You asked for it, you got it! From a bevy of cool cafés pouring fair-trade coffee to a hip, city-style cocktail venue, to Westport’s largest new restaurant, to tried-and-true standbys, you asked us for a roundup of some of the restaurants on our radar rig
When it comes to a night out with a large group of friends, you might be missing those bustling, grand-scale NYC restaurants, where the food is spot-on and the bar atmosphere is boisterous.
Anyone who’s enjoyed cocktails and dinner at Manhattan’s grand old restaurants in restored banks, train stations and municipal buildings will appreciate the bustle, cacophony and masculine aesthetic at the new Post 154. The designers did a masterful transformation of the historic former post office, literally raising the ceilings to the rafters and creating Westport’s largest dining establishment, with multiple seating areas on the main floor, an outdoor patio, as well as a downstairs wine room and an event space.
Outfitted with dark gray wainscoting, tufted English Chesterfield booths, glazed subway tiles and circa 1930s wall murals, the joint pivots around a large, U-shaped Carerra-marble-topped bar, as well as the open display kitchen, fronted by an elevated communal Chef’s Table.
The open kitchen provides the focal point, where both Chef Alex Rosado, Best Chef of America Honoree, and his guests, play starring roles. A central stairway, topped with a massive station clock, leads to the lower-level wine cellar and more intimate dining rooms for meetings and private events. The entire space accommodates over 250 guests.
Bold and vibrant, the changing seasonal menu at Post 154 reflects Chef Rosado’s influences, from both his travels and mentors. Rosado has cooked in kitchens from Atlanta to San Juan, most notably as Executive Chef of Little Palm Island in Little Torch Key, Florida. His menu concept is global, often playful, occasionally more refined, and always flavorful. The ingredients are sourced locally and from afar, wherever it makes sense while keeping seasonality and quality at the forefront.
Rosado’s seafood offerings are creative and fun. Case in point: Crab Tater Tots and Duck Confit Taquitos. His touch with seafood is evident in his delicious Lobster Quesadillas, which are layered with queso chihuahua and huitlacoche (Mexican truffle), salsa and avocado and his Bowl of Mussels, infused with fragrant chorizo, shallots, roasted garlic and saffron. Fresh fish preparations are simple, yet intriguing. Ahi tuna is brushed with a soy-black pepper glaze and accompanied by seasonal vegetables and plump apricots, and fresh Atlantic halibut is elevated with roasted garlic, creamed celery and a Creole shrimp fondue.
If you enjoy good meat, Rosado delivers. Try the Rosemary Short Ribs or the Guava BBQ Pork Tenderloin (served with Gorgeous Black Bean Stew, onion mojo and cilantro). The Hamburger Experience features a juicy burger piled high with Krystal Caves cheddar, pork belly, avocado and picante enchilada sauce.
The soup and salad section of the menu is ripe with possibilities: Start with the grilled Golden Corn Bisque or Seared Diver Sea Scallops. The Young Heirloom Tomatoes are brightened with cilantro, onions, jalapeños, fresh lime and avocado. The Farmhouse Spinach Salad gets a lift from artichokes, endive, truffle cheese and dried currants. The garlickly Creamed Potatoes, Brown Butter Spinach make excellent sides.
The global wine list consists of both familiar and smaller boutique wineries, and craft beers from throughout the Northeast share cooler space with an impressive collection of foreign ales, stouts and lagers. Cocktails are made with fresh fruit juices and purées, aromatics, top-shelf spirits and well-developed recipes. The adventurous can take part in flights of martinis, mojitos and margaritas, and pitchers of freshly made sangria, which add to the convivial social scene.
Just over the border, two of the most promising new eateries to hit the scene have popped onto our radar.
Mediterraneo is a sophisticated new eatery, headed by Executive Chef Albert DeAngelis, in the mod Hotel Zero Degrees. Located off exit 41 on the Merritt in Norwalk, the setting is sleek and airy, and the dining room looks out onto a surprise waterfall. The menu is full of bright, Mediterranean flavors. Choose from fresh fish, like Peppered Yellowfin Tuna or Parmesan-Crusted West Coast Halibut, to Zahtar Spiced Australian Lamb Rack, Homemade Sea Scallop Ravioli, as well as an arrangement of gourmet pizzas and tasty appetizers. Be on the lookout for their rooftop Happy Hour Oyster Bar, opening soon. Restaurateur Ramze Zakka, the force behind Z Hospitality Group and its popular area restaurants (Acqua, Aurora, Mediterraneo, Sole and Terra) is clearly on his game in this polished, modern oasis.
Just down the road is a promising entry on the farm-to-table scene: Oak + Almond, headed by Executive Chef Jeff Taibe. It’s a huge, contemporary-industrial space that gets it right.
With a massive stone patio with an open-air fireplace and ample indoor space with a lively bar scene, a communal table and counter seating by the open hearth, California restaurateur and owner Jon Paul Pirraglia creates pockets of warmth and intimacy in the city-chic eatery, which bears little resemblance to the former Tuscan Oven.
