Cowboy steak is sliced and served over aged cheddar skillet hash topped with gorgonzola, garlic butter and beer battered onion rings at Box 63 in New Haven. (Cloe Poisson, firstname.lastname@example.org / July 7, 2011)
It’s OK to eat with your hands at Box 63. It’s what they want you to do. Look, it says so right on the menu.
This new addition to the Elm City’s thriving dining scene is all about fun and relaxation. Situated in a former firehouse building, Box 63 serves a value-driven menu of kicked-up comfort foods (nothing over $19) and innovative cocktails — just the formula that business partners and cousins Carl and Tom Carbone were looking to achieve.
“The goal was to open up a place where you’d walk in and feel that it was here for the last 40 years … [with] a comfortable, relaxed organic feeling,” says Carl Carbone. “And real, good comfort food…greasy burger joint meets restaurant.”
PHOTOS: Box 63
The menu was designed with the educated, discerning New Haven diner in mind, Carbone says, while still retaining familiar ingredients. On the list of starters, you’ll find nachos, calamari and mini chili cheese dogs alongside pulled pork poutine made with jack cheese and topped with a house demiglace.
Specialty burgers, like the mushroom Swiss melt with five varieties of roasted, truffled mushrooms, sell as well as the all-American, with lettuce, tomato and cheese, Carbone says. Then there’s the sassily named “Oh, No You Didn’t” challenge burger: two half-pound patties stacked club-style on Texas toast with cheese, bacon, tomato, jalapeños and Cajun-fried egg with a pound of truffle fries.
Brooklyn flats are Box 63′s take on pizza – homemade dough grilled and finished with gourmet-topping combinations. The best-selling flatbread is the Big Apple, Carbone says, with roasted apple, smoked bacon, caramelized onion, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and fresh mint, drizzled with balsamic reduction.
The comfort-food dishes span regional fare, from the adult mac-and-cheese made with aged cheddar cream and roasted red pepper (with or without fresh lobster) to shrimp and grits, jambalaya, San Francisco-style cioppino, Carolina pulled pork, a breakfast-inspired burger with fried egg and scrapple, and a Hawaiian burger, on a potato bun with grilled pineapple, bacon, jalapeño, cheddar and tangy barbecue sauce.
Carbone says the Hawaiian burger, which he describes as “sweet, savory, smoky, salty, spicy,” was originally met with skepticism by his waitstaff, but once they tried it, it became the most-suggested item on the menu, he says.
“I think of food as an expression. … I love combining foods, love the element of surprise in food. I think that a lot of times, your best experiences in life can be equated to a food item.”
The Carbones grew up in the restaurant industry, as part of the family dynasty that’s synonymous with fine Italian dining in Hartford. Carl distinctly remembers “pushing myself around on the flour cart in my grandmother’s bakery.” He studied culinary arts management at SUNY-Delhi and worked in every aspect of the restaurant, as directed by his father, Carl Sr. — everything from prep cook tasks to waiting tables, bartending and eventually managing. After running the Gelston House in East Haddam from 1997 to 2005, he started a restaurant-consulting business.
At the new place, there are small, sweet touches on the menu that honor Carl’s grandparents. “Grandpa Charlie’s” fried eggplant sticks are an appetizer, tossed with parmigiano reggiano cheese, and his creamy Caesar dressing recipe tops the classic Caesar salad.
The Brooklyn Meatball salad was inspired by childhood family dinners, Carbone says, where salad was served after the pasta course and eaten on the same plate, so that the sauce mixed in with the greens. (The meatball recipe is his grandmother’s.) These items “infused a little bit of Carbone’s and our heritage into the menu,” he says.
Box 63 also pays tribute to the building’s long history as a firehouse — the restaurant’s name refers to the location’s callbox number. A portion of sales is donated to Box 22 Associates, an organization that provides canteen services to New Haven firefighters at active fire scenes.
“Everybody who eats at Box 63 is indirectly supporting firefighters. That’s our acknowledgement of what the property stood for,” Carbone says.
The food’s whimsy and creativity extends to the beverages, which highlights “Grandpa’s Wine List,” a selection of old-school canned beers for $3. (Think Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rheingold, Schaefer.) But craft beer lovers will find plenty to suit a more sophisticated palate. House-infused spirits star in the signature cocktails like the Stuck Pig, with bacon bourbon, sour mix and apple pucker; and the cucumber mojito, with cucumber-infused rum and fresh mint leaves.
Box 63 runs two daily happy hours. The first, from 4 to 7 p.m., offers $4 well drinks, wines, select draft beers and a list of $5 appetizers. The second, from 10 to 11:30 p.m., features $2 canned beers, $4 frozen drinks and $6 breakfast — fried eggs, hash and a “trash omelet,” with fries, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, jalapeños and andouille sausage, topped with chili, pico de gallo and sour cream.
A brunch rollout is planned for August, with $10 all-you-can-drink Bloody Marys and margaritas. They’re also planning a chili competition between local firehouses in the fall, with proceeds going to the winning firehouse’s chosen charitable foundation.
Above all, Carbone wants Box 63 to remain fun and comfortable, a place that “breaks all rules.”
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