Insider's Guide

Fairfielders Reveal 50 Plus Tips & Favorite Things: Food, Music, Fitness, Style, Fun & More Around Town



Tom & Ryan Odinak

Pediatrician/Garage Band Rocker and Director of the Fairfield County Cultural Alliance

Ryan Odinak was the first Executive Director at the Fairfield Arts Council then moved on to direct the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County in Norwalk. When she’s not working, Ryan might be writing, painting, print-making or pursuing any number of other creative undertakings. Tom is a popular pediatrician in town, but on his rare days off he takes guitar lessons, practicing for his moonlighting job as a guitar player in The Distractions, which recently headlined an evening at The Bijou in Bridgeport. If there’s something musical or cultural happening in town, regardless of genre, chances are good that one or both of them will be there.

“She’s been dragging me to gallery openings ever since we met, and I’ve been dragging her to bars and music,” Tom reports.

In one recent week, the couple had attended a concert at the Quick Center (Fairfield University, 1073 North Benson Road), investigated a community drumming circle and quilting and batik exhibit at City Lights (37 Markle Court, Bridgeport), and listened in on a panel, which included Fairfielders Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth alongside José Feliciano and Nile Rodgers, discussing the history of rock and roll in Fairfield at the Fairfield Museum and History Center (370 Beach Road). “They had this interesting conversation about how they’ve made their creative lives here,” Ryan says. “There’s a vibrant creative community where we live, and it seems they’ve really enjoyed being integrated into their community.”

When it comes to music, few venues can beat the Fairfield Theatre Company (70 Sanford Street), according to the couple. “They have great programming—rock, jazz, blues, pop. There’s so much to choose from many nights a week. Usually you’ve got to be in a big city for that,” Tom says. “I like to go to the Quick Center for jazz, classical or international music. We saw John Lithgow do a reading there and it was riveting.” Ryan recommends checking out the Quick’s Open Visions Forum. “I sometimes enjoy being introduced to things that are out of my area of expertise,” she says.

She also appreciates the programming at Sacred Heart University’s Join the Conversation (Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, 5151 Park Avenue). “Having the universities here is such a cultural multiplier for a town the size of Fairfield,” she says.

She and Tom often cross the town line for music and culture. “I think Bridgeport is important to Fairfield culturally,” says Ryan, mentioning a “first-rate” exhibition on Connecticut innovators she attended at the Discovery Museum (4450 Park Avenue). Tom adds, “There’s a hipness to Black Rock that’s missing in Fairfield, whether it’s the restaurants or the clubs or the bars.” One of Tom’s favorites is Acoustic Cafe (2926 Fairfield Avenue, #3). “It’s so intimate,” he says.

A bit north, in Bridgeport, he likes the Bijou Theatre (275 Fairfield Avenue), which hosts concerts, documentaries, lectures and more, and encourages patrons to bring in food from neighboring Two Boots Cafe (281 Fairfield Avenue). A lot less intimate but a whole lot of fun for the Fairfield guitar player is the Gathering of the Vibes (Seaside Park). “I went all by myself last year, but I saw so many people that I knew. I loved it!”

Back in town, Ryan attends and appreciates many cultural events at the Fairfield Public Library (1080 Old Post Road). “The libraries here in Fairfield have transformed themselves and become real cultural hubs for music, writing, lectures, art,” she says, “and that’s an equalizer, in that a lot of their things are free.”

 

Stephanie & Bob Scheetz

Fitness Instructor/Sports Mom and Runner/Coach/Investment Executive

She leads strengthening and stretching classes at The Bar Method, and he’s a suit-wearing, train-riding head of consultant relations at Invesco. At home, though, Stephanie and Bob Scheetz head a family of stylish fitness junkies who have been running, skating or chasing a ball since they graduated from crawling.


The Scheetz clan—including kids Samantha, Kyle and Courtney—spent years playing lacrosse, soccer and hockey at Wakeman Boys & Girls Club (385 Center Street, Southport) and Bob coached them all. “We have to give a big shout-out to Wakeman,” says Bob, who volunteered as a coach there for about twenty years.

