The Whistle Stop earns its status as a Pawcatuck institution
A couple decades ago, when I was hauling my kids to The Whistle Stop for French toast and pancakes, I never would have imagined Chicken Souvlaki and Eggplant Rollatini on the menu.
But Georgia, the woman who runs the place now, explained that she added dishes from her native Greece when she bought the business about seven years ago. It was my first trip back to The Whistle Stop in more than 20 years, and my lunch was so good that day — Spanikopita with a Greek Salad for $7.25 — that I went back twice more, once for dinner and then again, for breakfast.
The Whistle Stop is a Pawcatuck institution, a long-established eatery that has seen a few different incarnations, or at least owners, in my tenure in town. It’s not fancy, with worn Formica, booths and tables and a couple orange-topped stools at a small counter. Train memorabilia covers the walls and fills shelves, and there are train-themed wall clocks, which is appropriate given the restaurant’s location. It is situated alongside busy train tracks — Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor — and at a crossing where red lights flash and gates close to halt vehicles every time a train goes by.
I didn’t intend to go to The Whistle Stop but ended up there when another place a friend and I planned to go was closed. It was convenient and, once inside, welcoming. We looked over the lunch menu which included salads, grinders, club sandwiches, bacon cheeseburger and gyro platters, as well as standards like a tuna melt ($4) and fish burger ($5.95). The list of grinders offered everything from meatless ($6.50), to a steak bomb ($9.50), and pepper and egg ($8.95).
My friend settled on the BLT, which was pretty pedestrian, but at $4, a deal. I selected the spanakopita — spinach, feta and egg wrapped in phyllo dough and, as the menu says, “baked to crisp perfection.”
We chatted with Georgia, who was our waitress, and she told us that Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays she stays open until 8 p.m. and offers Greek fare in addition to her dinner menu. So, a few days later, I was back at Whistle Stop again.
My dining companion and I went planning to try the Greek food, which we did, but we began with a truly American dish — a heaping plate of hot onion rings ($5.75). They were sliced thin and house made, and we ate all of them.
For dinner, one of us got the Shrimp Scampi and the other, the Eggplant Rollatini, both $13.95. We wanted to try the Chicken Souvlaki with a salad ($8.95), but they were out of it that night.
Our meals were generous servings. The ziti served with the scampi was a tad overcooked, and the sauce, made from garlic, butter and white wine, could have used more seasoning. But the dish included perfectly cooked shrimp that were tasty.
The rollatini also could have used more seasoning, but we ate all of it. It was thinly sliced, lightly breaded and fried, with a broccoli and ricotta filling and marinara and mozzarella.
Both dishes came with pre-made salads out of a refrigerator and a large basket of hot and buttery garlic bread to share. It was a lot of food at a very reasonable price, and we were full at the end but still agreed to take a rice pudding ($2.50) for later. Online reviews gave the pudding high marks, and we figured we would try it when we weren’t so full. It was a good decision.
Diners at nearby tables that night all seemed to order off the regular menu, and many went for a chicken soup special ($5.25), which was a large, steaming bowl. The menu also boasts cod, both baked ($12.95) or stuffed ($14.95), as well as chicken parmesan ($11.95) and spaghetti or ziti with sausage or meatballs ($10.95). The other diners all seemed to be neighbors, or locals, with both young and old enjoying the food.
A week later, I went back again, for breakfast. In my mind, The Whistle Stop was always a breakfast place, and it just seemed necessary to try the morning menu, which includes eggs, omelets, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, French toast, and more.
There were two of us again, and we both got omelets, one western, with ham, peppers and onions ($8), and the other, vegetable ($7), with onions, peppers and mushrooms. Both came with toast and hash browns, and we ordered a side of bacon ($2). Friends later told me they go for the Chunky-Monkey Pancakes, just $8 for a large order and served with chocolate chips, bananas and walnuts.
The place was busy on a Friday morning, with an older crowd sipping coffee over finished plates and Amtrak workers, with florescent vests, coming in for breakfast. Our omelets were satisfactory, and the coffee, hot and strong.
The Whistle Stop isn’t fancy, but the food is priced to sell and the servings hearty. It’s a small restaurant with a big menu and a gracious owner, host and chef who wants to please. Every time I visited, there were people in the place and it was apparent many were regulars, sharing easy banter with Georgia. If you’re out and about someday, give it a try.
The Whistle Stop
15 Palmer St., Pawcatuck
Cuisine: All-American comfort food with Greek dishes thrown in.
Service: Fast, friendly and efficient.
Hours: Monday to Wednesday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Breakfast served daily until noon.
Atmosphere: The interior is dated and tired, but it's clean, warm and smells like grandma’s house.
Prices: Affordable. There’s nothing on the breakfast menu more than $8.25 (the Greek omelet), and at dinnertime, the highest priced items are all $14 or less.
Credit cards: Yes
Reservations: It isn’t the kind of place where you’d make a reservation.
Handicap access: There are no steps at the side entrance off the parking lot.