit the road on the back of Jeff’s Harley. He says, “Riding on the scenic back roads of Connecticut is just so relaxing. It’s just us, the road in front of us and the nature around us. That’s all that I think about.”
When Catherine Revzon moved to Weston from Riverdale, New York, she didn’t know a soul in town. So, when neighbors welcomed the newbies (including her husband, toddler daughter and infant son) to town, Catherine had a barrage of questions: what to do with trash, where to find the closest gym, whom to call for plumbing. Seeking child-friendly activities while being able to socialize with adults, Catherine found herself scouring the Internet and Weston Library for things to do.
Her research unearthed a treasure-trove of terrific events within Weston and the surrounding towns. So, she started westonctmoms.wordpress.com, a popular blog featuring information about events, registrations for sports and camps, reviews about restaurants and services, special giveaways and tips for local residents.
Ever on the hunt for good places to take photographs, Catherine tends to gravitate towards the nature preserves and places along Valley Forge Road. “The beautiful flowers and foliage make them great scenic spots, and they are where I find my peace and solitude,” she says. “We also have many amazing nature preserves, like Devil’s Den, that offer trails that are open to the public. Organizations, like the Aspetuck Land Trust also offer free hiking tours of their preserves, including the Stonebridge Waterfowl Preserve,” she says. “Weston also hosts an annual timed 5K and a half-marathon where participants get to enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
Despite being off the beaten path, Catherine claims: “Weston does not shut down after dark!” For instance, she says middle and high schools put on high-quality productions with evening and matinee shows, and Westonarts hosts concerts that feature students and resident musicians. The Weston Newcomers and Neighbors Club, Kiwanis, Grange, churches, Women’s League and Friends of the Weston Library organize fun dinners, game nights, shows and other evening activities. “Our sports teams host exciting fundraisers,” she adds. Plus, the Weston Library offers free movie nights. Also, the town throws a Memorial Day Fair and July 4th Celebration. “And, of course, we have the Cobb’s Mill Inn, where people can listen to live bands and attend special parties,” she says.
The town center keeps to the essentials: pharmacy, post office, bank, grocery store, dry cleaner, hardware store, liquor store, realty office, gas station and Delveccio’s, which delivers pizzas, salads, burgers and more. For a quick bite, Catherine likes to go to the Lunchbox and for parties uses the catering services at Peter’s Market.
She’s a regular at local farmers’ markets. In the summer, she shops the Weston Women’s League’s Market at the Weston Historical Society and, during the winter, she hits the indoor market at the Norfield Grange. Catherine adds, “Another place I like is Chestnut Farm, which opened on Lyons Plain Road last summer. Kids get to pick their own carrots and learn about farming, and parents get to buy a fresh variety of vegetables. I also like the Georgetown and Westport Farmers’ markets in the summer. It’s so neat, too, that Red Bee Honey is right here in town, so we can always get fresh honey.”