Lisa Jardine

Column: The Renaissance man of New Rochelle

Wikipedia’s definition of a Renaissance man, also known as a polymath, is a person whose Lisa-Jardineexpertise spans a significant number of subject areas. In the age of specialization, polymaths are not so easy to find. But find one I did.

His name is Alvin Clayton, owner of Alvin & Friends, a contemporary take on Caribbean and Southern cooking at 14 Memorial Highway in New Rochelle.

Alvin Clayton in front of his restaurant, Alvin & Friends.

Alvin Clayton in front of his restaurant, Alvin & Friends.

“I grew up in the Caribbean, in Trinidad until I was 12, and I lived with my grandma. I was always underfoot in the kitchen, watching and learning, “Clayton said.” I started cooking for real when I was eight years old. I don’t remember a time when someone visited our home that my grandma wouldn’t offer them something to eat, even the plumber. She was a major influence in my life.”

He went to college in the U.S. on a soccer scholarship, but, upon graduation, an offer to model quickly turned into a contract with Wilhelmina in New York, which was the beginning of a prodigious 26-year modeling career. Clayton was one of the first black supermodels in the 80’s, gracing the pages of GQ, Vogue, Glamour, Elle and Esquire among many others.

Assignments in Europe opened his eyes to the world of art.

“I was a self-taught artist who loved to draw. While in Paris on a shoot, I visited the Musee D’Orsay and fell in love with Matisse,” Clayton said. “I spent years copying his paintings until I branched out and found my own style.”

Clayton’s vibrant, colorful pain-tings can be seen everywhere in his restaurant and, over the past three years that Alvin & Friends has been open, he’s sold more than 70 of them. His work has also been exhibited at the Smithsonian and is part of many private collections, including those of Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro and Halle Berry.

Award-winning fried chicken with collard greens and mac & cheese.

Award-winning fried chicken with collard greens and mac & cheese.

After a long career in modeling, it was time for Clayton’s next move. An introduction by a friend to a well-known restaurateur, Brad Johnson in Los Angeles, prompted an offer to come on board to open Georgia’s, an upscale, celebrity-filled southern soul food restaurant on Melrose Avenue.

Clayton helped run Georgia’s until it closed seven years later.

He and his wife, Gwen, and their school-aged children were ready to move back to the east coast and they chose New Rochelle for its small town feel and diversity.

“I moved to New Rochelle 13 years ago knowing that I wanted to open my own place,” Clayton said. “We opened in 2011 with the help of some great partners and we moved last May to an even bigger location. The restaurant is an extension of my home. I know people have options, and I’m honored when they choose our place.”

BBQ chicken wings. Photos courtesy Alvin & Friends

BBQ chicken wings. Photos courtesy Alvin & Friends

So, he played sports at the collegiate level, he’s a famous model, a prolific artist and an incredible cook, not to mention a husband and father of four. And he’s got a killer smile, which he flashes constantly, making me think he really enjoys what he’s doing, or maybe it’s just all those years of posing for the camera.

Either way, Clayton has a gift for making everyone feel at home in his restaurant.

“This is the most diverse restaurant in Westchester, but everyone feels comfortable here and has a great time,” he said.

And the food doesn’t disappoint.

The warm basket of miniature corn muffins that come to the table to start the meal off are addicting, but don’t eat too many because you have to save room for everything else. The catfish po’boy was everything I want my po’boys to be. The bread was crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside and the catfish was light and delicately fried with a healthy smear of mayonnaise.

Killer rum punch and coconut martini

Killer rum punch and coconut martini

The curry crab chowder was rich and creamy with the perfect amount of curry flavor and chunks of fresh crab.

The pulled pork sandwiches and the jerk wings were done to perfection. The fried chicken, which is award-winning, is without a doubt the best I’ve had in a long time. Par-boiled and soaked in Louisiana hot sauce and buttermilk, it’s crunchy and crispy and totally moist inside. Order it with the collared greens and mac and cheese and it’s a trifecta of perfection on your plate.

For dessert I had the red velvet bread pudding hot out of the oven. It wasn’t easy to get up from the table after the meal, especially after drinking Clayton’s killer rum punch that has a tendency to sneak up on you.

The new location has a large bar area and a warm, inviting dining room. They also have a private room in the back that seats 80, called the Roscoe Room, named after Clayton’s longtime friend, actor Roscoe Lee Browne.

The Roscoe Room will feature changing live music and other cultural events in the near future and is a great venue for private parties.

Alvin & Friends’ executive chef, Denzil Richards, was born in Jamaica and trained at Le Bernadin under chef Eric Ripert. From there, he cooked at Asia de Cuba, Suyra, Frescos by Scotto and Picholine. His experience cooking Caribbean, French, Latin, Asian Fusion and Indian add a special diversity to the food being served at Alvin & Friends and it’s evident in every dish.

I’m especially looking forward to eating the Sunday Gospel Brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., which features live jazz and gospel music. I’ll be the one ordering the Bananas Foster French Toast with Malibu Coconut Caramel Sauce.

It’s not every day you meet a Renaissance man. Carpe diem and go eat at Alvin & Friends.

Alvin & Friends

14 Memorial Highway
New Rochelle, NY
914- 654-6549

Upcoming Events (check the website for more information)

Feb. 7, 9 p.m., Roscoe Room presents Blue J Jack

Alex Eodice and Blue J Jack bring its distinctive blend of blues, country, rock and jazz to Roscoe’s Room.

$20 cover includes one drink 

Feb. 11, 8 p.m. to 11:45 p.m., Roscoe Room presents New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band

The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys are back in New York, and Alvin & Friends has them for one night only. New Rochelle native Sam Friend provides masterful guitar licks.

Special New Orleans themed menu

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu $75

Includes live music and a champagne toast

Feb. 15 Efrat Sheron and the Fine Line Band 

Feb. 21 9 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.,
Roscoe Room presents Clarissa Sinceno

Clarissa Sinceno performs soulful stylings of jazz classics and favorites from the Great American songbook.