Southern Caribbean Bistro
The first time my family and I met Alvin Clayton, the owner of the New Rochelle southern Caribbean bistro Alvin & Friends, we had heard through the grapevine that the menu was out of this world. Naturally, as restaurant aficionados, we were curious to check it out. From that very first dinner we were hooked. My family fell in love with the kale chips, mac and cheese, jerk rubbed duck breast and mouth watering southern fried chicken. But more than the food (which incidentally is dynamite), what we loved most about Alvin’s, in a word, was Alvin.
This father of three from New Rochelle has become the ultimate host – greeting guests the moment they arrive and continually checking in to ensure patrons are happy with their food, the service and so much more. Once you get to know Alvin, you’ll also discover his many hidden talents. A former fashion model turned artist, Clayton studied in Paris and has continued to paint even while he was in the midst of moving to a new expansive location at 14 Memorial Highway in New Rochelle. He now has room to display the 18 new paintings he’s created to adorn the walls of his new restaurant.
Alvin & Friends truly is a family affair, with Clayton’s wife Gwen and their three children Matisse, Oliver and Bella frequently helping out. “We have a rule. If you want to buy things, you have to work for those things,” says Clayton, who has instilled a positive work ethic in his children both at the restaurant and at school. “School work is their job,” he says and shares that the family has a Hall of Fame wall that displays the news when his kids score 100 percent on a test. In fact, every time someone gets a perfect test score, they get to choose dinner. Often when that happens, Clayton says, they all eat sushi.
While customers enjoy the new menu selections and swanky new digs, (there’s a fabulous outdoor patio and live music) Clayton says he loves that he was able to find another location that was in close proximity to his home. That way, he can be nearby for his kids when they leave for school and be on hand for their lacrosse games too. Clayton is also incredibly involved in the community and is on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA and has donated his time and wonderful food to many community and school programs. He says that he is thrilled to be part of a “new renaissance of New Rochelle,” by being one of several award-winning restaurants that have moved in and are making the Queen City of the Sound a hot spot for foodies. “We are bringing back the glory of New Rochelle. I love this community and it is so nice to have a restaurant right here in our own backyard.”
Sometimes a career change is just what you need to realize your true calling. For Bedford, N.Y. dad Jeff Rosen, his 20-year corporate career was just not cutting it anymore. Once he had hit his 40s, Jeff knew he wanted to make a change and that decision ultimately led him back to his roots.
Jeff’s grandparents were restaurant owners and while his overprotective mom said she’d disown him if he chose to follow in their footsteps (she has since passed on), he still moved ahead with his master plan. His wife Dawn was not too thrilled either, but acquiesced when Jeff agreed to find a place close to home so he would still be able to help out with their daughter Zoe. He also re-assured her he’d never open a restaurant. “Hence the name Tavern,” he says.
When the two discovered an Irish pub in Mt. Kisco that had been part of the village for decades, they knew they had found the perfect location for MTK Tavern – a place where families, couples and locals could enjoy great food, live music and a lounge to unwind after a busy day.
When they took over the tavern, Dawn says she was determined to renovate a back room that featured a pool table as its centerpiece into an eclectic and inviting space for customers. After purchasing several couches, tables and lamps at Lillian August, the transformation was complete. While the front of the tavern looks like a traditional bar area with high top tables, the cozy lounge area can accommodate between 35 and 40 guests.
What sets MTK Tavern apart from traditional pubs is also the menu. Chef Eric Mason, who previously worked at top Manhattan eateries like Aquavit, has managed to combine traditional pub fare with contemporary appetizers and entrees that keep customers coming back for more. From calamari, to Buffalo wings, to crab cakes, to short ribs to specialty burgers, everything is made fresh on the premises.
MTK also offers live music Wednesday through Saturday featuring top local bands, and every Sunday at 2 p.m., kid musicians also get the opportunity to perform during their Youth Jam sessions. This summer, the Bedford School of Rock will be hosting eight of their end-of-year concerts featuring their talented students at MTK Tavern.
While Jeff puts in long hours at the tavern, he still manages to spend time with Dawn and Zoe. He helps get Zoe on the bus in the mornings, attends her sporting events and still cooks for his family all year long.
Jeff has also set up a charitable component to his business called MTK Cares where they support several organizations including the Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Club, Autism Awareness organizations and the Westchester Community Center, among others. “I am incredibly proud of him,” says Dawn who adds that he’s never worked so hard in his life. For Jeff, working hard suits him just fine now that he’s finally doing what he loves.
Sliding Into Home Base
AJ’s Burgers owner Alan Cohen is by far one of the friendliest restaurateurs in Westchester County. This dad of two, who is best known as AJ, has owned three restaurants since 1972 and has always been at the forefront of the latest food trends.
AJ’s Burgers first opened its doors in 2007 when Cohen decided to bring the best sliders he’s ever tasted (compliments of The White Manor in Hackensack, N.J.) to New Rochelle. At the time, there weren’t many places in the area offering different selections of burgers, so when AJ introduced his signature sliders, they instantly became a county favorite.
While burger joints seem to be popping up on every street corner these days, Cohen says his concept has since evolved into a “chef driven burger restaurant with five-star service.” He always works to stay ahead of the competition by enhancing the menu in a way that will attract a wide variety of customers.
AJ also relies on his family to act as sounding boards for the business and his wife, son and daughter frequently weigh in on the restaurant’s food and marketing plans. When he first opened AJ’s Burgers, Cohen says his daughter and her friends really helped him a lot in making menu decisions. “I was always cooking things for her friends and unbeknownst to them, I was experimenting on menu items to see what they loved,” he says.
From fresh salmon, to Italian dishes with sauce made from fresh Roma tomatoes, thin crust pizza, and of course, classic burgers and sliders, a family can enjoy a great meal together because AJ’s Burgers works hard to please everyone.
AJ’s Burgers is also committed to offering great quality food that is prepared in a healthy way. The chefs cook with olive oil and use less butter in their sauces and Cohen continually experiments with recipes he adapts from high-end restaurants and from his favorite chefs at the Food Network.
The restaurant recently started offering wine and beer and they plan to introduce a special Chef’s Table this summer where parties of six or more can reserve a table ($65 per person) and enjoy a five star meal that you would find at any top restaurant. They’ve also installed softer lighting, added more television screens for sporting events and are offering live music too.
Even celebrities love AJ’s. In fact, one famous patron who loved one of their dishes so much even had an entree named after him. Superstar Yankee player Mariano Rivera orders Shrimp Positano every time he visits AJ’s Burgers and so the dish was officially renamed the “Mariano Rivera Special.”
AJ’s also supports a number of organizations throughout the county and provides catering for special events.
With hard work, great service and a menu that aims to please, AJ’s Burgers has become one of the most popular casual dining destinations in our area. “Everyone is happy here,” he says. “AJ’s is a comfortable place for a family to eat and enjoy comfort food and high end quality entrees at reasonable prices.”
Beth Feldman is a writer, a foodie and the founder of www.rolemommy.com.