The right track

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Molly Boyle

It t’s the middle of the first quar­ter

at Madi­son Square GGar­den. The Phoenix Suns have made nine turnovers in six min­utes, pro­pel­ling the Knicks to an 18- 4 lead. In­side Box­car sports bar and grill, as Knicks com­men­ta­tor Walt “Clyde” Fra­zier would say, the restau­rant’s servers are dish­ing and swish­ing, mov­ing and groov­ing through the crowded floor. They’re tend­ing to bas­ket­ball fans, friends out for a Fri­day-night drink, twen­tysome­things queu­ing for the pool ta­bles, and a band set­ting up its equip­ment for a show later in the evening.

Herein teems the lo­cal fla­vor of Box­car, which re­branded it­self from the old Junc­tion last fall, re­vamp­ing the bar con­fig­u­ra­tion and the menu. Given the lim­ited op­tions down­town for sports fans and their sin­gu­lar brand of en­thu­si­asm, the bar doesn’t seem to have suf­fered from the changeover: Judg­ing from the usu­ally full park­ing lot, it’s been packed this foot­ball sea­son by devo­tees and night owls in search of a snack. The hangar-like space fits the Rai­l­yard aes­thetic, and though there are many big- screen TVs, the restau­rant does not seem dom­i­nated by them. The pa­tio area, en­closed for win­ter, is invit­ing, with an out­door fire­place and am­ple seat­ing.

For­tu­nately for ev­ery­one, t he chicken wings are on point. Three fla­vors are on the menu; we opted for clas­sic buf­falo and were pre­sented with six nicely crisped, vine­gary, or­ange fla­vor bombs along with cel­ery, car­rots, and a watery ranch dress­ing. The green chile cheese­burger is also solid, with enough kicky sus­te­nance to get a per­son t hrough a l ack­lus­ter half­time show, along with some de­cent fries. The Cae­sar salad was crispy and fresh enough, though the dress­ing is heav­ier on the an­chovy fla­vor than most might ex­pect.

Box­car misses the mark with some of it s higher- end op­tions. The restau­rant’s ver­sion of shrimp and grits finds a few sautéed shrimp rest­ing on some squares of po­lenta in what the menu de­scribes as a white-wine Ca­jun sauce. The shrimp were rub­bery and bland, t he po­lenta was mealy, and the whole mess swam in an oily, toma­toey sea. Like­wise the cider-braised pork belly, which was overly chewy and also suf­fered from a lack of sea­son­ing and those same sad po­lenta squares. The fancy and size­able pork-belly Box­car burger was tastier and quite juicy, if a bit greasy; a diner pro­nounced it to have hit the spot, though he also con­fessed to a bit of worry over how he might feel the next morn­ing.

When the game’s on and the adrenaline’s rac­ing, it seems wiser to stick to easy-to-eat fried foods: Here is where Box­car finds its groove. The tem­pura-bat­tered jalapeño pop­pers, stuffed with Tu­cum­cari ched­dar and cream cheese, were served at a per­fect tem­per­a­ture, and the cheese blend was richly molten, though the tem­pura wasn’t as light as ex­pected. Thick av­o­cado wedges cov­ered in the same bat­ter and paired with a light-green crema also proved a crowd pleaser.

I had the chance to watch a pas­sion­ate lo­cal fish-and­chips afi­cionado in ac­tion as he tasted Box­car’s ver­sion. He pro­nounced them good — gen­er­ous pieces of white fish in the same tem­pura bat­ter along­side a stack of pun­gent gar­licParme­san steak fries that I kept sneak­ing over to my plate. We did won­der why the fish was served over a bed of tar­tar sauce, which sogged it up some­what. The plate was also marred by a rapidly pool­ing mayo sauce from the side of coleslaw, which was ac­cept­able de­spite its un­tidy pre­sen­ta­tion.

When the game’s on and the adrenaline’s rac­ing, it seems wiser to stick to easy-to- eat fried foods:

Here is where Box­car finds its groove.

The Sleepy Hol­low was the one spe­cialty cock­tail we tried; it’s ad­ver­tised as a blend of mez­cal, bit­ters, spiced rum, and sim­ple syrup. How­ever, the dom­i­nant fla­vor was of the smoky mez­cal — and wa­ter. Af­ter look­ing around at the ta­bles of other pa­trons, though, pop­u­lated as they were by beers, burg­ers, and wings, we re­al­ized it’s pru­dent to re­mem­ber that when in this par­tic­u­lar coli­seum, it’s best to do as the sports fans do: Have a beer, eat some wings, and watch the game.

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