“I remember we had just unlocked the doors at Walrus + Carpenter, and the first two customers that came in ordered a Bud Lights and a Coors Light. I heard Adam (Patrick) go, ‘Oh, we don’t have that.’ And one of the guys goes, ‘Fuck you! You won’t last’ That was our first reaction. I looked at my staff and said, ‘Let that go.’ And somehow I was constantly repairing drywall in the bathroom from angry bros punching holes in the wall. That hasn’t happened in Westport…yet. But I’m not carrying stuff just for certain people. This place is what I want it to be.”
That recollection is one of Joseph Farrell’s early tales from when he opened Walrus + Carpenter—yes, it’s named after the Lewis Carroll poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking Glass—in Black Rock nearly a decade ago. And much to the dismay of those early domestic light beer bros, Farrell made it way past that one day mark.
The Walrus brand, though, did leave Black Rock in 2020 when the lease was up and moved into the space formerly occupied by Farrell’s sister restaurant, the German-inspired Rothbard Ale + Larder in Downtown Westport. Despite never having a proper Black Rock sendoff in the form of a major party due to pandemic shutdown reasons, Walrus picked up and moved a few towns south. Farrell, his wife Angela, and their longtime chef, Jonathan Vaast kept serving up down home southern grub like they had been for seven years prior to their relocation.
Like most restaurant in the area, Walrus served takeout at first, then reopened to dine-in, but the difference was in their name. Walrus cut out the “Carpenter” part and went with “Alley” since they’re located…in an alley in the old town hall building on the bottom floor, entrance also in the alleyway.
That alley is also where live music—a constant from W+C’s Black Rock days—goes down in the warmer months, plus is serves as a dining patio and as spillover when they host special events like Oktoberfest, because why not pay tribute to their former Rothbard concept? I don’t think you’ll find a soul who’d complain about the brief menu switch up. The music is a mainstay and won’t go anywhere, but Farrell has since added other entertainment like standup comedy, a book club that’s apparently at capacity, and speed dating—if you consider the latter entertainment.
While music is a big part of Walrus, it’s the southern comfort of a plate of fresh fried chicken, a multi-person BBQ platter, gravy and cheese covered fries, tasty sandwiches, boozy cocktails, craft beer, and fine wine that the restaurant’s regulars clamor for.
But Farrell won’t stand for you calling Walrus a BBQ joint.
“Back then, Walrus + Carpenter was frontier culture and rockstar energy,” he says. “My mentor from Meetinghouse (in Bedford) said, ‘What the hell are you opening something in Bridgeport for?’ It reminded me of Brooklyn, where I’m from. I wanted to be liberated to try whatever I wanted. People always ask, ‘Oh, are you a BBQ joint?’ Well, no. The smoker is a piece of equipment like the oven or the stove. It’s not a by-the-pound BBQ platter place. It’s southern with some BBQ. If you order a Notorious, then I put it on one big tray, but that’s it.”
Their famed Notorious P.I.G. (baby backs, pulled pork, brisket smoked turkey, mac & cheese, baked beans, brussels, cornbread, coleslaw, house brined pickles) may be the epitome of “BBQ joint,” but that’s ALMOST everything BBQ about Walrus besides the smoked, then fried and sauced wings, and the smoked jackfruit that’s used in a taco.
The rest? It’s down home southern soul food. Shrimp & grits. Brisket chili. Fried chicken sandwiches, one of the two is a Nashville hot option. Chicken & waffles. Meatloaf & mashed potatoes.
The bonus gastropub fare is an ode to Walrus’ not soon to be forgotten sister, Rothbard, with tributes like a bratwurst plate, a truly gluttonous patty melt, a pounded thin pork schnitzel, and steak frites with bearnaise.
If there are some food related changes, one of those has to do with cutting down on wasting any.
“My role changed a bit, and I did a lot of expo during the shutdowns, so we’re doing more food a la carte now,” Farrell says. “I noticed a lot of food waste, like people tossing out their coleslaw or cornbread. I reduced prices of some of the BBQ, and the sides only come with it if you want to order them. Not for everything (steak frites still comes with fries and salmon still comes with seasonal veggies). It’s all based on my responsibilities changing and I want to be cognizant of wasting less. I don’t want you to pay me two bucks just to throw something out. I’m not about that.”
Lunch, on Fridays only, is another new thing for Walrus. But think in terms of sandwiches, apps, bar snacks, salads, and SOME larger plates excluding BBQ for the simple reason that it gets smoked overnight and is only ready for dinner service.
And if there’s a fried meal made fancy that’s joining the Notorious P.I.G. as a sit down, multi-person shared experience is that of a whole fried chicken (eight pieces), homemade buttermilk biscuits, honey sriracha, and a bottle of champagne.
“It’s just good,” Farrell says. “It’s a good combination. The champagne has to be dry and sweet. That sweetness is even better after you bite into the chicken. It cuts through it. We do a buttermilk and herbs brine overnight on the chicken, then a single dredge in seasoned flour. Our smoked chicken is prepared identical, except there’s no breading/flour. The fried chicken sandwich—we use a thigh—is prepped the same way. Maybe I’ll come up with a name for it like I did with the Notorious, I don’t know. We’re still deciding on the price point and maybe we’ll do two ranges for the wine.”
Now entering a new decade of Walrus and a new decade himself after turning 40, Farrell is confident that he knows what his restaurant is.
“Everything is a learning curve,” he says. “We’re finally in a place where we know who we are in Westport after the move from Black Rock and having it replace Rothbard. We can embrace it. Walrus + Carpenter was Black Rock. This in Westport is only a couple years old. So many transplants to this area don’t know what Walrus is or what it was. People up north in Connecticut always say they miss Walrus, and I’m like, ‘Walrus still exists!’ What Walrus is, is how I’m feeling at the moment.”
Funky. Fresh. Chill. Warm. Welcoming. Kinda hipster. Guilty pleasure. Carnivorous. Buzzed.
Those are the descriptors I’d use to sum up what Walrus is to me.
What are yours?
Here’s to the next 10 years of eating more Walrus.
Read More: CTbites.com