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Friday, March 18, 2011

Man About Town: Steered to Angus

Man About Town: Steered to Angus
(column for March 18 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn
3/11/11

It was an overcast Friday a week out from St. Patrick’s Day and buckets of rain were in the forecast. The friendly glow of The Angus Steakhouse, at 2133 Black Rock Turnpike, was like a beacon drawing me in from the gloom. Manager Steve “Dibo” Dibartolomeo happened to be on hand at the lunch hour to give background about the place, share its evolution and outline menu favorites.

“Joe ‘Cozy’ Dolan, a bartender in Bridgeport, came out in 1950 and built the whole strip mall here, calling it Dolan’s Corner,” Dibo began. “The only other thing out here was Miro’s Farm. Most people thought Dolan was crazy to build in the middle of farmland. On Mother’s Day that year, Dolan opened the original Angus Steakhouse, which was actually called The Black Angus Steakhouse. ‘Black’ was dropped from the title after a suit for trademark infringement was filed by a similarly named restaurant.”

Dibo said The Angus quickly became popular. “The old-style steakhouse, with its masculine dark rich woods and colors, came to define Black Rock Turnpike. Actor Paul Newman used to frequent the steakhouse in the late 50s and early 60s as well as legendary NY Giants players Andy Robustelli, Y.A. Tittle and Frank Gifford, after they finished up practice at Fairfield University. Their patronage became an original draw of the restaurant and helped popularize both the eatery and the area,” Dibo said.

The Angus changed hands several times in its history and, as its popularity grew, so did the space. “The original place was 1,200 square feet,” said Dibo, “and consisted of a small kitchen, bar counter about 12 feet long and seating for 55 to 60 people. Over the years, The Angus changed its configuration by adding a single unit at a time from the adjacent strip mall, so that it now encompasses four store spaces totaling 3,400 square feet and accommodating 168 people – 68 in the bar and 100 in the dining room.”

Dibo said that as the space grew, the bar itself kept getting relocated, until Dibo’s brother Steve, an experienced restauranteur, purchased The Angus from Robert Wool in 2007. “Wool had operated the restaurant under the banner Eric & Michael’s Angus Steakhouse. Steve gutted it and returned the bar area to its original layout and glory. The d├ęcor is retro with tin ceilings and mahogany wood throughout, and the fare is classic steakhouse with an Italian flair serving certified Angus beef and the classic Angus Burger on a large English muffin. The latter has been an original favorite since 1950.”

Besides traditional steaks, Dibo said they also feature favorites like eggplant lasagna, swordfish over escarole and beans, a huge selection of pasta and chicken dishes and Pork Chops Giambotta – onions, mushrooms and cherry peppers in a demi-glaze over the meat. “These are a few examples of how we’ve put an Italian twist on the classic  steakhouse fare,” said Dibo.

With regard to patrons, he said, “We have served generations of local people who used to come in here as kids with their parents. Our customer base is families and we have an expanded kids menu that offers smaller versions of the dinner menu.”

Dibo’s own background as a pro baseball pitcher with the Cubs also attracts notable baseball figures like Tommy John, Jimmy Piersall and Rob Dibble.

Dibo said the atmosphere varies within the entire space. “The tap room provides a light festive environment with big screen TVs and high top tables, and people order light food like sandwiches and burgers. The dining room offers a more classic dining experience.”

It had come time to saddle up and head back out on the range. Many more Fairfield establishments lay in wait to be profiled as Man About Town adventures.

Gaelic-American Club Co-Founder Reflects on His 90 Years

Gaelic-American Club Co-Founder 
Reflects on His 90 Years
(Appeared on front page of 
Fairfield Sun 3/17)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved
3/10/11

Fairfield, CT – The son of a publican, he labored on farms and docks in his native Ireland, traveled to America in the late 40s to better his lot economically, and married and put four children through college. However, his proudest achievement may be the role he played in establishing Fairfield’s Gaelic-American Club.

Green Roots

Ninety-year-old Peter Bellew, the youngest of five children, was born in County Dundalk in the south of Ireland. His father, Michael, was raised on a farm but became a publican, running bars. Michael first worked in Glasgow, Scotland, running an establishment there, then bought two others himself. He returned to Dundalk and opened a local bar called Bellew’s.

When Peter was just two, his mother, Jane, contracted influenza and passed. “We moved to Dublin, where dad opened another bar, and stayed for about three years,” Bellew said. “Then, in 1927, we moved to County Armagh. At that time, I was about seven and dad, because of poor economic conditions, decided to go to America. He had two brothers and two sisters that had established themselves there.”

