Ridgefield: A Picture Perfect New England Town

You’ll find everything here your heart may desire—ambiance, four-star restaurants, luxury shopping—even a knight in shining armor.



: A Picture-Perfect New England Town

 

You’ll find everything here your heart may desire—ambiance, four-star restaurants, luxury shopping—even a knight in shining armor.

 

During the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, British and Hessian troops advanced down Main Street looking for patriots who were known to frequent Keeler Tavern at the south end of town. Today, residents are more likely to battle traffic and the tourists who converge on this picture-perfect New England town every weekend.

 

The town, founded in 1708, consists of nearly 35 square miles of wooded rolling hills, freshwater ponds, lakes and streams and even a public 18-hole golf course. The heart of it all is Main Street (aka Route 35 and Danbury Road), a 32-foot wide parkway lined with shops, restaurants and striking examples of Victorian, Greek Revival and American Shingle architecture, some dating back to the early 18th century. Generous sidewalks, flanking both sides of street, are usually bustling with dogs and their walkers, moms with strollers and shoppers.

 

There is a wide but generally pricey range of housing options available for those who find this Norman Rockwell scene irresistible. According to realtor Pat Mead of Prudential Connecticut Realty (409 Main Street; 203-438-9501), a one-bedroom apartment in Casagmo or Fox Hill (condominium complexes in the area) would run about $155,000 while an antique Victorian on Main Street would start at $1.2 million. It’s no surprise that 22 percent of the families here (population 24,000) earn more than $200,000 a year.

To cater to this upscale clientele, the town offers virtually every luxury good for sale—three jewelers on Main Street alone (If your Valentine was extra good this year—and you have an extra $50,000 or so to spend—splurge on a yellow
diamond ring at Adessi’s), antiques stores on virtually every corner, fine linens, delectable sweets and even an award-winning day spa (see box next page, “A Spa Gets a Makeover”). But you can meet all your more pedestrian needs as well without leaving town: There are shops for hardware, photo and office supplies, wine and spirits, pharmaceuticals, dog grooming and even a
combination barber/woodworking shop. (Michael’s Barbershop/Geppetto’s Woodshop [396 Main Street; 203-438-4600], is run by Mike Pontello, who has been in the same location for 47 years, cutting hair, crafting whimsical wooden rocking horses and dispensing nuggets of Ridgefield history.)

 

Parking in town is plentiful and free for up to three hours (a longer-term lot is on Governor Street, just west of the Boys and Girls Club). The main drag is a little over a mile long, with museums and mansions to the south, and shops, restaurants, the library and a wonderful playground at Ballard Park to the north. To reward yourself for walking the loop, indulge in a cappuccino and some fresh croissants or a pain au chocolat at Patisserie des Anglaises, (408 Main Street; 203-894-8482) conveniently located smack dab in the middle of town. You may need frequent infusions for the stamina needed to visit all the shops. Here are a few favorites on and off Main Street.

 

 

Galleries, Gifts and Housewares

It’s worth a trip to Ridgefield just to see the one-of-a-kind studio furniture, ceramics, art glass and metalworks at The Ironwood Gallery of Contemporary Art (421-B Main Street; 203-431-3388). It is a
veritable museum of the best in American crafts—indeed, many of the artists are also represented in museums around the country. A recent exhibit of wooden works included an extraordinary Calderesque stabile, burled bowls and unique tables incorporating wood and stone. Nearly every piece in the store “spoke to me” and I could envision its perfect place in my home. Sadly, my checkbook balance overruled. Be forewarned—these are works of art and are priced as such.

When you enter the Enchanted Design Studio (15 Bailey Avenue; 203-438-9934), you step quite literally into a world of whimsy. Owner and artist Trisha Arata has completely covered the floor and
ceiling with samples of her painting and faux finishes that are a primary focus of the store. She also carries a large selection of really fun things— sheer and beaded lampshades ($25 to $75), soaps that look like hunks of semi-precious stones ($10), kidswear for newborns to size seven
and just-too-cute-for-words
animal head muffs. Perfect for Valentine’s Day: a string of heart lights ($25).

Need a last minute gift that doesn’t look last minute? Oliver Barrett Fine Stationers (99 Danbury Road; 203-438-0400) offers in-store printing so you can dash in and out with a beautifully wrapped package of personalized stationery. The store carries everything from traditional Crane’s to fun, contemporary cards for every occasion. Check out the romantic handmade Valentine’s Day cards along with kits for the kids to create their own.

Ever wondered where you could pick up a set of bagpipes? Or where to buy (or rent) authentic kilts for men? Celtic Croft (423 Main Street; 203-431-4866) fills the bill for those items and more with specialty items imported from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall: stag horn handle carving sets ($240), mohair or merino wool blankets ($120), Tipperary crystal, pottery, sweaters and walking capes and a fabulous collection of Kathy Scrivens’s wild silk scarves ($50 to $150).