To keep themselves fit, Stephanie and Bob like to run along Mill Plain Road and stop at Sportsplex (85 Mill Plain Road). Stephanie teaches yoga there at The Bar Method and works out with a personal trainer at Fit Club. On the couple’s “try list”: indoor climbing at Carabiner’s and fencing at the fairfield fencing academy. Stephanie also enjoys spinning at Zenride Spin (869 Post Road).

Bob and Stephanie play tennis and golf at Brooklawn Country Club (500 Algonquin Road), and their kids have enjoyed the Carl Dickman Par 3 course (70 Old Dam Road). For athletic wear, the family suits up from head to toe at Athletic Shoe Factory (2475 Black Rock Turnpike).

Once the fun and games end, Stephanie and Bob know how to step up their style. First, hair. They both go to Hair (39 South Pine Creek), where Stephanie swears by Master Stylist Yogi. She gets her nails done at L & G Nail Salon (2480 Black Rock Turnpike) because “they’re very customer-service oriented,” she says.

When it comes to clothing, Bob believes that Fairfield lacks what he needs to make the right impression. For suits and shirts he relies on a tailor who travels twice a year to his New York City workplace for made-to-measure apparel. For shoes, ties, casual clothing and accessories, he heads to Mitchells (670 Post Road East, Westport).

There’s no question where they buy their baubles and bling: Altan Jewelers (1487 Post Road). If a piece of jewelry catches Stephanie’s eye but she’s unsure of whether to buy it, Mike, the owner, will let her take it home and try it for a while. “Mike is the greatest,” Stephanie says. “For the fake stuff, I go to Capri (1417 Post Road). And I love in2 design by Louise Baldwin of Fairfield. She sells at Capri.”

While she’s shopping downtown, Stephanie makes sure to make several stops. “I love Snappy Gator (1438 Post Road). I like their AG skinny jeans. I love Apricot Lane (1499 Post Road) and La Moda (1434 Post  Road).” She also stops in at Island Outfitters (1189 Post Road) for Vineyard Vines and Patagonia brands. “We are keeping the economy alive here in Fairfield!” Stephanie reports.

 

Sara McEldowney Kwon Jannott

PTA MOM (and Beachcomber)

Ralph McEldowney III lived on the same patch of Fairfield shoreline for seventy years, until a year ago when he sold his house to Ralph IV and moved into the cottage in the back (technically the front). These days, both Ralphs share their houses with daughter/sister Sara and her family all summer long. It sounds complicated, but it’s life at the beach, so it all just washes together.


“When I was a kid growing up, nobody lived at the beach year-round. No normal person, anyway. And certainly no families. But we lived there,” recalls Sara, who grew up in the same house in which her father and grandmother were raised. “So many houses weren’t winterized and were falling apart. The road was a patched mess. But we loved it.”

She spent the day doing what her kids do today. “My thirteen-year-old spends most summers on the jetty (access the beach at 323 Fairfield Beach Road and walk south) fishing for snappers. He’ll stand out there at high tide for hours. The kids love going to Jimmy O’s in Black Rock (3295 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport). It’s a cute little local bait shop. You bring your kid in and they hook you up with everything you need.”

Ralph III spent his days pretty much the same way. “Crabbing, fishing, boating, going to parties. You name it,” says Ralph, who has lived on Fairfield beach since he was born. First the “house” was a cottage built by his grandfather and heated by kerosene. Years later, Ralph’s mother and stepfather renovated the whole thing, lifting it nine and a half feet off the ground.

“It was the first house built into the air like that. They put a garage door out on the beach and put another garage door out on the roadside. When the water ran through, they would open the doors and the water would just run through,” Ralph recalls. “The neighbors didn’t know what to make of it. It didn’t catch on at all!”

Today those doors corral the clubhouse—a bathroom, shower and a little kitchen, grills, tables and toys, skim boards, boogie boards, kayaks, windsurfers, motor boats, sailboats. Paddleboards are the newest addition to the collection. “My brother loves it, but I have a hard time with the waves,” Sara says. She suggests trying one out from Fairfield Board Company (1700 Post Road, B5, access in the rear). For sailing and boating, the McEldowneys recommend the Fairfield Sailing School (Auxiliary Coast Guard Building, 880 South Benson Road). “Last summer we all got our boating license at Jennings Beach,” Sara says. “We took a class in that little tiny building at the end of the parking lot.”

