EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT THE REVIVED Saugatuck area as a mecca for shopping, strolling and dining. Now, there’s another part of town that’s earning its stripes as a dining destination all its own. We’re talking about the portion of Post Road East that starts at the foot of the Patagonia store and heads in a straight line up toward Winslow Park. For lack of a catchy name, let’s call it Restaurant Row.
This stretch of the Post Road East is peppered with a fairly diverse selection of eateries featuring cuisines from around the globe. There’s Thai, German-Austrian, Italian, New American and, most recently, French. For the most part, these are smaller, more intimate venues that make up in charm what they lack in square footage. And, as evidenced by the swift demise of the massive Post 154, maybe that’s not a bad thing
ROTHBARD ALE + LARDER
In 2015 the folks behind Black Rock’s raucous BBQ joint Walrus + Carpenter created a European eatery and rathskeller in Westport’s former Town Hall. Named Rothbard Ale + Larder, this subterranean gastropub hits its full stride in the fall and winter, dishing up specialties from Alsace, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. At the bar, tuck into wieners and sauerkraut, buttery hot pretzels with mustard or Bard Dogs, topped with raclette cheese, bacon and sweet relish.
These starters taste even better with a stein of Hefeweizen, Sour Ale, a Saison IPA or Kölsch. If you fancy a cocktail, the mixologists pour a mean Pimm’s Cup, among other spirited libations.
It doesn’t get any cozier for comfort fare, including three types of schnitzel (wiener, chicken or bone-in pork jägerschnitzel with speck, spatzle and mushroom gravy). Chef Jon Vaast serves up delicious bratwurst and a gooey raclette, and perfect sides like sauerkraut and potatoes, braised red cabbage and cucumber salad. He also pulls off well-executed lighter options, like bouillabaisse, roasted chicken and wild sockeye salmon, as well as seasonal salads. 90 Post Road E., 203-557-9666; rothbardct.com
Positano, tucked back behind the Westport Country Playhouse, is yet another family-owned Italian restaurant along this stretch. It does a brisk business in the former Dressing Room space. Though larger than the others in this roundup, Positano boasts a classic Italian and seafood menu in an updated space (grab a seat by the fireplace in winter).
The Scarpati family pours a lot of love into making every diner feel welcome. Enjoy rotating entertainment, from live acoustic music to ladies’ nights to a generous Sunday brunch. Visit more than once and, seemingly, everyone knows your name. Positano gets busy before and after performances next door, so make reservations. 27 Powers Court, Westport, 203-434-4922; positano-ct.com
Sometimes, you just want a solid Italian meal in a venue that’s cozy and familial. That’s what you get at Finalmente Trattoria. A cozy trattoria, Finalmente has stood the test of time (ten years) as one of the town’s true Italian gems.
Run by the Iodice family of Isola Di Ponza, Italy, Finalmente’s food is authentic, its wine list is respectable and the service is warm and inviting.
Some of the winter favorites are good-old classics, including Bucatini Carbonara and Osso Buco Emiliano (veal shank braised in Barolo wine over parmigiano risotto), but take advantage of Chef Guido Tenorio’s penchant for specials.
It’s a small joint, so don’t spill family secrets during your meal. 165 Post Rd. E., 203-226-8500; finalmentetrattoria.com
Brian Lewis’ The Cottage became one of Westport’s premier foodie hot spots seemingly overnight. The buzz was solidified when the New York Times swooped in and printed a glowing review and awarded Lewis’ new venture an “Excellent.”
The menu lists novel New American dishes with global inspiration and local ingredients—plan on being adventurous and having fun. Examples: deconstructed Wagyu Brisket Steam Buns, served with napa kimchi and duck fat potato tempura, or the Beef Striploin roasted in lardo with papas bravas, espelette (pepper), picholine olive salsa verde.
Lewis just inked a deal to take over the space next door in order to expand the bar and the number of seats. In addition to the large bar, which will be the centerpiece of this open floor plan, there will be several tables to accommodate additional diners or be combined for larger parties, as well as a window seat banquette to seat up to ten.