T.L. Bennett (448 Main Street; 203-894-8565) carries an exquisite array of table and bed linens, place mats and quilts along with decorative European accessories. For Belgian bed and table linens, as well as tapestries, visit the Belgian Huis, 409 Main Street; 203-438-5599). The christening gowns here are the sweetest I’ve seen, all adorned with Brussels lace ($40 to $120).

Touch of Sedona (452 Main Street; 203-438-7146) calls itself a boutique and spiritual center and offers angel and astrology readings, Reiki and chair
massages along with dream catchers, Native American art and jewelry. Insider tip: At 12:30 p.m. they offer readings or
massages for 20 minutes. Next door
is Cobblestones (458 Main Street; 203-438-4510) with more mainstream gifts and collectibles.

The Complete Kitchen (410 Main Street; 203-431-7722) has everything you could ever want for your kitchen, from All-Clad to Zyliss, along with cooking classes for adults and children (so you know what to do with all your fun new toys).

Lavender and Sage (17 Catoonah Street; 203-438-7787) has the most yummy smelling lemon and lavender soaps ($7) and unusually patterned African candles ($7 to $13). Also amusing are the decorative candle snuffers, bookbeads—bookmarks on a silk ribbon that could easily double as jewelry—and faerie mirrors to hang in your garden to attract, what else, faeries. Other finds off Main Street include Valery’s (One Big Shop Lane; 203-431-4759) with beautiful and unusual silk and dried floral arrangements; Birdnest of Ridgefield next door (203-431-9889) with housing, feeders and food for all things avian and Flourishes (17 Bailey Avenue, 203-894-8415) for seasonal accents for home and garden.

 

Antiques, Consignments And Furnishings

Looking for a knight in shining armor? He can be yours for just $200 at Turkey Ridge Antiques (One Bailey Avenue; 203-431-1255). Of course, at that price, we know he’s not the real McCoy. But at that price, who cares? I spied an authentic hand carved carousel style rocking horse ($2,395) and a Flexible Flyer sled ($95) along with adorable Burberry plaid reading glasses in matching case ($19.50). Silver Lining (470 Main Street; 203-431-0132) is a favorite haunt of decorators—for good reason. On a recent visit I found a beautiful mosaic fireplace and a massive butcher block topped with an enormous papier-mache chicken head! Also intriguing is Cromlix Antiques and Consignment Company (454 Main Street; 203-431-7726), described by a clerk as “an eclectic mix—some things old, some things new, some borrowed, some blue.” Hunter’s Consignments (426 Main Street; 203-438-9065) is a rambling rabbit warren, jam-packed with furniture, chandeliers and lamps, estate jewelry, silverware and dishes. For antique clocks, music boxes and barometers, visit Horologist of London (450 Main Street; 203-438-4332). M. Rivard Vintage Home (384 Main Street; 203-438-6437) has beautiful crystal chandeliers, Austrian crystal ornaments ($24.50) and sun catchers ($38.50) along with furniture and one-of-a-kind accessories.

 

Clothing and Accessories

I had always thought of Ridgefield as a Talbots kind of town—you know, classy, reserved, conservative. And indeed, there is a Talbots (90 Danbury Road, 203-438-7361) along with a Gap (440 Main Street; 203-438-7009) and a Chico’s (404 Main Street, 203-431-0692) for good measure. But if you’re after a funkier look no one else has, head straight to Parker East Dry Goods (420 Main Street; 203-894-8433). You’ll find everything from dramatic kimono style jackets (my favorite was a sheer black number adorned with appliqués and metallic stitching, $105) to blue jeans to jammies, along with the cutest collection of purses. You will love the Tasha Polizzi folk art jackets and Amy Jo Gladstone shoes at Kathryn & Co. (13 Bailey Avenue; 203-438-5075). Don’t miss Minnie & Me (5 Bailey Avenue; 203-431-5799) right next door.

For kids, The Cortina Shop (449 Main Street; 203-438-3466) has a wonderful selection of little girls’ party dresses with sweet little matching bags, smart sweaters for boys and the softest stuffed animals imaginable for babies. To reward patient little shoppers, stop in next door at The Toy Chest (441 Main Street; 203-431-9227). It carries all the basics and more—jack-in-the-boxes that play Swan Lake and feature a ballerina popping out, Gotz and Corolle dolls, collector-caliber Barbies.

RB’s Clothing Outlets (behind 424 Main Street; 203-431-7634) stands for real brands, real bargains and offers just that for men, women and children—at about half what you’d pay at the Danbury Fair Mall just a few miles north.

The name—Chambers Army Navy (38 Danbury Road; 203-438-5797)—is a bit of a misnomer. There is so much more here than army-navy surplus—tons of sporting equipment, clothing, hiking boots and my favorite hard-to-find Dansko clogs.

