I finally tried the fried chicken at Alvin + Friends Restaurant in New Rochelle, which claims to have Westchester’s best version of the classic dish.
I’ve been hearing – and hearing, and hearing – about the Southern and Caribbean food restaurant since it opened in downtown New Rochelle in 2010. And now it has moved to a much larger space at 14 Memorial Plaza.
(Mayor Noam Bramson even mentioned the place by name in his State of the City address in February.)
Now that it has just opened for lunch as well as dinner, I made a point of getting there.
The chicken was worth the trip. But maybe it’s unfair to describe a restaurant whose entrees include jerk-rubbed duck breast and slow-braised oxtail by its most common-sounding dish. So let me start a little more broadly.
Alvin + Friends is one of several bright spots in the city’s downtown, but it is very much a place of its own. It reopened so recently at the edge of Memorial Plaza that the sign out front is temporary, and the interior still has the new smell. With large front windows, it was an airy space on a sunny day, but anchored by dark wood chairs and floorboards, and punched up with boldly colored paintings by owner Alvin Clayton.
The lunch entrees – catfish po’ boy, seared salmon salad, pulled pork sliders and so on – are $11.95 each.
This was the grown-up restaurant version of fried chicken, served on a plate that clinks against the silverware, not in a cardboard bucket or plastic basket. So it was not a pile of drumsticks, thighs and breasts. Rather, it was two modestly sized thighs, served with controlled portions of braised greens (with bits of smoked turkey) and macaroni and cheese.
There’s no way I’m going to test the veracity of the boast that it’s the best fried chicken in Westchester. I won’t be running around the county sampling every version of breaded or battered bird out there. (My doctor would chase me down with a butterfly net.)
But the pieces at Alvin + Friends were seasoned well and cooked perfectly. The breading didn’t overwhelm the meat. I can’t say it wasn’t greasy – what good is fried chicken if you don’t have to wipe your fingers on the napkin? – but it was balanced well.
And the sides? They both were prepared with care, each with a touch of heat.
You could say the same thing about New Rochelle’s downtown itself – a touch of heat.
It may not brim with the liveliness that White Plains enjoys, but it has its places. The Gnarly Vine at 501 Main Street has its own spirited scene, for instance, and restaurants such as Mexican Corner and Coromandel have been mainstays in the area for years.
City planners and downtown boosters are always looking for ways to bring more life to the area. Next month, for instance, the new “Grand Market” organized by the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District, will take over the Library Green on Saturdays, offering fresh produce, specialty foods, outdoor dining and entertainment.