It was the summer of 1989 when Denise Lamoureux opened the doors of her new restaurant, , to welcome her first customers.
They came, slowly at first, couples, families and groups of friends who wanted to discover someplace new. Once inside the little gray house, Denise tempted them with a charming décor replete with fresh flowers, linen tablecloths, and a menu of dining choices that would ultimately redefine comfort food and that would serve as the staple for a 22-year run as one of Fairfield’s coziest restaurants. It wasn’t long before word got out about this hidden gem on Commerce Avenue and lines regularly formed outside as the nine-table pub served up classic, home-style fare that nourished body and soul.
“While our menu has evolved with the times to offer lighter, more innovative cuisine, Tucker’s still makes the best hamburger in town,” laughs Denise, who hung up her chef’s hat and apron in favor of hostess attire so she could personally make sure her patrons were well taken care of and well fed. “Even though I really do miss cooking for the restaurant – she served as second cook and bottle washer as well as hostess, waitress and sometimes bartender for the restaurant for years – my chef is amazing. He’s been with me for more than 10 years, making magic with my original recipes and constantly introducing specialty dishes that add a contemporary and healthy flair to our menu.”
By original recipes, Denise is referring to the standard favorites that turned those first customers into regulars after all these years. Her Jack Black Burger still earns rave reviews, which according to not a few loyal patrons, is a huge draw, lunch and dinner, along with other long-time favorites from stews to soups that a regular diner “can’t get enough of.” Soups are homemade and family-style, promising to satisfy stomachs – and a nostalgic longing for the past. Denise even recreated one of the icons of Westport culinary style when she debuted her version of Ship’s Restaurant famous seafood chowder on her menu, adding “a lot more vegetables and fish” while staying true to the spices and flavors that made this soup one of the most asked-for items in that popular 70s Westport eatery that occupied the corner where Tiffany’s now stands.
But Tucker’s Café, named after a beloved dog Denise owned at the time, has proved a mainstay for more than just its tasty, time-honored food.
“I’ve been eating at Tuckers for 14 years,” says C.A., who likens it to the real-life version of the bar in the long-running TV series, Cheers. “It is homey, welcoming and ‘everybody knows my name’,” she adds with a smile as she describes the staff as “phenomenal.” A Fairfield native, she says, “The food is great. You can always find something you want on the menu – I have yet to get tired of the Jack Black burger – or you can try the chef’s specials that are listed on the blackboard. They change every day with something new.”
Think pan fried tilapia with kiwi salsa, blackened tuna, grilled salmon salad with mandarin dressing, sole Française over wilted spinach, sautéed soft shell crabs, along with ravioli, veal saltimbocca or any number of gourmet inspired dishes that tempt and reward your palate with culinary excellence. Special culinary themed menus are available on select evenings during the week and include international night on Mondays and just-like-home Sunday suppers of meat loaf, roast turkey and pot roast that send you taste buds time traveling.
Denise likes to keep her food fresh, taking advantage of market-ready seafood and vegetables that supplement her regular menu each day and seasoning them with herbs from her garden in back of the restaurant. “We never know what our daily specials are until after we’ve been to market in the morning,” she says. “ We pride ourselves on serving food that is creative, healthy and fresh, just like you would want to serve your family at home.”
By family Denise means her two college-age sons, her legions of customers and her staff. Her dishwasher has been with her since she opened Tucker’s, her manager is going on 18 years, and her wait staff and chef, averaging 9+ years at the restaurant, are equally enamored with their workplace home.
“You hear of so many people dreading going to work,” says Cheryl who has worked as a waitress for Tucker’s since 2002. “But everyone who works here loves their job. To be honest, it doesn’t even feel like you’re going to work. It feels like home to me.”
That sentiment is echoed by staff and customers alike, in large part because everyone has gotten to know each other over the years.
“My customers and I have become friends, sharing stories about our lives and looking out for one another,” she says. That includes counting on her for a recommendation of the best meal to order, which, she says is not difficult because the food at Tucker’s is consistently good.
When Mark Corcoran moved to the Bridgeport/Fairfield area 10 years ago, Tucker’s was one of the first places he called home. “It’s like one of those neighborhood Irish pubs where old friends meet up to share a beer and the day’s stories. There aren’t many places like that around, but Tucker’s fits the bill in every respect. You can always count on a good meal and a friendly ear.”
The crowd spans the generations, with couples, families, friends and solo diners of all ages and interests sharing the bar and the nine cozy tables. Faces are familiar, with newcomers quickly becoming regulars.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that they never knew this place was here,” said Mark, who has brought many a friend and family member to Tucker’s over the years. “As much as we want to keep Tucker’s all to ourselves, we can’t help but recommend it to people who we know would appreciate it. It’s that special.”
On location alone, it’s easy to see why Tucker’s has remained under the radar for people who haven’t been here. Tucked away between high-end car dealerships, from Audi to Porsche to Mercedes-Benz, the café to some may seem out of place on a busy thoroughfare like Commerce Drive. But not to its devoted following who know a classic when they experience one.
“When I opened 22 years ago, there was nothing else around. Tucker’s Café was it,” remembers owner Denise Lamoureux. “My business grew on personal referrals and word of mouth.” Mouths, which we might add, that leave satisfied and smiling.
And when two movie theaters opened down the street in the 90s, Tucker’s became a virtual star. The little café that could is one of a few restaurants that keeps the kitchen and bar open until midnight to accommodate movie goers who are hungry for a full meal after the show. In spite of the continuing influx of new eateries in town, Tucker’s Café continues to hold its own with a line up of farm-to-table vegetables, fresh fish and salads that have evolved with the times and sophisticated taste of her customers.
She’s about to reach for the stars again with the opening of the , when Tucker’s Café plans to welcome commuters and visitors coming back to town with old-fashioned hospitality, good cheer and always appetizing homestyle comfort food for decades to come.
Homestyle Beef Stew
- 2lbs lean stew meat
- 2 carrots sliced
- 1 spanish onion diced
- 4 celery stalks diced
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 large can plum tomatoes chopped
- 3 cups beef stock
- 4 potatoes cubed
- 2 bay leaves
In a large pot saute stew meat in 2tbls of oil or butter. Cook until
beef is lightly browned. Add carrots,onion and celery and cook for 3
minutes until veggies are tender. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook for
another 3 minutes. Stir in beef stock, bay leaves and potatoes and
bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 11/2 hours. Stir occasionally
and add water if necessary. You can leave stew covered and standing
for another hour to allow the beef to become more tender and all the
flavors to really blend. This is a great dish if having company because
you can make it the day before and just heat it up 1/2 before you want
to serve. Warm crusted bread and a salad are great compliments to this