Restaurant Review: Alvin & Friends in New Rochelle
More ups than downs at this New Rochelle charmer with a melting-pot menu
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Owner Alvin Clayton makes his rounds, ensuring that guests feel right at home.
There are some things about Alvin & Friends that are givens: during the course of your meal, for instance, you will get a visit from owner Alvin Clayton, a charming and elegant host. Just as the cuisine is a melting pot of Clayton’s personal experiences, so are his vividly colored paintings, which are hung throughout the restaurant. Both the food and the art reflect Clayton’s Caribbean upbringing, his experiences in Southern-food restaurants, and the urban cultures of Los Angeles and New York that have influenced him. Close seating and homey décor create a welcoming backdrop for the food and conversation. While not polished, service was uniformly friendly and well intentioned.
As would be expected from a restaurant with Caribbean and Southern roots, much of the food is either sweet or spicy or both, although several dishes had roots in more classic Continental cuisines. A “Southern” Caesar salad was sprinkled with crunchy fried black-eyed peas and light, refreshing, and slightly tangy buttermilk-scallion dressing. A classic Italian dish took a sharp and fun turn south: Country Caprese featured two fried green tomato slices—perfectly coated in crispy breadcrumbs and meltingly juicy and tart inside—over baby greens topped with warm, whiskey cheddar cheese. The not-to-be-missed cornmeal fried oysters were golden-crisp on the outside and soft and melt-y inside. Jerk shrimp had perfect snap, and if jerk seasoning was ever mellow, it was here, allowing the sweet flavor of the shrimp to come through.
The fried chicken was everything fried chicken should be: crisp and golden on the outside and moist, perfectly cooked dark and light meat inside. And oh, those greens—rich, tender, earthy, and delightfully Southern. Mac ‘n’ cheese was a perfect soulmate to those greens; it is made with four cheeses and has a smoky, bacon-y undertone. Desserts, too, lived up to the dinners: bittersweet chocolate cake was like a brownie on steroids, topped with vanilla ice cream. Red velvet bread pudding made with white chocolate and topped with amaretto whipped cream was as sweet as Southern desserts can be, and the tender, light pineapple upside-down cake was served warm with a rum toffee sauce and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sadly, a subsequent visit wasn’t so sucessful, starting with a wet, dense crab cake that was, contrary to its “super lump” description on the menu, completely devoid of lumps. The fried tofu in the chicken fried tofu salad was bland, and the salad greens were drowning in Creole mustard dressing. Strangely, the citrus-flavored cornbread was dry on the outside and gummy on the inside. The ribs with peach schnapps barbecue sauce made us sad: five little tough and chewy backs covered in cloyingly sweet sauce. One good dish: an appetizer of autumn vegetables, including bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes.
We also encountered a kitchen-service snafu. We ordered the sea scallop fricassee, and our linguine came to the table with shrimp. Apparently, the kitchen ran out of scallops. The host apologized and brought us each a glass of complimentary wine while we waited.
How could these two experiences have occurred at the same restaurant? We don’t know, but we were impressed enough by our good experience that we would definitely give it another shot. Because when Alvin’s was good, it was very, very good.
Alvin & Friends 2.5 ★
49 Lawton St, New Rochelle
(914) 654-6549; alvinandfriendsrestaurant.com
Hours: Tues and Wed 5:30-9 pm; Thurs 5:30-10 pm; Fri and Sat 5:30-11 pm; Sun 2:30-9 pm
Appetizers: $7–$12.50; entrées: $12–$29.50; desserts: $7
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good