Brian MacMenamin has an affinity for historic buildings. The experienced restaurateur was inspired to open Club Car in Mamaroneck’s vacant train station, which had been built back in 1888 as the second stop on the New Haven line coming out of Grand Central. After eight months of renovation in 2011, MacMenamin unveiled the grand remodeled interior of his brand new restaurant.
Before Club Car, for years, 1 Station Plaza had been but a barren tunnel with an old ticket window and old pieces of train tracks. Up for the undeniable challenge before them, MacMenamin’s design team harvested as much of the interior finishes as possible, adding in quality detailing where necessary to strike the right balance between old and new.
The luxuriously high ceiling made of tin sparkles, as do the large chandeliers hanging from it. Since guests’ comfort is of the utmost importance to MacMenamin, he imported lavish bar stools made of fine leather, comfy small bistro chairs, and larger tufted leather seats in the dining room. The restored fireplace and exposed brick walls complete an intimate and cozy yet upscale vibe that attracts a fairly young, hip crowd—especially later in the evening, when tablecloths come off, lights dim, and music loudens. It was important to MacMenamin that he create a lively, upbeat atmosphere in his restaurant, which its swanky design helps cultivate.
The fusion decor is aptly matched by MacMenamin’s New American menu, the real draw of his establishment. At Club Car, classically popular appetizers like tuna tartar and calamari are revamped to impress. Tuna tartar, while often paired with avocado, is elevated here by the inclusion of a raw quail egg. MacMenamin noted that people went crazy when he temporarily removed this dish from his offerings, so he was practically forced to handwrite it onto each menu until it was back in rotation. The chef also puts an Asian twist on his cashew crusted calamari, tossing it in a hot and sour orange ginger glaze, and serving it with a nutty tahini dipping sauce. Packed with flavor, the calamari was certainly a favorite of the night.
Crab cakes are yet another quintessential American staple that MacMenamin successfully transforms—in perhaps the most unique way of all. For one, these “cakes” are not constructed in the usual round shape, but served in a dish, much like an actual cake might be. For this can’t-miss appetizer, the kitchen marries jumbo lump crab from Maryland with local grilled corn. The corn is simmered in a little cream and milk, combined with crab and cornbread crumbs, and baked—and the result far surpasses your run-of-the-mill crab cake.
My entrée did not disappoint: John Dory, flown in fresh from the English Channel, was prepared in typical French fashion in parchment paper with leeks and tomato. Complemented by truffled spaetzle and asparagus, this translucent, melt-in-your-mouth fish cooked to excellence did not once require a knife. Pieces fell apart at the touch of my fork, exactly as I feel a perfectly executed fish should. While unsampled by me on this visit, one of MacMenamin’s favorite menu items is his pesto-crusted Arctic sea bass served over lobster-crushed Yukon gold potatoes with lobster beurre blanc. I didn’t hate the sound of that.
I told MacMenamin, who happily sat and chatted with me throughout the entirety of my meal, that I am not much of a banana fan, but he insisted I sample one of his favorite desserts: banana pudding. Topped with whipped cream and a thin crunchy layer of bruleed bananas, this treat tantalized my palate in a way I was not expecting! I loved the carrot cake bread pudding, too.
The delicious plates I savored at Club Car are due in part to MacMenamin’s fastidiousness when it comes to ingredient selection. He endeavors to buy organic as much as possible and to utilize nothing but sushi-grade seafood and the best prime aged meats.
Moreover, MacMenamin chalks up his inspiration for such a creative menu to the traveling he’s done, specifically across Europe. He sipped a dirty martini while regaling me with tales of his pastry apprenticeship in Switzerland and Austria. At this point in his esteemed career, MacMenamin has also worked in a variety of different restaurants in Westchester, Manhattan, Nantucket, and Miami, developing the necessary knowledge that enables him to pull from a broad spectrum of cuisines and cooking styles. I am eager to see what his team will dole out during the rapidly-approaching SoWe Food and Wine Festival!