Repasts from the past: Writer serves up menu of memories from ‘lost’ Fairfield restaurants
Updated 4:40 pm, Monday, December 7, 2015
Fairfield over the last decade or so has become one of the hottest spots in the region’s dining scene, but many may be surprised to learn it also has a rich culinary past.
Food writer and Fairfield native Patti Woods explores the history of Fairfield’s eateries in a new book, “Lost Restaurants of Fairfield,” released this week.
Woods chronicles the Fairfield restaurant scene across the years from the colonial-era Sun Tavern — George Washington ate there — to Tommy Febbraio’s more recent and well-known Post Road restaurants Tommy’s and Sidetracks in the 1970s and ’80s, and long-gone but fondly remembered favorites such as the Pie Plate and Devore’s.
The only requirement for a restaurant to be included in Woods’ culinary history was that the establishment be in Fairfield and now be closed, the writer said.
Among the facts her research unearthed was that Fairfield was once the home of many tearooms where ladies spent hours of their day, and that Fairfield - with the burgeoning inventory of eateries from border to border along the Post Road, as well as Black Rock Turnpike -- now ranks among the top communities in the country for number of restaurants per capita.
Woods enjoyed researching the book, she said, and especially her interviews with Fairfield restaurateurs and diners recalling the meals they enjoyed in the past.
“It’s the stories that I love,” she said, “like, ‘My parents got married in that restaurant,’ or ‘I had my first steak there.’ ”
The memories she heard of particular incidents in Fairfield’s restaurants remain vivid, Woods said, probably because dining out was a more rare and special event in the past than it is now. “People kept saying we didn’t go out to eat then; now it’s the norm,” she said.
Researching and writing the book’s chapter on bars was her favorite, Woods added, especially when she delved into the past of Southport - the “Village” these days is considered a pretty quiet enclave - and found it was quite a different place in the late 1800s. “Southport was like the Wild West,” she said, “with shoot-outs and everything.”
Later, in the early 1900s, Southport was also the home of the tea house called Set A Spell, where women would lunch and play bridge. Fairfield’s tea-drinking citizens would also take a jitney from the Fairfield Public Library to the Tea Time Tavern, a tea room in Greenfield Hill.
The closing of some of the town’s restaurants in the more recent past was the result of a couple of factors, Woods learned from talks with local restaurateurs. The advent of the credit card decreased cash flow to restaurants, making it harder for owners to pay their staff tips at the end of each night. “Sometimes they would have to borrow three days ahead to pay the staff,” she said. Woods also cited “the end of the three-martini lunch,” as another reason the restaurant business had declined for a time in town, she said.
Woods collected many photos of now-defunct restaurants along with the memories to illustrate “Lost Restaurants of Fairfield,” which also includes some of the original recipes from the culinary past. “The majority of the images come from private collections of local residents and Fairfield Museum and History Center,” the publisher, the History Press, said in a press release. “Lost Restaurants of Fairfield” is part of the American Palate series, created “by empowering local history and culture enthusiasts to write local stories for local audiences,” according to the publisher.
The former managing editor of Better Nutrition magazine, Woods began the series of “EatDrinkShopCook” features and blog posts for the Fairfield Citizen and Westport News several years ago. She is a freelance writer and has written food-related articles for Wine Spectator, the Christian Science Monitor and Delicious Living. Now a Trumbull resident, she is also the administrator for the Trumbull Historical Society.
“Lost Restaurants of Fairfield” is published by the History Press. The author will be signing books Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Celtic Christmas Fair at the Gaelic American Club, 74 Beach Road; Saturday, Dec. 19, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Fairfield University Bookstore, 1499 Post Road; and Tuesday, Jan. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at TruNORTH Tavern & Table, 3171 Fairfield Ave. in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. She will also give a talk at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, at the Trumbull Public Library, 33 Quality St., Trumbull.