There’s a buzz in the air that I can’t quite put my finger on.
It’s late afternoon on a weekday, and I’m standing inside Station House, one of the latest restaurants to open in Port Chester and the latest installment in the ongoing renovation of the city’s historic train station.
Though the restaurant is quiet in the early afternoon, there remains a certain energy, one that might radiate from the adjoining rail station that helps transport nearly 3,000 commuters each day along the Metro-North New Haven line. The restaurant itself pays homage to its railroad roots, with preserved antique brass fixtures, tiered chandeliers and exposed brick walls. Elsewhere, long red and taupe drapes frame the windows, while antique mirrors and historical prints dot the walls.
“We didn’t want to try to do too much. We wanted to lighten it up, yet maintain the charm,” says Michael Janetta, owner of the new restaurant. “We wanted it to be an inviting, warm place where everyone feels comfortable.”
A copper-top bar sits at one end of the restaurant, while an open kitchen sits at the other. That kitchen is home to one of the focal points of the eatery — a coal-fired pizza oven.
“We wanted to be able to attract people during the week, and pizza is something that is attractive to kids, to parents, to people who want to go out and have a good time,” he says.
On this particular afternoon, the crowd is decidedly mixed — a businessman seated alone, chatting on the phone; a family grabbing pizza and playing a game of guessing how many trains will whiz by during their meal (the answer was 12 and the youngest boy won); a group of friends meeting for after-work cocktails.
While pizza may be a way for diners to have a good time, Janetta takes his pizza seriously. In preparation for the restaurant’s opening, he worked with chefs from Europe for a year, even flying them to his New York City restaurant Sala One Nine, to perfect his pizza dough recipe. That recipe includes “mother” dough that contains less than 1 percent yeast, along with a 24-hour cold fermentation process. Janetta says the result is a more natural and complex flavor profile.
“Everyone loves pizza and I’ve always wanted to do it,” he says. “My Italian grandmother made pizza dough for me all the time, and it was great to follow her around. For me, it’s come full circle.”
The menu offers a variety of pizza options, from a littleneck clam and bacon with Parmesan and chili flakes to a chicken pesto with Mozzarella, sweet bell peppers and Pecorino.
During my visit, I heed the advice of the general manager and select the Cajun blackened shrimp pizza. He tells me it’s a staff favorite, and I soon realize why.
Topped with jalapeno and spicy andouille sausage, this pizza is not for the faint of heart. It packs a serious kick, but for those like myself who appreciate a strong spice, it’s perfect.
As Janetta will accurately tell you himself, however, “it’s more than just a pizza restaurant.”
That’s evidenced by an order of oysters, showcasing roasted blue points with verjus buerre blanc. Coal-roasted shallots add a smoky sweetness to the buttery oysters.
Other dishes make use of the signature oven, like the coal-fired chicken wings that can be served in the classic buffalo style or with thyme and lemon. Crab and artichoke dip is paired with coal crackers, while a coal-fired half-chicken joins baby potatoes, rainbow carrots and wilted kale.
Pizza dough is also used in more ways than just as the vessel for delicious pies. In one of my favorite dishes of the evening, dough is cut into bite-sized pieces that can be dipped into a homemade whipped ricotta with honey that tastes so fresh I ask if it includes any hints of lemon. (Spoiler: It doesn’t.)
Creative cocktails also pay homage to the century-old building, with names like Hop on Board, PC to Manhattan and Pineapple Express.
The restaurant at 3 Broad St. was launched by Our House Restaurant Group, the team behind Rye House Port Chester and Rye House NYC taverns. Last summer, the group launched Village Beer Garden, an outdoor dining area adjacent to the train station.
“If you’re outside and you want to hang out and chill and get that simple, beer-gardenesque food, you can,” Janetta says. “Or if you want to do something a little more sit-down and have a family dinner, have pizza, you got it.”
Janetta calls Village Beer Garden “sort of a happy accident.” Initially, he planned to open the inside eatery before expanding to the outdoor dining space, but a series of delays shifted those plans and led to the opening of the beer garden last summer.
“It stuck,” he said of the outdoor concept, which serves mostly pub food, along with a range of beers and cocktails. “We got a nice following, so we hope to keep that going.”
Janetta says he has a singular goal with his latest venture — to serve good, simple food in a friendly environment.
“A lot of restaurants try to outdo each other and it’s ego driven. I believe simple is always better,” he says. “We want customers to come in there and feel well and feel that we want them there. Not only to feel well, but to eat something that’s really special.”
Now I realize what all the buzz is about.
For more, visit stationhousepc.com.