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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Review: J&G Rail Side in Pawcatuck puts a delicious emphasis on seafood

    Shrimp Scampi with risotto at J&G Rail Side in Pawcatuck (Ann Baldelli)
    J&G Rail Side’s Pan Seared Scallop Pasta (Ann Baldelli)
    Tuna Poke (Ann Baldelli)
    Lobster alfredo (Ann Baldelli)
    Seafood Fra Diavolo (Ann Baldelli)
    The exterior of J&G Rail Side in Pawcatuck (Ann Baldelli)
    The crab cake special (Ann Baldelli)
    Steamed Mussels (Ann Baldelli)

    We were thrilled when we heard last winter that a couple of the chefs from Ford’s Lobster in Noank had struck out on their own with a new eatery called J&G Rail Side in Pawcatuck. The very popular Ford’s, known for its superior seafood dishes, summertime boatside service, and BYOB policy, lost its lease on Riverside Avenue in Noank, amid news that a new operator will be taking over the location later this year.

    But in the doldrums of winter, news that we might be able to get seared scallops over pasta, lobster alfredo, clams casino, tuna poke and more sent our spirits soaring. We had to check it out. Was it true? Yes. It was.

    Brothers Jorge and Geovanny Morocho opened J&G last winter.

    Both are longtime chefs, and Jorge said he has worked at various local restaurants, including Ford’s, over the past 15 years. There are still some kinks the brothers must work out, mostly front-of-the-house issues with some inexperienced waitstaff, but after several meals, it is clear they have the food part down pat.

    Our most recent visit was on a Tuesday for dinner, and there were diners at just two other tables. The place is small, but it is bright and clean, and there is ample parking.

    Our waitress started our service with an apology because she was on the phone taking an order for pickup when we arrived. It was not a problem at all, but she would end up apologizing several more times. She was young and very polite, so it is hard to complain, but she lacked a knowledge of food and the menu, and she flubbed our order.

    But let me tell you about the food. While the dishes may not be identical to what was served at Ford’s, there are enough similarities that former patrons will be smacking their lips and reminiscing.

    Like the buttered and grilled Texas toast, which is sinfully good and served with many of the dishes. It came with the Steamed Mussels, $15, prepared with fresh herb butter and white wine and garlic. It was a big bowl, enough to share, and we used the bread to soak up that scrumptious broth.

    We have tried the Tuna Poke, $18, a couple of times, and we will order it again. It is described on the menu as fresh sashimi-grade diced tuna, marinated poke sauce, scallions, avocado and sesame seeds, served on a bed of sliced cucumbers. All assembled, it is pretty and quite good. The raw tuna is flavorful with the sauce and avocado, and the dish is filling. Better yet, all those cucumbers help to make you feel less guilty.

    There were four of us on our recent visit, and we all tried a different entrée.

    My favorite, although it was not an easy decision, was the Pan Seared Scallop Pasta, $30. Six plump and perfectly cooked scallops were served on a bed of linguini with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, spinach and a rich and delicious pink sauce. It was a culinary masterpiece and came with that Texas toast to sop up the sauce. The dish was plentiful enough to take half home for another meal.

    Another favorite – and honestly, they were all winners – was the Shrimp Scampi, $28. Four large shrimp were positioned like the points of a compass in a bed of creamy risotto with bits of asparagus, mushroom and tomato. The shrimp were cooked to perfection, sweet and juicy, with a slightly crisp bite. The dish had all of us dipping our forks in for a mouthful of the delectable creamy taste of heaven.

    Of course, we tried the Lobster Alfredo, $30, and not just because it was served with the Texas toast. It was an incredibly rich entrée made with fettuccine, lobster meat and that cardiac-inducing alfredo sauce. How can a dish with lobster, pasta and a sauce made with butter, heavy cream and parmesan cheese not be exceptional? And it was.

    The Seafood Fra Diavolo, $32, also won accolades. A tomato stew was served over linguine with mussels, cod, shrimp, calamari, salmon and, yes, Texas toast, too.

    Everything that we tried was satisfactory, including a crab cake special, $16, and Rhode Island-style chowder, $8. It was the second time we ordered the chowder, and for whatever reason, it was more flavorful the first time.

    This might be a petty criticism, and others might disagree, but the physical menu at J&G will make you think you are eating at a diner. It is a plastic-encased four-page booklet, with photos of the food. My foodie friends think it gives the wrong impression.

    The J&G owners might be trying to do too much by serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the food has been consistent, and the anecdotal reviews good.

    For folks looking for the ambiance of the old waterfront Ford’s, you won’t find that. At J&G, you will see and hear trains passing by, not power and sailboats moving up and down the Mystic River. But the seafood entrees are reminiscent of what they served.

    J&G Rail Side

    15 Palmer St., Pawcatuck

    (860) 495-5103

    You can Google their name and find them on social media and various review sites, but it does not appear that they have a website.

    Atmosphere: J&G is in the former home of the longtime and much-loved Whistle Stop restaurant, and later Loveridge bakery, in a residential neighborhood adjacent to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor tracks. The neighborhood is about as far south and east that you can venture in Connecticut, very close to the Pawcatuck River that connects Stonington to Westerly. They have brightened up the interior and adorned the walls with the work of local artists. Diners are routinely serenaded by the horns and whooshes of passing trains.

    Cuisine: There is a big menu, encompassing breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the emphasis is clearly on seafood, although there are beef and chicken options. The owners previously worked at the now-closed Ford’s in Noank, and many of the selections are similar to what was on the menu there, like clams casino and lobster grilled cheese.

    Alcohol: Soft drinks and BYOB for something stronger.

    Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 11:30 to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    Service: Sporadic

    Prices: Reasonable

    Credit Cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessibility: Yes

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