Ridgefield’s pseudo food critics encourage residents to branch out while dining

RIDGEFIELD — For residents Tom Devlin and Todd Carpenter, food is the common denominator of their friendship. The only other hobby they both enjoy is kickboxing.

Thrice a week, the longtime friends get together to grab a bite to eat in town. This has been their routine for the past couple of years. They have two of those meals at the Early Bird Café (86 Danbury Road). The self-proclaimed regulars meet there every Wednesday for lunch and every Saturday for breakfast.

But their most prized culinary excursions occur on Friday nights, which they reserve for dining out at any one of Ridgefield’s many restaurants, specifically those they have yet to visit or haven’t patronized in a long time.

“There are so many restaurants we haven’t been to even though we’ve lived here for 25 years,” Carpenter said, “so we wanted to extend our exposure.”

During their dinners they fancy themselves as food critics; they are, however, un-traditional in their deliberations.

“Our intent is to just talk about the things that are good,” Carpenter said.

“Not many have been bad,” Devlin added. “We are so lucky in this town.”

When the pandemic flipped the industry on its head last year, Devlin and Carpenter did whatever they could to support Ridgefield’s family-owned eateries. Now, as life returns to normal, they are continuing their tasteful tradition — and encourage other residents to do the same.

“For a little town … it really is a mecca of eating out,” Devlin said. “You can get something different all the time, whether it be the specials or what (the restaurant is) known for.”

He added, “Going out and exploring these places is like a treasure hunt.”

The duo first met after Carpenter’s sister-in-law, Debbie, started talking to Devlin’s wife, Nicolle, while on line at a Toys R Us more than 20 years ago. The Carpenters’ home was the site of many social gatherings; Devlin recalled their “great barbecues.”

The friends are such a constant in Ridgefield’s restaurant scene that they are often mistaken as a couple when they dine out — maybe because they’re partial to sharing plates.

“There’s a comical innuendo there that plays off all the time,” Carpenter said with a smile behind his voice.

During a visit to Mannen (15 Danbury Road), they asked the staff to refer to their sushi order, dubbed “The Love Boat,” as “The Friend Boat” instead.

Their favorite eats of recent memory include “fall-off-the-bone ribs” from The Barn Door (37 Ethan Allen Highway) and a “phenomenal” soft shell crab special from Gallo (5 Grove St.). Devlin also recommended the soft shell crab delight from V. Thai (113 Danbury Road).

“The flavor is so powerful,” he said of the dish.

They couldn’t recall the exact items they ordered at Tequila Escape (439 Main St.), however, blaming the memory blur on the restaurant’s tequila Old Fashioneds.

The food adventures have filled the pair’s hearts as well as their stomachs. Whether they’re “ponying up” to the bar at The Lantern (378 Main St.) or talking with staff in between bites, they are reminded of the owners who kept each establishment open despite the pandemic.

“It’s amazing that all these restaurants have survived,” Devlin said. “They are so proud, so welcoming, and want to make sure that you’re happy.”

As more people return to restaurants amid the new normal, Carpenter recommended diners to “grab a friend and go experience something new.”