Inside, the central oven (fueled by oak and almond wood, hence the restaurant name) creates a toasty ambience, while turning out a smorgasbord of local and seasonally inspired delectables—like grilled salmon, organic chicken, braised rabbit and southern-fried quail, all plucked from nearby gardens, waterways and farms—and proudly listed on the menu—from Norm Bloom & Sons lobster to Holbrook Farms’ Greens and Farah’s Farm eggs. The menu speaks volumes about the team’s sustainable, organic vision: local swordfish crudo with blood orange ponzu, pickled beets and avocado; funghi flatbread with charred green onion, fontina and balsamic; pork and ricotta meatballs with spicy tomato sauce; chittara pasta with lamb Bolognese, Moroccan spices, and fresh mint; wood-baked black cod with little neck clams, artichokes, fregola and prosciutto in a natural broth; porcini-rubbed ribeye. ’Nough said, time to eat.
If you love the hopping bar vibe and the casual menu at Bartaco and have visited Spotted Horse so many times that they pour your martini before you sit, you'll want to know what’s new for food and drink in a hip atmosphere.
The town is buzzing about the opening of Cru, the SoHo-style restaurant/lounge secreted behind the Gap on Westport’s Main Street (entry on parking-lot side). Cru is the second venue for Steve Prokop and Todd Rose, who own Cuvee in West Hartford, and it injects a lounge-y edge into the town’s nightlife scene.
While foodies and tastemakers flocked to the outdoor scene at Bartaco all summer, they are now crossing the river and stepping into the downstairs lair at Cru, an extremely inviting fall and winter draw (now with pop-up outdoor seating when weather permits).
Stop in for lunch midday, after work for Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m., when all food and drink is half price, then later for dinner.
Start off at the forty-foot granite bar for drinks, which range from artisanal cocktails, martinis, single-malts and sangria to a curated selection of wines and sparkling wines or Champagnes by the bottle or glass. Or sink into a settee in the hip, see-and-be-seen lounge—a great people-watching perch. If you hang around long enough, you’re guaranteed to run into someone you know. After 10 p.m. on weekends, local DJs spin into party mode, and then the real fun begins.
The 3,000-square-foot space holds roughly 110 seats, but the dining areas are softened by banquettes, pillows and curtains, creating the effect that you’re ensconced in VIP areas.
The whimsical menu, created by rising young chef Sergio Reyes (who trained under Chef Arik Bensimon at Napa & Co.) offers choices that span the continents, moving deftly from Asian to Pacific to Mediterranean cuisine. There are so many appealing options, you’ll have a hard time deciding what you'd like to try first, but the kick here is that you can mix and match, tapas-style, and prices are surprisingly gentle, so you can go wild sampling.
Co-owner Todd Rose took the time to match each dish with excellent wine suggestions, like pairing a crisp, St. Hilare Brut with the sushi rolls and a vibrant Daniel Pollier Chardonnay with the Pork Belly Dumplings. From the Darn Good Sliders to the Hummus Fries to Prawn Rolls to the hearty, Short Rib Gnocchi, you are going to find something to please your palate and have a fine time doing it.
Coffee Bars & Bakeries
Tucked inside the red, storybook Greens Farms train station, Steam, a new coffee bar, has been putting smiles on the faces of commuters, GFA students and espresso aficionados since July. Briana Pennell, a Norwalk resident, Culinary Institute graduate and a pastry chef, and Chris Barrett, a Stamford restaurateur, are staying true to their mission to keep things local and chef-inspired.
In addition to delicious, fair-trade coffee from Raus (a Stamford-based purveyor with a humanitarian bent and everyone’s favorite at the Westport Farmers’ Market), Steam pours tea, espresso (try the Cold Roman) and fresh juices and dishes up a variety of sandwiches, salads, panini, bagels and other delicious treats.
In her small but powerful convection oven, Pennell bakes up scrumptious homemade muffins, croissants (chocolate is killer) and cookies. For most everything else, she turns to local purveyors, including SoNo Baking Company, Arogya Tea, Red Bee Honey and Nothin’ But Foods (granola bars).
“People who aren’t even taking the train are coming,” partner Barrett notes. “We’re excited that the word is getting out.” Steam’s second location, at the newly revamped Westport Train Station, is set to open in late November. Open 5 a.m. to noon; closed Saturday and Sunday.
Cocoa Michelle, a shop offering organic coffee, gourmet teas and decadent handmade chocolates (chocolate-dipped orange slices or marshmallows, bonbons and truffles in signature robins’ egg blue boxes), threw down the gauntlet on the Westport coffee bar scene in 2006. Michelle Weber, known around town as Cocoa Michelle, has been pouring fair-trade, organic coffee, roasted fresh weekly at her Railroad Place location, since 2008. City-bound commuters wouldn’t dream of boarding Metro-North without first stopping in for their morning jolt—espresso, cappuccino, latte, European cocoa or Harney & Sons teas (iced in the summertime).
Peruse the pastries, which are delivered from New York City and surrounding areas or pick up a tasty sandwich or salad, freshly prepared, for lunch.
