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Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

Yeah, I think this week we’re going out to eat again.

Last year around this time, we dropped in on my grandparents in May 1969, as they marked their wedding anniversary with a splurgey meal in the upscale town of Westport.

This year we revisit them six years later to the day. They are still married, of course, and still committed to going out for their anniversary.

But some things have changed: My grandpa is retired now, and has a little less money to throw around. He’s probably watching what he eats a little bit more, too.

For this year’s celebration, they stay a little closer to home, choosing a Stamford institution for their big dinner:

May 3, 1975.

May 3, 1975.

A little searching on the Internet, and the place starts coming alive:

The Stamford Advocate tells us the Chimney Corner did business for 41 years at Long Ridge and Webbs Hill roads, and was particularly popular among elderly diners for its early-bird specials.

This undated, unused postcard brings us inside the main dining room, decorated in an early American style.

This ’50s-era postcard shows us the distinctive slope of the building’s exterior, as well as a landmark depiction of a horse and sleigh that stood over the parking lot entrance until somebody knocked it over.

This matchbook tells me my grandparents would have called Davis 2-1264 to make a reservation. (Well, OK, not by 1975 they wouldn’t have.)

This sugar cube tells us … well, it doesn’t really lend any historical insight per se, but it’s sorta fun to imagine my grandma putting one in her coffee. (There was a time when sugar didn’t come from sealed paper envelopes, apparently.)

And this article from the New York Times (which may be trapped behind the Gray Lady’s paywall for non-subscribers) fills us in on what became of the place: Most of it was torn down in 1991 to make way for a shopping center. The corner of the building with the namesake chimney was retained, apparently as some sort of tie to the past.

Pretty sure

This building is where the Chimney Corner was. It has three chimneys now, and I don’t think the one in the photo is the one they kept. (There’s space available, if anyone’s looking to sublet.) Photo courtesy Google Earth.

The one thing I can’t find online is a menu that would help me get a sense of what my grandparents would have sat down to on May 3, 1975. (I do find a past eBay listing of an old menu, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s closed. The menu. Not the auction. Well, yeah, both, actually.)

I note that the New York Times’ archives do not include any reviews of the Chimney Corner Inn — unlike the Westport restaurant where my grandparents ate in 1969, which received a NYT review a number of years later.

If the Chimney Corner Inn was around for 41 years and New York’s paper of record never went to the ‘burbs to check it out, its culinary reputation couldn’t have been too noteworthy.

I’m guessing the place was one of those stolid, upright, not-tremendously-creative locally owned restaurants every city has — the sort of place you go for high school graduations or anniversaries that don’t end in zero or five. I imagine they broiled a lot of prime rib, stuffed a lot of pork chops and baked a lot of potatoes over the course of 41 years.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, of course, if that’s what you’re looking for.

It seems to have struck a chord with my grandparents: A little further research indicates they’d been there the year before.

May 2-4, 1974.

May 2-4, 1974. Hey, Rod, you didn’t call.

I guess predictable and reliable are good things to be after 30-plus years of marriage — whether you’re talking about the marriage, or the place you go to celebrate it.

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Shine your city shoes and get your fancy suit pressed. We’re gonna step out in style this week.

I don’t think of my grandfather as a big spender. He, my grandma and great-grandma were stay-at-home sorts, by and large, who didn’t go in for a lot of swank or ostentation.

Once a year, though, my grandpa would open his wallet and spring for a meal somewhere really nice. That annual occasion was his anniversary, which is kind of quietly classy.

This week, we find my grandpa mingling with the horsey set, and digging deep for the privilege:

May 3, 1969.

This meal would have found my grandpa at a particular high-water mark in his life.

In May 1969, he was still employed by Time-Life in Stamford. The older of his two kids was married and out of the house, reducing his stresses and obligations as provider. He had a nice new ride, having purchased another of his beloved Fords earlier in 1969. And, he wouldn’t have his first heart attack for another two years.

So, all things considered, life would have been pretty good for him at that moment in time.

Good enough, anyway, for him to venture into one of America’s wealthiest communities for a spot of dinner. Paul Newman already had a place in town when my grandparents went to Westport to eat. Keith Richards and Martha Stewart would show up a little later.

The Carriage House restaurant, at 1200 Post Road East in Westport, might have boasted its own share of star power.

The Wikipedia entry for veteran actress, producer, playwright and bonne vivante Haila Stoddard indicates that Stoddard founded a restaurant called the Carriage House in Westport in the late 1960s.

(Is there a formal definition for the term bon vivant? Is it pretty much just somebody who laughs a lot and knows how to order in French bistros?)

But a 1979 New York Times restaurant review of the Carriage House described it as “long a Westport landmark,” which doesn’t sound like an appropriate description for a restaurant open a decade. So I’m not sure whether my grandparents went to Stoddard’s Carriage House, or some other, longer-established Carriage House.

A Google search only muddies the matter. There appear to be a bunch of carriage houses in Westport, some of which can be yours for a cool seven figures.

At any rate: Given the moneyed setting of Westport, it’s no surprise that my grandpa annotated his calendar entry with a dollar sign. I’m sure it cost him considerably more than he was used to paying for a night out.

On the bright side, his use of “excellent” suggests that the meal, service and atmosphere were worth the price of admission.

I would love to know what he ordered for his big splurge-dinner, and what it cost.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any traces of the late-’60s Carriage House online — no menu, no pictures, no nothin’.

The 1979 restaurant review — it’s here, behind a paywall — said the restaurant closed for a year due to construction, but had returned with a New Orleans-influenced menu. The Good Gray Lady ripped the place, saying as politely as possible that most of the food didn’t deserve to call itself New Orleans.

(At the time, dinner for four cost $81 — or $254 in today’s dollars.)

Google gives no indication that there’s a restaurant, or even a carriage house, there today. It appears that some sort of multi-tenant retail complex occupies the spot. Even the hottest or swankiest nightspot goes the way of the world, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I wonder what my grandparents had for dinner the week after their splurgey night out. I’m guessing there were some hot dogs or burgers, perhaps, with a bag of frozen veggies or a can of baked beans on the side.

If you want to dance, you have to pay the piper.

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