When Bellew’s father left, the boy’s sister, Louise, took over care of the house. Two years later, in 1929, the world stock markets crashed, the Great Depression began and unemployment became rampant.

It was a difficult time Bellew said, but added, “We got by. When you’re young like that, you’re not depressed by conditions.”

Bellew went to a local school until age 14, which was the extent of his education. His favorite subjects were math and geography. He was also good at running, winning several trophies, and played Gaelic football. He was usually a forward and played for the local town. A favorite pastime was fishing in the lakes around the area and he would catch pike, roach and perch to bring home to dinner. In the wintertime, he joined neighbors in sending greyhounds after jackrabbits.

“I also enjoyed very long walks,” Bellew said, “often for four or five hours, across the fields. There was no restriction as to whose land you could go on.”

His first work experience was helping local farmers with cutting oats, making hay and gathering potatoes. That was in the fall. In the spring, he helped sow the potatoes, dropping them into position in the farmers’ fields.

“I would also do all the milking, checking the cattle and helping the farmer take the cattle to the local fairs,” Bellew said. “Each town had a fair on a different day. That was a big deal.”

After completing school, he worked on the farms steadily for about two years, then in a quarry near Belfast feeding a breaker. “My job was to lift these massive rocks, place them in the jaws of this stone breaker and grind them,” he said.

In 1937, Bellew moved into Belfast into what was known as “digs” – a room in a house in which you were also fed – and got work on the docks. “The war was coming and the shipyard was starting to gather scrap metal to provide to the foundries to make ammunition and guns,” he said. “I went around in a truck to collect anything that was metal – railings around big houses, decorative iron, any old obsolete machinery. I would bring it back to the dock for pick-up.”

The hard-working young man had also established himself as a musician, an accordion player, and would do gigs at local parish halls. “I had started playing at nine on a borrowed button-keyed accordion. I played with a band six nights a week. Our Sunday night ritual was to play Ard Scoil, a high school of dancing,” he said.

In Northern Ireland, there was no real obligation to serve in the military, said Bellew. However, the government did make him return to work on the farm in Armagh, “They needed to have us keep up food production,” he offered.

Off to America

When WWII ended, Bellew obtained a passport and emigrated to America. “I came over on Pan American from Shannon, by way of Newfoundland, where we had a two-day layover,” he said. “We ultimately landed at LaGuardia, where I got a taxi to Grand Central and train to Bridgeport where my father had an apartment. We hadn’t seen each other in almost 20 years. It was a strange meeting after so long a period, but we got along pretty well.”

During the war, Bellew’s dad had worked at Chance Vought, a Stratford-based builder of Corsair aircraft, and had recently retired from there. When Peter arrived, his father was bartending at Nelson’s, a local bar.

“I got work at the Underwood Company in Bridgeport,” said Bellew, “assembling adding machines. It was piecework and I was able to make some good money doing it. I ended up working there for ten years.”

During that period, in 1950, he met Ann McInerney, from County Galway, Ireland, who was working in a family business. “She was lovely, one of these persons you could talk to and get along with well,” Bellew said. “I bought a house in Fairfield, on Bonney Terrace, and when we married in 1952, she moved in with me. Our first son, one of five children we would have, was born in 1953.”

In 1957, Bellew changed jobs, taking a position initially as a turbine tender for Connecticut Light and Power, in Devon. In 1960, CL&P built another generating plant in Norwalk, where he was transferred. Fifteen years later, Bellew moved the family to Easton, where he still resides. In 1985, after 28 years, Bellew retired from CL&P.

“I put all my children through college. Four of them went to UConn, while my youngest son went to Harvard,” said Bellew. It was a remarkable accomplishment for an immigrant with a farming background.

The Irish Club is Born

“Back in the late 40s, I had the fortune to meet and become lifelong friends with Jimmy Corcoran,” said Bellew. He was from Tipperary and worked for Carpenter Steel in Bridgeport. We were very Irish and used to go down to Seaside Park mostly in the evenings after work to play Gaelic football and hurling. We often talked about starting a club for Irish Americans. There were many of us here in the area that had come from Ireland, had settled in the Bridgeport area and were seeking social activities to keep the culture going.”

In 1948, Bellew and Corcoran rented a room in a building on State Street in Bridgeport and held the first official meeting of the Gaelic-American Club. Nine people showed up and Corcoran was elected president, Bellew treasurer and Maureen Doonan as secretary.