Not all of the McEldowneys’ summer fun is at Penfield Beach. Sara likes Lake Mohegan’s (960 Morehouse Highway) sprinkler park for families with young children. And she’s a big fan of our town’s open space trails (maps at 75 Mill Plain Road). She and her family enjoy geocaching on the Pine Creek trail (at the end of Old Dam Road) and love to explore the marsh at Ash Creek (access off of Riverside Drive). Another hidden gem, Sara says, is Perry’s Mill Pond at Mill River (easiest access on Sturges Road, off of Bronson). “There’s a beautiful trail with bridges where you can go fishing,” she says.

 

Desiree Witt & Zac Hofer

Boutique Owner and Butcher-Turned-Aerospace Industry Analyst (and self-proclaimed “semi-pro mixologist”)

By day, she’s the owner of Pious Bird of Good Omen, an eclectic home-furnishings and accessories store in Black Rock. He’s an aerospace and defense analyst working in Newtown. By night she’s studying to be an herbalist. He hones his skills as a card-carrying member of the butchers’ union. Desirée and Zac can tell you the best places to eat and drink in Fairfield because, chances are, they just came in from doing that. Unless, of course, they skipped the middle man and brewed it or aged it or grew it themselves in their Stratfield-neighborhood home. Recently, a visitor to their house would find a slab of beef dry-aging in the refrigerator, hard cider fermenting in the hall, Belgian holiday porter aging in the basement and a stash of cranberry anise bitters that Desirée cooked up as a gift for Zac. They’re a couple of contemporary foodies with an affinity for all things retro.


“We were both part of the Manhattan speak-easy scene for a while,” Zac says. The couple grew partial to the artisan food and drink movement in Brooklyn when they lived in New York. But when they moved to Fairfield, where Desirée was raised, they discovered that “Brooklyn Modern” turns out to be classic Fairfield.

Zac recommends checking out the Fairfield Meat Emporium (849 Kings Highway), where the butchers smoke their own meats and cure their own cold cuts, as well as turn out Hungarian classics like chicken paprikash and beef goulash. Desirée opts for A&S Italian Fine Foods (2079 Black Rock Turnpike), where the butchers busy in the back create about a dozen different kinds of fresh sausage every day, craft their own mozzarella and cut meats to order.

When Desirée and Zac want a beefy bite out, the couple can choose from a host of steakhouses in town. Yet their favorite is an old standby: the Angus Steakhouse (2133 Black Rock Turnpike), where they can get beef the way they love it— practically blue. “It’s rare to get a rare steak around here,” laments Zac. Many restaurants won’t serve rare meat because of health concerns; others use frozen meat so they can’t actually cook it rare. But at the Angus, so-rare-they’re-blue burgers and the retro classic prime rib are among the couple’s favorite meals. “Eat at the bar,” Zac recommends. “Kit is the best bartender around. And if you want a cocktail that was popular in the ’70s, any country-club classic, he knows how to make it for you.”

Head to Bodega Taco Bar (1700 Post Road) for another bartender who deserves a shout-out, the couple says. According to Desirée, Joe makes a mean michelada, which goes wonderfully with her favorite dish, buffalo lamb ribs.

The couple’s all-around favorite food joint is about half a mile up the road, at The Chelsea (12 Unquowa Place). Not only is the gourmet gastro-pub a hopping place to meet friends, the fare on the table is more layered than it appears. Across the street, Desirée counts on Pizzeria Molto Mozzarella and Wine Bar (1215 Post Road) for a good glass of wine and consistently good food. The restaurant is practically neighbors with another of her favorites, Fin Japanese Restaurant (1241 Post Road).

Now that the temperature is warming up, Desirée and Zac like to dine and drink at the Delamar Hotel’s Artisan restaurant (275 Old Post Road, Southport). “The outdoor garden at Artisan is the perfect place for a drink, and they’re one of the few restaurants in Fairfield that serves farm-to-table cuisine,” reports Desirée.

