Sunday, September 14, 2014
Thousands Walk ‘the Slice’
By James Lomuscio From Westport Now
With gastronomic gusto and under sunny September skies with the temperatures in the 60s, more than 2,500 persons today came out for Westport’s third annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.
Surrounded by new and old Saugatuck, they sampled an outdoor array of chilies, oysters, hot dogs, yogurt, olive oil, pulled pork, ziti and sesame chicken.
The food seemed endless. So did the walk from the corner of Saugatuck and Riverside Avenues to Railroad Place. This is the heart of the once working-class Italian community now revitalized by construction of the Gault Family-owned Saugatuck Center complex of retail, residential, and offices.
The Center with its two plazas was the gathering point for many of today’s 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. events. They included everything from firefighter door breaking demonstrations to making animals out of balloons.
Music from three Staples High School bands and a steel drum band in front of Tarry Lodge kept the mood upbeat, the crowd energized.
This was the third Slice of Saugatuck Festival. It was begun in 2011 (there was no festival last year) by Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member who said then he wanted to showcase the neighborhood’s redevelopment and history.
“I don’t think there’s a better day for Westport than today,” said Mandell, noting the weather seemed made to order.
Mandell stood on the corner of Bridge Street, working the Chamber booth with lifelong Westporter Randy Christophersen and Linda Matthews,
Mandell said 43 local businesses—25 of them restaurants and caterers—were participating.
The food was free, and money raised went to Homes with Hope’s Gillespie Center.
New Westporters and longtime residents turned out to enjoy the festivities.
Jo Fuchs Luscombe and Tammy Pincavage, both of whom have volunteered countless hours to town causes over the years, jockeyed into the long line in front of the Boathouse Restaurant stand for pulled pork and mango barbecue being served up by Chef Paul Scoran.
“So far we went to Tutti’s, and I had a little bit of everything,” said Fuchs Luscombe.
“Then we went to Saugatuck Sweets and had ice cream,” said Pincavage.
“I recommend the swirl,” Fuchs Luscombe said, noting that the two had also gone to the Garelick & Herbs booth.
She stared down at her $10 admission card on which each stop had been checked off.
“We’re going to try 10,” Fuchs Luscombe said. “If you go to 10, then you get a prize, and I’m going to hold Matt Mandell to it.”
“Based on the turnout today, the Gillespie Center should make a ton of money, and I’m glad,” said Probate Judge Lisa Wexler, relaxing with friends Michael and Carla Rea at the Saugatuck Center plaza where the Staples band C4S played.
The festival drew a number of town and state officials, including First Selectman Jim Marpe, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, state Sen. Toni Boucher, and even Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
On the sidewalk in front of his restaurant, Bill Rizzuto, owner of Rizzuto’s, hustled nonstop, offering up wood-grilled oysters to those in the long line that snaked along the sidewalk to Viva Zapata’s.
“These are all Westport raised and harvested,” Rizzuto told the crowd.
Behind him, employee Marco Lopez continued to pour oysters on the grill, shucking them when they were done.
“It’s been non stop,” Rizzuto beamed.
The same was true in front of Viva Zapata’s where fish tacos were going like, well, fish tacos. Schyler O’Mahony, whose parents own the restaurant, instructed the line of more than 20 persons to wait a few minutes until two more trays were brought out.
In addition to the tacos, another draw into Viva Zapata was $5 Margaritas today.
Mandell dubbed the event “Slice” since geographically, from the pointed Saugatuck and Riverside Avenues intersection to Railroad Place resembles a slice of pizza.
He also felt the word slice paid homage to the area’s Italian heritage. Saugatuck’s history was on display at Railroad Place in a Westport Historical Society pop-up in an empty storefront.
Nearby, Tom Papan, owner of Commuter Coffee for 37 years, served up cups of his homemade Greek yogurt, spicy chili and lemon chicken soup.
Around the corner, the curious stopped at Luciano Park, where Maker Faire 3-D demonstrations and a “Nerdy Derby, a Pine Wood Derby with no rules,” was underway, according to Mark Mathias, a Board of Education member who brought Maker Faire to town.
Staples freshman Rick Eason also grabbed attention with his high-flying drone
Prior to the event, Mandell urged all “to walk the slice.”
Nancy Sherter, who lives on Saugatuck Island, took it a step further, kayaking from her home to the dock at Down Under.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said about the event. “I live in Saugatuck, and I’m happy that it’s a very vibrant community now.”
Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were among the scores that had lined up for samples into front of Saugatuck Craft Butchery.
“It’s a perfect day for a super event thanks to all of the Saugatuck businesses and restaurants opening their doors,” said Marpe.