The Club held social events in other ethnic club spaces, moved in the early 50s to a third floor space on Fairfield Avenue, moved again to a ground floor hall on Goodsell Street and, in 1984, relocated yet a third time to a space above Fairfield Center Jewelers in downtown Fairfield. “Membership exploded and we knew we had to get a larger dedicated space,” said Bellew. “We discovered a lot at 74 Beach Road, got a loan from the Bank of Ireland in New York and began building a facility. In May 1993, our dream was realized. The Club opened and was an instant hit, and now membership is around 6,000. I’m fortunate to do quite a bit of traveling worldwide, but it’s comforting to come back to a place with Irish culture and so many dear friends.”

SIDEBAR

Gaelic-American Club: A Community Anchor

Tucked back from busy Beach Road, the Gaelic-American Club, established in 1993, has become an important center for Irish culture and meeting place for Irish families and their friends. According to co-founder Peter Bellew, the Club offers classes in Irish dancing, geology, plays and music instruction.

With regard to weekly offerings, Monday nights are open to anyone that wants to come perform or learn an instrument. Tuesdays, children learn step dancing from the Lenahan School. On Wednesdays, you can find Bellew himself playing the accordion, with a singer accompanying, performing favorite tunes like “The Fields of Athen Roy”, “Bring Me Back To Mayo” and “Toorah Loorah Looral.” Set dancing is offered on Thursdays in the Carolan Room. Fridays and Saturdays feature music in the pub.

The Club is also home to Feile, which is a non-profit founded in 1988 with a mission of supporting the community. It offers scholarships to high school students and makes donations to various charitable organizations. Funding is raised primarily through a 3-day annual Irish Festival. This year, it will be held mid-June at Fairfield University. The Fest attracts about 10,000 people every year who come to enjoy the Irish culture of dancing, plays, music, food and vendors selling Irish products.  

Parents Sit In to Learn about Kids and Body Image

Parents Sit In to Learn about Kids 
and Body Image:
Family therapist Dr. Richard Briggs 
gives library talk
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com 3/18)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
3/17/11

Fairfield, CT – Cultural ideals and modern advertising can have a profound influence on children and their body image. How to temper that and help young people develop healthy attitudes is what many area parents wanted to know.

Family therapist Dr. Richard Briggs, PhD, aimed to provide answers and guidance through his talk “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Kids and Body Image”, a free program hosted Thursday evening by Fairfield Library’s main branch at 1080 Old Post Road. Part of the library’s ongoing Parenting Series, the session attracted a roomful of local adults.

Briggs, who specializes in the study of learning disorders and provides educational workshops for parents, began his talk with a question to the audience.

“How many people feel comfortable with their body image?” he queried. “I ask this as it’s always best to start with thinking about yourself. It’s especially helpful to think back to when you were a child and your own sense of self-image as a frame of reference.”

Briggs defined body image as “an internal schema of one’s body based on one’s activity in the world and contact with others.” In the case of children, these images become more refined and differentiated as they grow and incorporate subjective ingredients. Different qualities of characteristics often predominate at different times, he explained.

“Children also form images of others and ideals, the most desirable or attractive body,” said Briggs. “These ideals are shaped by the particular cultural values the child experiences as he grows. Ultimately, the child forms an internal basis for comparison and grounds for feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with his own image.”

Having a positive body image gives a child a sense of continuity, self-esteem, sense of competence and self-confidence, explained Briggs. “It can be a source of protection against other assaults and injuries in life.”

Briggs said that psychologists often ask children to draw pictures of themselves as a way to evaluate a child’s internal self image and identify concerns and conflicts. He shared a few examples with the audience and explained how, for example, a child with anxiety about certain parts of their body may reveal that anxiety in the way the figure is drawn in those areas.

Children develop body concerns at a surprisingly young age, said Briggs. “Girls as young as four or five express dissatisfaction with their bodies and some girls as young as six will talk about dieting and even throwing up as a method of weight control,” he said. “In general, boys are more private about such concerns and generally focus on worries about strength and muscularity. By the time boys are seniors in high school, approximately 6% are using steroids in an effort to look more muscular.”

Briggs advised parents to maintain open and respectful dialogue with their children, free of anxiety, instruction and judgment. “It is important to attend to your child’s concerns and be active in their efforts to foster both a healthy approach to taking care of one’s body and acceptance of the particular body or shape one has.”

In particular, Briggs suggested parents emphasize healthy living and exercise and doing things with kids that are active and energetic. “Such family activities could include skiing, swimming, cycling, tennis, etc. In addition to encouraging a healthy, self-confident relationship to one’s body, these activities promote parent/child bonding,” he said.

Parents should also be sure to compliment their children on other qualities than appearance, such as curiosity, creativity, thoughtfulness and hard work, said Briggs. “Often, a child’s anxieties about body image will be a way of communicating concerns about other issues.”

