Clam & bacon is just one of the scrumptious pizzas being made in the coal-fired oven at Station House in the Port Chester train depot at 3 Broad St.
Richard Abel|Westmore News
Clam & bacon is just one of the scrumptious pizzas being made in the coal-fired oven at Station House in the Port Chester train depot at 3 Broad St. Richard Abel|Westmore News

Spring has finally sprung and with it has come the long-awaited opening of a new restaurant in the Port Chester Metro-North station. Station House opened quietly on Tuesday, Apr. 17, and the Village Beer Garden next door made its 2018 debut the following week—on Thursday, Apr. 26.

It’s a thrill to welcome a new restaurant into the historic railroad station, which dates from 1890 and had been fashioned into an eatery at great expense by the previous owner, Heartland Brewery Group. This reimagining of the station, with its antique brass fixtures, tiered chandeliers, meticulous millwork and exposed brick walls, is a valiant effort to make a financial success of a great space which also serves Metro-North customers as a train depot weekday mornings and afternoons. The big surprise this time around was the addition of a coal- and gas-fired pizza oven and a copper-covered pizza bar with 10 bright red barstools allowing customers to watch the pizza-making, enjoy the warmth and glow of the fire and peer into the oven while the food is cooking.    

Adding this oven is what delayed the opening of Station House by Our House Restaurant Group, which also owns the Rye House Port Chester and Manhattan taverns as well as Sala One Nine Tapas Bar & Restaurant in the Flatiron District. The group took over Heartland’s long-term lease of the train station and opened the Village Beer Garden last spring in the fantastic outdoor space Heartland had created—and then ultimately abandoned—with two giant stone fireplaces next to the train station. It proved popular with Capitol Theatre patrons, local residents and was a great place for high school reunions and other parties right up through November. The beer garden stayed open until right before Christmas, said general manager and partner Jeff Skiba of Port Chester. Despite the central fireplace, heat lamps and canvas flaps that go down to envelop the portion of the beer garden that is contained within a metal structure, “it just got too cold,” said Skiba.

The owners had originally hoped to open Station House before the beer garden. They later pushed back the date to the fall of 2017 and ultimately until now because getting approvals from MTA Metro-North Railroad for the pizza oven took a long time. “We were dealing with a large bureaucracy,” said partner Michael Jannetta, who is the food director for the restaurant group and has been helping Skiba open Station House.

“The pizza oven was something they hadn’t dealt with before,” said Skiba. Metro-North was concerned about the safety since the restaurant space also serves as a train station, so there were many precautions and safety measures that had to be taken.

Coal-fired pizza and more on the menu

The signs above and next to the front door read “Station House” and below that “Coal-Fired Pizza.” The latter is the focal point of the menu, which was developed by Jannetta. He said during opening week that he had been poring over the menu for months in an effort to come up with just the right food options.

There are plenty of places to get pizza in Port Chester, and the Italian specialty at each one of them is a little different, but none are like the coal-fired variety Station House is making. Similar to the bread made at Our House’s Sala 19 in NYC, it starts with a “mother” dough containing less than 1% yeast and utilizes a 24-hour cold fermentation process, resulting in a more natural and complex flavor, Jannetta explained. Before I learned that, I knew that I liked these exceptional thin-crusted, oblong, irregular-shaped pies with their sometimes crunchy, sometimes chewy crust. And I was intrigued by the creative combinations such as the Clam & Bacon ($16), which is the first type my husband and I tried. Made with littleneck clams, good-sized pieces of bacon, parmesan, garlic oil, chili flakes and parsley, it offers the perfect combination of flavors and textures. Other options are Cajun Shrimp ($18), made with blackened shrimp, jalapenos, and andouille sausage, Chicken Pesto ($17) and Margherita ($13), to name a few. You can also get a house pie topped with tomato and mozzarella for $12 and add an array of different toppings for from $1 to $4 each to create your own concoction. Each pie is plenty for two people, assuming you’re going to at least add a salad to the mix.

“I’ve eaten a lot of pizza over the years,” said Jannetta. “I love Pepe’s in New Haven. We want to be the go-to place for pizza.”

As for salads, there are five to choose from, and they come in two sizes. I can recommend the Station Salad $12/$18, made with baby spinach, beets, gorgonzola, walnuts, Granny Smith apples and house vinaigrette. I would call it the perfect combination of ingredients, and it was super fresh.

