As an English enthusiast, I am always looking for meaningful ways to explain the concept of “irony.” It is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the English language. Although Alanis Morisette’s single “Ironic” proved catchy, it helped propagate the phony notion that irony must be linked to coincidence or misfortune. Irony is actually a simple “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.” Examples include a traffic officer avoiding parking tickets or the demise of “unsinkable” Titanic. But the best embodiment of the term is certainly the Fat Cat Pie Company. This venture, led by Mark Ancona, Anthony Ancona, Suzanne Ancona, and Mike Pelletier, is a dazzling display of all things unexpected.
While the name “Fat Cat” might conjure up images of greasy fast food, the reality is anything but. Everything served is organic, and the majority of ingredients are locally sourced. The pizza crust is thin and crispy while the vegetable toppings come directly from the garden. Take “Uncle John’s Peppers,” for example. This amazing pizza addition comes right from the earth, and is result of a fortuitous natural mistake. Long Italian peppers, known for a sweeter profile, cross-pollinated with cayenne peppers, an extremely spicy variety. The new hybrid offers an incredible burst of flavor that plays tricks on your taste buds.
“You can walk into a surprise here every day,” laughs Suzanne.
Moreover, Fat Cat Pie Company extends far beyond the pizza “pies” referenced in the title.
“We never intended this to be a pizza place,” explains Tony.
The café boasts numerous offerings from an assortment of fresh, organic coffees, to artisanal salads, to homemade soups. No matter what you order, each dish highlights and preserves the integrity of the natural ingredients. They even serve homemade bread from Bloodroot restaurant in Bridgeport, CT, which embraces a vegan lifestyle and a commitment to local food.
But their largest achievement is wine. Fat Cat Pie Company is actually a “city” built of many entities, and Fountainhead Wine and Distilleries is its prized attraction. Tony, his brother Mark, and their father Stephen, came up with the concept 17 years ago. The family grew up immersed in the world of food and wine. Tony’s great-grandfather, who Tony describes as an “unpretentious man,” made his own wine. His father fostered a love of food.
“Our father was the most phenomenal cook, with a point of view,” recalls Tony with a smile. “We all made dinner together, no matter what time, when my father came home from work in New York.”
Fountainhead Wines started out small. Suzanne coined the term “jewelbox shop” to explain it. It featured a handful of carefully selected wines from six producers. It was an intimate affair. The family members, and childhood friend, Mike Pelletier, poured their hearts into it.
“Tony sat in the store everyday while the other guys kept their actual jobs so they could keep the door open,” recalls Suzanne.
They shared a vision of offering unique, small-scale wines with a story. They deemed integrity and beautiful wine more important than popularity. They also strove to offer wines that were accessible in price.
“There was nothing in the store that anybody recognized,” Tony chuckled.
Still, they remained firm in their values. They recently uncovered newsletters from their original days at Fountainhead that tried to encourage customers to be adventurous. “You wouldn’t eat the same food everyday. Why would you drink the same wine everyday?” the pamphlets asked.
With time, the labor of love began receiving recognition. Fountainhead moved from its original location and into a larger space on Wall Street in Norwalk, CT. It also opened a second location in Bedford, NY back in 2001. Today, other wine programs herald them as “pioneering” and “honest.”
The core principles remain unchanged though. While Fountainhead now imports from about 40 producers, they still work with the original six producers who were with them at the beginning. Those bonds have developed into “familial relations.” Fountainhead has deep appreciation for the winemakers. Tony notes, “Wine is the personality of the person making it.”
“Their wine is them personified,” adds Suzanne.
In fact, Tony and Suzanne have opened their doors to relatives of the winemakers. They relayed a delightful story about a winemaker’s niece who came to stay one summer. Based solely on their high regard for the winemakers, Suzanne and Tony allowed the girl to live with them for three months.
“Our life is gorgeous, so weird,” Suzanne explains with twinkling eyes. “You meet a winemaker and then she’s here for two months. We just put her in the restaurant and she learned English by the end!”
Growth can have a downside though. “The wine got lost somewhere,” admits Tony. However, Fat Cat Pie Company is returning emphasis to the wine. Café patrons can already order from an amazing wine list. It spans a wide range of regions, varietals, and years. It includes both the recognizable and the idiosyncratic. One can choose one of my personal favorites, the deliciously esoteric volcanic wines by Frank Cornelissen from Mt. Etna in Sicily.
Additionally, Fountainhead has numerous events lined up for the autumn and winter: which seem to be increasing by the second! The shop just began a Saturday tasting series. Other upcoming happenings include the annual Champagne dinner, visits from winemakers, and farm to table dinners. The energy makes for a strange dichotomy.
“It’s frustrating to know there’s so much exciting stuff to do,” says Suzanne. “It’s overwhelming… all of the goodness!” She continues, “We are continually inspired by what other people are doing. It’s like having all of these muses around you constantly.”
No matter what the future holds, the focus will always be on the values that started the venture in the first place: accessible, unpretentious wine and the joy of sharing it with those you love.
Tony pushes back his chair, looks at me intently, and says, “Wine is unpretentious. It is about sitting at a table, talking for hours. Sharing anecdotes.”
And for Fat Cat Pie Company and Fountainhead Wines, there are many anecdotes to come.
Fat Cat Pie Co. is located at 9-11 Wall Street, Norwalk. 203.523.0389
Fountainhead Wines is located at 12 Knight Street, Norwalk. 203.854.9138