A Trumbull mom attending the session, who preferred to remain anonymous, hoped Briggs’ information would help her deal with the changes her daughter and son were going through. “Everything’s changing with both of them, especially my daughter,” she said.

Fairfield mom Wendy Muschett was hoping to be proactive should body image issues arise. “My children are young now, but this may be relevant as they get older. Kids feel a lot of pressure. If there’s anything I can do to help them, I’m open to hearing from the experts.”

Mom Kathi Kane of Fairfield said the talk was relevant to her raising her two girls. “I’m very sensitive to making sure the proper messages are getting through to them,” she said.

Fairfielder Wendi Lien was particularly hopeful of getting some guidance. “My daughter’s seven going on 17,” she said. “I’m hoping I can steer her in the right direction. I don’t want to say too much. She might kill me if she read this.”

A Grand Green Gala at the Gaelic Club

A Grand Green Gala 
at the Gaelic Club:
Full house enjoys music, dancing, corned beef and more
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com 3/17)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
3/17/11

Fairfield, CT – They were all there. The established senior members huddled in groups. Work mates raising a pint. Young families circled around tables. Freckled youngsters leaping about. Some wore crazy hats, others provocative buttons and necklaces, but all had a common purpose: to celebrate the fun-filled occasion that is St. Patrick’s Day.

The host site for all was the Gaelic American Club on Beach Road, which had rolled out the green carpet to welcome the masses for a full day of activities.

Enjoying the bright sun and blue skies of the early afternoon just outside the Club’s entry, GAC staff volunteer Linda McCormack recounted the morning’s activities.

“We started the day at 10 with a raising of the Irish and American flags by our front entrance,” she began. “The flags were lowered to half mast, as all state flags were, in tribute to Army Sgt. 1st Class Daehan Park from Watertown, who was just killed in Afghanistan. First Selectman Flatto and several other town dignitaries said a few words, then long-time Club member Mary Ellen Lyons sang beautiful renditions of both the American and Irish anthems.”

Sitting beside McCormack, former GAC vice president Jim Fahey continued with relating activities.

“The morning ceremonies were followed by a broadcast from Ireland of the National Club games in both hurling and football,” said Fahey. “People who come from those parishes really look forward to that. It’s comparable to football and baseball here. We enjoyed the games with homemade soda bread and scones served by the ladies of the Club.”

Joining the pair was another former GAC VP, Charlie Vaughn, who characterized the midday crowd.

“It’s very family oriented at this time, with music all afternoon, rotating bands and dance exhibitions from several groups,” he said. “Then, in the evening, GAC’s own bagpipe band comes on to give a brief serenade.”

A GAC member for over 30 years, Joe Blackall spoke about the meaning of the festivities to him. “It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate, particularly at my age, and we’ve got a glorious day. I just watched the New York parade on TV, which is a great event.”

Peggy Corcoran, the niece of the Club’s first president, Jimmy Corcoran, whose portrait hangs inside the front entrance, summed up her own feelings. “This is like coming home,” she said. “I really grew up with the Club and made so many friends from childhood on. We all step danced together as children. I can still do it, but would need to limber up a little first.”

In the Club’s expansive Carolan Room, a full house enjoyed corned beef sandwiches and the lilting tunes of the Shamrogues. Decked out in a sun hat peppered with shamrocks, Trumbull resident Kate Farrell said, “We just went to the parade in Bridgeport. It was excellent, a fun time. The sun couldn’t shine better for the Irish.”

Other afternoon entertainers included Colleen and the Boys, who performed in the bar area. There, GAC manager Maura O’Donnell scurried about overseeing the room.

“It’s a great day with music, dancers and food… a full house, fun time!” she said, breathlessly summing things up.

Standing nearby were members of the Manchester Regional Police and Fire Pipe Band, dressed in their kilts and adornments. One of the group’s members, Steven Moore, said they had just come from marching in the Bridgeport parade and that it was fun to be at the Club.

At an adjacent table seated with friends, Sandye Mann, who was sporting an orange and white wig and green beer mug-shaped goggles, said, “I had my corned beef and am loving the camaraderie and fellow Club members. It doesn’t matter if you’re Irish or not. Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!”

Arguably having the best time at the Club were the children who ran about or sat enjoying food in the grassy courtyard behind the facility. This included Tommy Nelson, 8, and his brother Sean, 11, from Milford, who were munching on chicken tenders.

Squinting against the sun, little Tommy said brightly, “Today is the greatest day ever … and we didn’t even have to go to school!”