The right track
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.