“Our entire team will not only be able to express ourselves more through an expanded cocktail program, but also through our cuisine with an expanded kitchen area,” Lewis says. “We will be offering the same creative food our friends have come to know and love in both the main dining room and the bar area, and I’m very excited to revamp our existing Chef’s Counter to offer guests an even better bird’s-eye view of my extraordinary team in the kitchen.”
Make a reservation, and bring friends, as you’ll want to sample as many dishes as you can. 265 Post Rd. E., 203-557-3701; thecottagewestport.com
JEERA LITTLE THAI KITCHEN
Over at the aptly named Jeera Little Thai Kitchen, it’s fun to dine amidst the parade of fresh and authentic Thai specialties sizzling in woks in the diminutive kitchen.
Judging Thai restaurants by their simpler dishes, Jeera’s Larb, a Thai street food, will win you over with the kicky combination of ground chicken, cilantro scallion, red onion, roasted rice and roasted chili powder.
Try a colorful stir-fry dish, whether it’s the Kaprow—stir-fried onion, chili, garlic, long bean, hot Thai basil and your choice of protein—or the Pad Prik King, crispy pork belly with Asian long beans, pepper, kaffir lime leaves and prik king curry paste. The fresh mint, chiles, Thai basil and kaffir leaves all shine in this quick-cooking method. Round out your meal with a basil fried rice or stellar Pad Thai and a Thai coconut water, Thai iced tea or iced coffee.
Mix and match dishes with friends, but don’t bring too many—it’s Little Thai Kitchen, after all. 165 Post Rd. E., 203-557-9799
NOT HERE, BUT NEAR
Heads up on a few new venues that have caught our fancy lately
GARELICK & HERBS
After years mired in construction and red tape, the new Southport Garelick & Herbs has finally opened in a gleaming stand-alone space on the Post Road. One of several upscale catering and take-out marketplaces in the Garelick family, this gourmet foods emporium has ample room for lunch and coffee in a bright and soaring atrium space or in the outdoor garden. Stock up on antipasti, baked goods and soups. Stop by the salad bar or soup/noodle bar. Browse the rotating selection of gourmet hostess gifts and housewares.
Not up to cooking dinner? Garelick & Herbs serves up a new option every night. 1799 Post Rd. E., 203-254-2737; garelickandherbs.com
Organika Plant-Based Kitchen is a healthy new concept created by the family that brought us Quattro Pazzi in Fairfield. This is a little organic breakfast and lunch spot that’s already teeming with fitness fans stopping in after yoga, spinning and Pilates. Clean-eats abound, from smoothies and acai bowls to build-your-own salads and veggie “burgers.” The theme here is organic, vegan, gluten- and GMO-free meals from Organika’s plant-based kitchen. 3546 Post Rd. E., 203-955-1500; organikact.com
The party is in full swing over at El Segundo, the second restaurant from the good-time-guys behind The Spread Restaurant in South Norwalk.
Chef Carlos Baez is at the helm of this gritty, graffiti-clad eatery in the Ironworks Building. This hip “street food” venue has a festive cocktail scene and a dizzying international menu, spanning from Saigon to South America to the Philippines. Here, grazing is elevated to an art form. The chef’s family recipe for Tacos al Pastor is reason alone to visit, and the super-fresh Peruvian Ceviche shows just how sophisticated street fare can be.
Owner Chris Hickey opines, “My favorite dish, and the one that makes me happiest to see doing so well, is a Filipino dish called Nua Prik Thai Nam Jim…it is a skewer of seared rib eye chunks with a green chile sauce, and it is delicious! It’s enjoyable to see people order something most have never even heard of before.” 3 North Water St., 203-939-9765
CRAFT14 KITCHEN + BAR
Seasoned restaurateurs Mario Lopez and Cristina Ramirez, the husband-and-wife team who launched Wilton’s popular Bianco Rosso, recently opened Craft14 Kitchen + Bar. This is a New American neighborhood restaurant with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, hardwood grilling, craft cocktails and beers, centrally located in Wilton Plaza.
It’s just the casual gathering spot and restaurant Wilton has been waiting for, with a lively bar scene to boot. 5 River Rd., 203-762-6275; craft14.com