 

Dining

Ridgefield offers plenty of options for eating—from Chez Lenard, a sidewalk hot dog stand, to cozy bistros to elegant four-star restaurants. These are tried and tested favorites:

When I want to treat myself to a four-star meal, one of my top choices is Bernard’s (20 West Lane; 203-438-8282), owned by Bernard and Sarah Bouissou (who met while working together at NYC’s Le Cirque). While the restaurant has a reputation for being “formal and fancy,” Sarah Bouissou insists she and Bernard are not. “We want people to know they can come in, have a glass of wine and listen to music,” she says. To that end, they have recently started a jazz night upstairs on Thursdays, featuring local jazz musicians, a bistro-style menu ($8 to $24), wines by the glass or half bottle. The Sunday prix-fixe brunch is $30; lunches run $7 to $23; dinners $8 to $32.

Elms Restaurant & Tavern (500 Main Street; 203-438-9206) is really two restaurants under one 18th-century roof, with “fine dining” in the four candlelit colonial rooms, casual fare in the tavern. Four fireplaces throughout maintain the cozy ambience. Chef Brendan Walsh (formerly with Arizona 206 in Manhattan) focuses on true American favorites—chowders, stews, roasts, pies and pudding—with the selection changing seasonally. This winter, don’t miss the curried apple and buttercup soup, lobster shepherd’s pie or thyme roasted pheasant (finish it off with an apple pandowdy). Dinner is a prix-fixe menu at $50, the tavern menu ranges from $10 to $21 (and is one of the few places around to find bangers and mash, $15).

That the pancakes at Gail’s Station House (378 Main Street, 203-438-9775) were featured in Gourmet Magazine tells you something. You can get them plain, or with bananas and pecans or corn and cheddar, all served with pure Vermont maple syrup ($5 to $6.25). Custom omelets or scrambled eggs are $6.50 to $10. Lunches run $4.75 to $10.50, with lots of veggie choices. They are now serving dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Check out the cute hat collection that decorates the walls.

Catoonah Kitchen and Bar (23-1/2 Catoonah Street; 203-438-6839) serves up innovative American cuisine in a casual, relaxed bar and dining room. I’m partial to the grilled chicken and bacon appetizer with Thai peanut sauce and the crispy red snapper over soba noodles. Lunch ($6 to $12.50) is available weekdays and dinner ($17 to $24.50 including salad) is served every day but Sunday.

Lunch entrées at Biscotti (3 Big Shop Lane; 203-431-3637) run from $9 to $15, including a side salad of mesclun greens (I love the crab, shrimp and asparagus frittata and filet mignon panini). Dinner entrées run $17 to $21 (the tilapia, roasted in a pine nut, sesame, poppy crust and served over garlic mashed potatoes is to die for). For the diet conscious, they serve fat-free and low-fat items as well. By the way, their biscotti is the best!

Tucked below Biscotti is Luc’s (203-894-8522)—a French country bistro with low-timbered ceilings and stone walls. For lunch, there are salads from $6 to $14.50, sandwiches (including my favorite, croque-monsieur) from $7 to $10. Entreés range from $13.50 for a burger to $23.50 for le steak frites with a choice of sauces. Every time I go, it’s bustling. On my way out one sunny afternoon, I spotted model Patti Hansen in the bar.

Wild Ginger (461 Main Street; 203-431-4588) is a small, casual Asian–fusion restaurant that is always packed at lunch, and the line goes out the door at dinnertime for those wanting take-out. Where else can you go when mom wants Pad Thai, dad demands General Tso’s chicken and the kids scream for Udon noodles? Lunch specials are $6.95 or $7.95; dinner entrées are $9.95 to $14.95

Caputo’s East Ridge Café (5 Grove Street; 203-894-1940) serves contemporary Italian American for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. The bar is open until 1 a.m. weekdays, 2 a.m. weekends. Both the lunch and dinner menus are expansive and available for take-out. In the mood for good country Italian? Try Spagone (113 Danbury Road; 203-438-5518). It’s not fancy, but has a warm, romantic atmosphere and great, reasonably priced food (lunch is $10 to $17, dinner $16 to $24).

Bailey’s Backyard (23 Bailey Avenue; 203-431-0796) serves lunch Monday through Saturday and dinners Tuesday through Sunday. Prices range from $6 for a divine butternut squash soup to $28 for a grilled veal chop with a mustard sage sauce.

Want something a little spicier? For the past 15 years, Southwest Café (109 Danbury Road; 203-431-3398) has been serving up fajitas, chimechangas, burritos, and other southwestern treats ($4.50 to $12.95). They also offer “skinny lunches” so you can get the taste without the added waist.

If you’re craving a burger, know that the locals head for Bully’s Steakhouse (470 Main Street; 203-431-1992) for their monstrous half-pounders or The Ancient Mariner (451 Main Street; 203-438-4771).

Dessert anyone? Deborah Ann’s Homemade Chocolates (453 Main Street; 203-438-0065) and Sweet Pierre’s (3 Danbury Road; 203-431-9022) will satisfy even the most discriminating chocoholic, while Mr. Shane’s (409 Main Street; 203-431-8020) is known for his gourmet ice cream.

 

 

 

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