Dining out begins in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — The first phase in Connecticut’s slow but hopeful return to normalcy took place last week … and were people ever happy about it!

Many restaurants around Fairfield opened with limited outdoor seating on Wednesday, May 20, per detailed guidelines from the state. As warm and sunny weather rolled out toward the long holiday weekend, diners from in and out of town were thrilled for a break in the boredom, a chance to eat out for the first time in months, and also for an opportunity to bring a boost of support to flagging local businesses that have suffered the downside of forced closures.

“We’ve missed it,” said Jennie Gardiner of Fairfield, who enjoyed a Friday afternoon lunch at Martel Bistro & Bar with her friend Jackie Keehan of Southport.

“The sun’s out and this is a very small pleasure in our lives, to be able to sit outside,” said Keehan.

“It feels like a relief,” said local attorney David Dworski, also having a late lunch on the sunny patio.

“It’s nice to get a little semblance of normality back,” he said.

Owner Marty Levine, like most restaurant owners, remains slightly stunned from the abrupt closure that, for the most part, aborted business operations two months ago. Yet like others, he’s hoping there’s a lot to look forward following this first step.

“When the weather improves, I think I’ll be feeling a lot better,” he said.

He pointed out that the new outdoor dining space he had available to the left of his main patio was “a godsend,” and said he hoped to soon have a tent up and even live music to offer guests through the summer months ahead.

According to the state’s 14-page guideline document from Gov. Ned Lamont, released on May 8, owners have a variety of elements demanding attention, including employee training, cleaning plans, and personal protection equipment. Single-use packets of condiments, rolled or packaged silverware, and disposable or displayed menus are among the slightly less elegant element to — at least for now — make up every dining experience.

“It feels good to get back to a little bit of normalcy,” said Blair Hodgdon, manager at Centro Ristorante.

“People have been very supportive of us with curbside pickup and everything,” she said, but it hasn’t been the same by any stretch.

“We miss all our guests,” she said. “We’re just hoping to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

“It’s nice to be home,” said longtime customer Vickie Pagliarini of Trumbull, enjoying the outdoor seating adjacent to the Sherman Town Green.

“It’s nice to be waited on,” said her companion Lorna Young of Norwalk. “We’re sick of cooking for everyone else.”

Across the street, Old Post Tavern is open as well, providing new additional outdoor space at the corner of Unquowa and Post Roads.

“The town was great and allowed us to expand,” said owner Patrick Tennaro, with 50 seats available for customers, “and our landlord was amazing.”

“We’re really excited to be able to open,” he said. “I think it’s been a long time coming.”

“This is amazing,” said customer Kate Bruzinski of Fairfield, dining with her fiancé Brian Duffy. “It feels much more normal.”

The couple were due to marry on July 17, but due to the COVID-19 closures, everything got pushed back, so that the wedding is now set for May 14 of next year.

“It’s still not normal,” Bruzinski acknowledged of the world at large, “but it makes you feel better to see people out. There are so many kids biking around too, and I think that lifts our spirits a little bit.”

“Everybody’s been excited to be back,” said Lauren Orellana, owner of Aurora’s, who said the vibes are good and people are enjoying the renewed experience.

“We’re very excited to be out and about in public,” said Kelly Linskey of Fairfield, having lunch with her friend Nicole Kapoutsos of Fairfield.

“I’m so thankful to see people and faces and civilization,” Kapoutsos said.