I have also had the Sugar Snaps ($10/$16), sugar snap peas topped with crumbled goat cheese and tossed with mint vinaigrette—crispy and delicious. Summer Asparagus ($10/$16), Arugula ($11/$17) and Kale Caesar ($10/$16) complete the array.

Even if you don’t want a full meal but just a drink and an appetizer or two, Station House has some interesting options. Among them are coal-fired Thyme and Lemon Wings or more traditional Roasted Buffalo Wings with blue cheese dip and celery (6 wings for $12 or 12 for $22), Crab & Artichoke Dip ($12), Charred Baby Bell Peppers ($7), Mama’s Meatballs ($9) and Homemade Whipped Ricotta ($10).

The dip is over the top made with crabmeat, artichoke hearts, creamy asiago and mozzarella. It comes in a wrought iron crock that goes right in the pizza oven for warming till bubbly and is served with crunchy/chewy diamond-shaped crackers made from pizza dough for dipping.

The whole red and yellow peppers come in a variety of sizes and are simply sprinkled with basil sea salt and charred in the pizza oven till piping hot, so they are a healthy choice.

You get two large, firm meatballs in a yummy tomato sauce covered in cheese if you go that route. Mama’s Meatballs are a Rye House signature dish.

Besides the top-notch pizzas, salads and appetizers made fresh with high-quality ingredients, Station House’s tavern fare also includes a few pastas and entrées like Mac & Cheese ($12), Baked Rigatoni ($15) made with Italian sausage and two kinds of cheese, a Half Chicken ($18) and Roasted Branzino ($20).

A nice touch is the popcorn served in a conical wrought iron basket lined with red and white paper when you sit down. It provides a little pick-me-up while you’re deciding what to order.

A variety of revolving domestic and imported draft and bottled beers, among them some IPAs like Ithaca Flower Power, which is a good one, cost $7. Wine can be had by the glass for $8-$13 or bottle for $30 to $50. Railroad-themed house cocktails ($11-$13) like a New Haven Bound made with Tito’s vodka, lime and strawberries (refreshing!) or Hop on Board made with New Amsterdam vodka, honey, lemon and Flower Power IPA are other options besides top shelf spirits (bourbon, rye, scotch and tequila).

For now, there is a verbal dessert menu. On our second visit, my husband and I sampled the excellent Italian cheesecake drizzled with strawberry sauce and garnished with a fresh sliced strawberry. There will also be ice cream and gelato. To go with our cheesecake, we ordered coffee, which arrived with a tiny bottle filled with warm milk, and cappuccino.

First visit

On our first visit before going to see Cheech and Chong at The Cap, Richard and I had a Firestone Pilsner, New Haven Bound cocktail, Baby Bell Peppers, a Clam & Bacon Pizza and a small Station Salad and our check came to $62.28. The salad cost $15, somewhere between the price of a small and large listed on the menu.

Even on that busy first weekend when all the staff was new, the management made a huge effort to provide great service and our server apologized for the length of time it took to get our drinks due to a backlog at the bar. We were also offered a free round of drinks.

Menu flexibility

Are the Station House and Village Beer Garden two different restaurants? “Good question,” responded Jannetta. They are two restaurants that feed off each other. There are two menus but one owner.

The German-American biergarten menu that was offered outside last year has been shortened but still includes sausages, sandwiches, salads, sides and bites. The Nicoise Salad and the spaetzle, for instance, have been removed because they weren’t big sellers.

Unless it’s very busy, you can also get pizza outside, so there is some sharing of menu items. The bottom line is to make customers happy and keep them coming back.

Spruced up décor

Besides a scrape, polish and a paint job, the railroad décor remains intact and much as it had been as first Port Chester Hall and then Heartland Black + Gold. An historic map has been placed above the ticket window and other historical prints and antique mirrors decorate the walls which were repainted light beige with darker trim. Billowy vintage red and taupe drapes hang at the large windows. Seating is at rich red banquettes and chairs as well as a few high tops in front of a grand bar on the opposite side of the room from the pizza oven.

Hours and parking

Station House and the Village Beer Garden are open seven days from 4 p.m. until at least 9 p.m. during the week. “The kitchen is open until 9:30 to 10 most nights,” said manager Juan Vargas. They both stay open for drinks as long as there are customers. “We don’t kick anybody out,” said Vargas.

Parking is in the commuter lot on Broad Street north of Irving Avenue after 5 p.m. weekdays and anywhere in the lot all day Saturday and Sunday. You can also park on the street but must feed the meter until 9 p.m.