For years, Michelle Weber has fulfilled the artisan chocolate needs of the Westport community. Now, with the opening of CM Gourmet Bistro in Saugatuck Center, she is filling a chasm in Westport’s otherwise crowded dining scene for full service breakfast and lunch. Thanks to chef Molly Brandt, who shares Michelle’s discerning taste, creativity and attention to detail, CM Gourmet Bistro brings us a menu that is simple yet sophisticated, and just bold enough to separate it from the area’s usual breakfast, lunch and brunch fare. The setting can be described similarly - sophisticated, yet approachable, with white linen napkins on reclaimed wood tables, and chairs covered in signature Cocoa Michelle blue fabric, it’s an equally comfortable setting for a business meeting, lunch with friends, or brunch with the family.
The food and the concept behind CM Gourmet Market and Bistro are unique, and perhaps best captured by Brandt’s lunchtime bacon-fat popover. Served as a prelude, instead of bread, it sounds heavy, but is in fact incredibly light; it appears excessive, but when broken open reveals its simplicity - a perfectly crisped shell holding no more than a fabulous smoky aroma and a hint of bacon on the palate. It is a perfect harbinger of the food to come.
Take for instance, the Wilted Spinach Salad with butternut squash, crispy organic egg and caraway croutons. It is dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette – the temperature and the quantity just enough to make the spinach compliant rather than resigned. The crispy egg is a beautiful presentation, lightly panko-encrusted and flash-fried, its crisp, golden jacket cut in half to expose a perfectly cooked sunny yolk. The shaved Tete de Moine is shaped like an exotic mushroom and presented as an adornment at the side of the dish; when mixed with the rest of the salad it provides a sharp and well-balanced contrast to the other ingredients.
The Cigar Room Salad is an equally impressive array of deliciously seared hangar steak over a bed of arugula, dressed in bourbon-soy vinaigrette, and accented with smoked onions and steak sauce-marinated tomatoes. Thanks to a hint of vinegar in the house-made steak sauce, the roasted tomatoes are small bursts of flavor that complement the dish and entertain the palate.
The lunch menu is divided into 3 categories: “A Little” includes soup, pate, and small salads; “Plenty” offers risotto, duck frites, and larger salads; “A little Bit More” brings a charcuterie board, sandwiches, and most recently added, a Craft Butchery hamburger with a choice of 3 accompaniments. The menu is small but thorough, and evolving as Michelle and Molly learn more about what their customers’ want.
Serving breakfast Tuesday through Friday and brunch on the weekends, CM Gourmet Bistro is a welcome addition for those of us who have longed for a breakfast spot in Westport offering more than coffee and pastries. Brandt’s capable hand is best displayed in her lofty scrambled eggs, which are incredibly creamy, yet still light. I was assured the magic is in her technique, not an over abundance of ingredients. Three-yolk omelets are served with perfectly roasted bite-sized balls of rosemary-marble potatoes and a thick slice of toasted and buttered brioche. The bacon-lardon, gruyere and carmelized onion omelet showcases Brandt’s bold approach to flavors, while maintaining a light touch with the overall dish. For those who are looking for brunch to do double duty as breakfast and lunch, the Croque Madam is a beautiful composition of toasted bread laced with honey mustard that offers a piquant complement to the enclosed cheese and thick slice of braised maple-bacon. The sandwich is topped with an egg and enhanced by the surrounding creamy, and yes light, béchamel. It sounds excessive, but it works. A substantial list of “sides” deconstructs the brunch menu, so if you want to have it your way, from waffle fingers to eggs any style, you can customize.
Innovation is a frequently noted word in Molly Brandt’s background. After receiving Food and Wine’s Best Student Chef award at the CIA in 2006, she continued to receive national recognition for her innovative recipes. In 2010 she won Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge to become chef de cuisine of 150 Central Park, the ship’s premier fine-dining restaurant. There, Molly designed the menu, created the recipes, and was responsible for every aspect of the dining experience from concept through execution. She has been featured in Food Arts Magazine, was a contestant on Season 9 of Top Chef, and will be a contestant of Cutthroat Kitchen, season 2, which aired on Feb. 2nd.
While a distinct and separate space, The Bistro shares a roof with The Gourmet Market, which contains a finely stocked cheese counter, a lovely assortment of prepared dishes, sandwiches and salads meant to be taken out and enjoyed elsewhere, and an eclectic mix of pantry items. I confess to have struggled to categorize the array of pantry items until I spoke with Michelle, who cleared it up in a sentence: Items you could use to pull a simple meal together (pasta, canned tomatoes, garlic, a head of lettuce, salad dressing) and items you might need in a pinch, but don’t want to hike to the grocery store to get (milk, eggs, toothpaste, toilet paper, a lime for your Friday night G&T). The Market was designed specifically with its Saugatuck neighbors in mind, though it can be a useful resource to any visitor.
You could conceivably enjoy a full service lunch, select prepared foods for dinner, pick up eggs and milk for tomorrow’s breakfast and take home a selection of cheeses for the night’s book group, without leaving the premises. While seemingly a lot to orchestrate under one roof, each operates independently, so whether ordering cheese, a sandwich, or a meal your experience is just what you would hope for.
CM Gourmet Market and Bistro, Saugatuck Center, 580 Riverside Ave. Westport www.cmgourmetmarket.com, Café: 203-222-0070 Market: 203-222-0071