A few weeks ago I went to Michele's Pies in Westport to check out the new bakery and I mentioned it to a friend.
"Oh pie," my friend said. "Remember the Pie Plate in Fairfield?"
How could I forget? In high school, I worked at CVS, which was in the same strip of stores as the Pie Plate (along with the Card Gallery, which later became Supercuts, Radio Shack and, finally, Stop & Shop). The Pie Plate was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and always had an abundance of different pies for sale every day (whole or by the slice).
This wistful longing for the Pie Plate got me thinking about some of the area's most beloved restaurants that, for one reason or another, are no longer with us. Everyone seemed to love the Pie Plate, so why did it close?
I posited the question on Facebook. "What restaurant do from Fairfield or Westport did you love that's no longer around?"
The response was instantaneous and passionate.
Apparently people are still in mourning over the passing of Sidetracks, the restaurant at the corner of the Post Road and South Pine Creek, where The Shack is today. "Sidetrack's nachos were really special," said Kim Quinn. "To this day, every time I order nachos out, I am extremely disappointed."
In fact, the nachos were a huge draw. You could order a half platter or full, and the cheese-smothered chips, dotted with slices of jalapeno peppers, came with little side ramekins of sour cream, salsa and chili. The chips on the side of the platter tended to get a little burnt and extra crispy, while the big center pile turned up some soft and oily chips that you'd have to scrape off the plate. Those were some good nachos. Today, The Shack's menu lists "Sidetrack's Nachos" as an appetizer. The description says, "A local favorite! Tommy's secret recipe returns!"
"Tommy" would be Tommy Febbraio, who owned not only Sidetrack's, but also Tommy's (at the downtown corner of of Post and Unquowa roads, where the Old Post Tavern now is) and Arizona Flats in Black Rock, two other restaurants that were on the list of gone-but-not-forgotten favorites.
"Tommy's was our special dinner place," said Meredith Santarcangelo. "I remember going there when it was the Scenario and we went there so much that my parents even played on their softball team."
Tommy's, Sidetrack's and Arizona Flats may be long gone, but the Gray Goose Cafe in Southport is Tommy Febbraio's latest restaurant. Sadly, there aren't any nachos on the menu.
In Westport, special restaurant memories were made at both chain restaurants and upscale, special-occasion places.
Fuddrucker's, the national burger chain, was high on many people's lists. "Oh yeah, Fuddrucker's," said Sue Arnold. "In high school, my boyfriend dumped me right before the school dance. My parents took me to Fuddrucker's to cheer me up. That's one hamburger that has endured," she said. The Westport location may be long gone, but there's currently one at Foxwood's Casino. (Apparently they've kept up with the times. Not only are regular burgers on the menu, but "exotics" such as buffalo, elk and wild boar as well.)
Beef Steak Charlie's was another chain that several people mentioned. Not only did they have all-you-can-eat shrimp and beer, wine or sangria, but it was the place memories were made. "I was about 3 at the time, and I bit into a glass and it broke," said Alexandra Sandor. "Yep, that's a family story."
On the other end of the spectrum were venerable establishments, like the Three Bears and the Clam Box. Three Bears had been open since the early 1900s, but, as one person put it, it had become "a dowager restaurant where the predominant hair color was blue." It closed in 2009.
The Clam Box, which later became Tanglewoods and now is Bertucci's, was a huge draw for crowds coming in off Interstate 95 for fresh seafood.
As for me, my favorite gone-but-not-forgotten restaurant was Breakaway on the Post Road in Fairfield, a stone's throw from the Mill River. After a brief stint as Rory's, the space is now occupied by Martel, a very good restaurant in its own right. But on rainy days, I long for Breakaway's cozy atmosphere and its delicious tuna melts. I'm not the only one. "I would have lunch with my mom on Saturdays at Breakaway," said Sean Sullivan. "It was the only `Manhattan-y' place in Fairfield. It was a perfect early-80s design textbook: Art Deco post-modern architectural detail, tasteful pastels and white tablecloths. You could get an amazing gazpacho in season served by a hot waiter. Who could ask for more in tout le monde 1980s Fairfield?"
Want to take a trip down memory lane? Visit eBay and do a search on Westport CT restaurants or Fairfield CT restaurants and see what menus, matchbook covers and pictures pop up!
So we want to know, what restaurant do you miss? Here's a partial list of some dear, departed favorites:
Arizona Flats, Arlington's
Beef Steak Charlie's, Bonanza, Breakaway
Cafe de la Plage, Casa Roma, Chez Pierre, Clam Box, Clementes
Farm Shop, Fuddrucker's
Le Chambord, Leong's Palace
Pearl of Budapest, Penny's Diner, Peppermill, Pie Plate
Soup's On, Southport Diner
Tanglewoods, Three Bears, Tommy's