This fall, Weber unveiled CM Gourmet Market, at the new Saugatuck Center, a full-service café/restaurant on one side and a gourmet takeaway market on the other. Together with award-winning chef Molly Brant, CMGM will be dishing up everything from Pulled Pork with Sweet Potato Hash (piquillo peppers, cippolini onions, pimentón, sunny-side duck egg) to the Nooner “Picky Board (sliced charcuterie, seasoned local crudités, CMGM pâté, today’s cheese, house-made pickles and conserves and toasted baguette slices to offerings like Green Eggs and Crab, a jumbo lump crab cake, roasted tomato fondue, Connecticut corn topped with basil hollandaise sauce, during brunch.
Fans of baker John Barricelli’s SoNo Baking Company & Café cheered the opening of the Westport outpost, located adjacent to A&J’s Farm Market. With a few small tables and initially geared for takeout, the little coffee bar has pushed out to become a go-to gathering spot, with outdoor tables when the weather is warm.
Here, you can enjoy a gourmet coffee (a special SoNo blend by Unique Coffee Roasters of Staten Island), espresso drink or Harney & Sons tea while enjoying many of the same to-die-for baked goods that made Martha Stewart swoon.
Time your visit for breakfast or lunch, when you’ll find sweet and savory goodies, like apricot or raspberry crumb Danish, almond or ham and cheese croissants, a delicious tomato tart or quiche of the day. Other hot-ticket items are the baguette sandwiches (try the one with ham, Swiss, sliced apple and Dijon or the Caprese with tomato, mozzarella, pesto and fresh basil). Really hungry? Opt for the panini. Sink your teeth into the Cubano (slow-roasted pork, baked Virgina ham, Swiss and pickles on SoNo Swiss egg bread) or the Prosciutto Di Parma with mozzarella, tomato and pesto on ciabatta.
While you’re there, shop the local produce in the adjacent farm market for dinner, and bring home a loaf of artisanal bread, ripe local tomatoes and a few treats for the family.
Java Coffee & Café had been rocking hard out in Sun Valley, Idaho, for twenty-two years, when Westporter Brad Berk, on a ski holiday with his family, approached owner Todd Rippo about bringing the concept East. Pulling in developer David Waldman, the trio is planning to roll out the Westport flagship Java by November, followed by four more in Connecticut.
The antithesis of big box coffee, Java’s five Idaho locations are known for tasty, clean foods, fair-trade java, cool music and an eclectic following. Rippo is working overtime to create the right vibe at the Westport location, formerly Wild Pear (44 Church Lane), which will include a communal table, free Wi-Fi, and, according to Rippo, “music played a little louder” than what we might be used to.
“We are all about creating a place where kids who aren’t yet in high school can come and have a place of their own, while moms, grandmas, construction workers and investment bankers all feel comfortable,” Rippo says of the new place. “Our food is awesome, the opposite of the greasy spoon or the grab-and-go commercial coffee shop. Here, you’ll get a signature burrito or scrambled eggs and toast made by a real chef.”
On top of this, Rippo, says, “All the baked goods are made from scratch on the premises fresh daily, using ingredients our mothers would be proud of.”
Make like a Sun Valley local and order the Dirty Hippie Burrito (two steam-scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon, black beans, green chilies, chopped tomato and green onions with house-made verde crème fraiche). Pair it with a Bowl of Soul, Java’s most popular house blend (a mocha with espresso, fair trade, organic coffee and Mexican hot chocolate topped with house-made whipped cream and ground cinnamon), or the buzzy, “Keith Richards” blend (four shots of espresso and Mexican hot chocolate), served in an oversized, ceramic bowl to start your day on a high. Breakfast is served all day. At lunch, you’ll find a gorgeous chef salad, Java Club, tortilla soup or hummus platter among the fresh choices. As their slogan says, “Wake up and live!”
Over in Wilton, it doesn’t get more Euro than Green Leaf Organic Bakery & Café, a traditional organic French bakery in classic café setting. Green Leaf is known for offering organic, fair trade and locally sustainable ingredients, while remaining true to the traditional European style of baking. Come for the decadent French desserts, such as the fallen chocolate soufflé or French donut (their version of the beignet), and return for the fresh salads and tartines.
A hidden gem, Green Leaf is tucked behind the stores across from the Wilton Library; entrance is in back.
The café draws followers for its organic fair-trade coffee and freshly baked French breads and pastries. The baker rises at 2 a.m. to freshly make all of the baked goods daily, in addition to an array of daily-made breakfast items, organic soups, salads and tartines (open-faced sandwiches), like Mexican honey and Manchego cheese or chicken breast and olive paste on whole wheat bread. The owners, who live an organic lifestyle at home, are working to forge relationships with nearby Wilton farms, like Ambler Farm and Millstone Farm. You can taste the freshness in their eggs, produce, dairy and baked goods.
If you’re in a rush, grab and go. But if you have time to sit, there’s full-service dining inside, as well as free Wi-Fi. Or if the weather permits, make like a European and linger over coffee or lunch out on the terrace patio.