Though they appreciate what’s new and trendy in food, sometimes at the end of the day Desirée and Zac share in some old-school fun: sipping a Scorpion from a flaming volcano bowl. Zac is a tiki-drink meister and this classic, made famous by Trader Vic’s restaurant in the 1950s, has been reprised at Lilac House (2480 Black Rock Turnpike). The flaming, 150-proof rum is mandatory. Decorative umbrellas are optional.

 

Austin Ganim & Daphne Dixon

Garden Guru and Queen of Green

Like his father and grandfather before him, Austin Ganim supplies, designs and tends to the gardens of Fairfield. “I’ve been a pretty steady fixture around here since I was sixteen or so,” Austin says from Ganim’s Garden Center (320 Kings Highway Cutoff). When he was a kid, most customers sought supplies for their backyard vegetable gardens. These days, though, Fairfield customers want a whole lot more. The garden has graduated, and so has the gardener.


Many Fairfielders want to incorporate more green practices into their lives as well as their landscapes. So, these days, Austin finds himself running into Daphne Dixon all over town. She’s involved in a host of environmental initiatives, including her company Conscious Decisions (consciousdecisionsmag.com), which helps communities make informed, eco-friendly decisions.

Daphne was raised in California during a severe drought. “I grew up with a great awareness that we all need to take care of our natural resources,” she says. When she relocated to Fairfield thirteen years ago, she found common ground with her new neighbors. “Fairfield, in my opinion, is one of the most eco-friendly communities in the state.”

To get started here, Daphne enrolled in the University of Connecticut extension service’s Master Gardener Program (ladybug.uconn.edu/mastergardener). “I really needed to be awakened to the impact of what was going on in my own backyard. And I bet there were a whole lot of people like me who don’t know what we don’t know.” She hosts Fairfield Green Drinks (greendrinks.org/ct/fairfield) on the first Tuesday of every month so that the eco-conscious in Fairfield can swap information, hear a speaker and enjoy a beverage.

As a member of the town’s Clean Energy Task Force, Daphne is quick to provide an insider’s view of Fairfield’s environmental initiatives: solar panels power the schools and town buildings, alternative fuels power vehicles, schools have their own gardens, residents undertake single-stream recycling and more. “We have sixty-six solar panel projects in town!” she says.

Eco-conscious drivers in Fairfield can fuel up their natural-gas-powered cars at the Compressed Natural Gas Fueling Station (605 One Rod Highway), or their electric cars at Sherman Green (1451 Post Road, in the parking lot behind the gazebo) or Whole Foods (350 Grasmere Avenue). Even though Daphne has forsaken her manicured lawn for native grass, she sends friends to Fairfielder Dan Devanthal’s Mowgreen (mowgreen.us), who cuts grass with a push mower.

When she’s running from one event to the next, Daphne likes to stop at The Stand Juice Company (87 Mill Plain Road). Not only is their food organic, sustainable and ethically sourced, she says, all the waste goes into the compost heap for eventual transfer to a local farm.

That same farm, Patty Popp's Sport Hill Farm (596 Sport Hill Road, Easton), is Austin Ganim’s favorite place to buy organic vegetables. Across the road, he picks up produce from Sherwood Farm (355 Sport Hill Road). Fairfielders can get local eggs from Wyatt and Sarah Whiteman (33 Stillson Road), or the Greenfield Hills Farmer's Market (1950 Bronson Road). These days, there are hardly any farms left in Fairfield, Ganim reports, but the Haydu family (3763 Congress Street), he says, still grows and sells local corn, produce and pumpkins.

Ganim, who is thirty-five years old, earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Connecticut. His own company, Austin Ganim Landscape Design (also at 320 Kings Highway Cutoff), designs and tends to gardens, literally from the ground up. Fewer Fairfielders have time to spend gardening than in the past, he believes. Lately customers seem interested in espalier fruit trees, heirloom tomatoes and organic offerings.

One trend Fairfield’s do-it-yourself gardeners have embraced is mixing in compost with their plantings. Harvest (295 One Rod Highway) sells mulch, compost and topsoil made from the town’s organic recycled materials. “As a town tax-payer, as long as you’re in a car or small truck, you can go there and dump your leaves and wood chips for free,” Ganim says.

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