(Sept. 14, 2018) They fed dozens of local firefighters last Thursday, had a soft opening for family and friends on Friday, and, earlier this week, Boxcar40 officially opened to the public.

Offering scratch American Cuisine, Boxcar40 promises a different kind of dining experience inside its renovated 1920s firehouse in Pittsville. 

“It was above and beyond anything that we could have anticipated. The feedback was 100 percent positive from everyone,” co-owner Matt Rankin said of the soft opening. “The excitement level is shooting through the roof.”

The restaurant is a collaborative effort of Rankin and chef Paul Suplee, and the name is a reference to the backdrop of a town that, during the 19th century, once shipped out 40 boxcars of strawberries a day.

BoxCar40 group photo

Staff at Boxcar40 in Pittsville break for a staff photo during an otherwise busy soft opening last Thursday that fed dozens of local firemen. The new restaurant, led by local Chef Paul Suplee and business partner Matt Rankin, opened to the public this week.

Suplee said he and Rankin looked at a number of locations before settling on Pittsville.

“I’ve known Matt for 14 years and he’s a great operator,” he said. “We started having more serious conversations and, once we saw the building, we started getting really excited.

“I walked up to the building and I immediately saw what it needed,” Suplee continued. “I knew it needed full-view glass doors, and I knew it needed a facelift and a lot of other things, but that it was minimal [because] it was a 1929 brick firehouse.”

He described the menu as American cuisine, with an emphasis on southern food and “low country.”

“When I say that, what I mean is, we’ll have the best cheesy grits you’ve ever had,” Suplee said. “I can give you a 13-hour smoked pork that we do in-house for $13.99, or I can give you the exact same thing with a grilled Washington Canyon lobster from [local waterman] Sonny Gwin for $35, so it’s a nice mix geared toward a lot of different people.”

Speaking of smoked meats, the menu features a section called “Smoked Stuff,” with a note adding: “We use a traditional smoker and it takes upwards of 19 hours to cook some of our products. As such, it is only available until we run out!”

The “stuff” includes brisket, burnt ends, pork ribs, pulled pork and half chickens.

Smoked fish plate

Among the offerings served during a soft opening for friends and family at Boxcar40 in Pittsville last Friday was this delectable dish, a Smoked Fish Plate with house cured and smoked salmon, smoked tuna salad, and accouterments.

“I’ve been smoking food since ’84, so I understand the curing and drying processing steps, and it’s exciting that we have a 300-pound smoker, which seems like it’s big, but it’s really not. We’ll double that by next year, guaranteed,” Suplee said.

The menu also has appetizers from the land and sea, including stout-braised pork belly and chicken wings, as well as raw or roasted oysters, steamed clams and mussels, and a smoked fish board.

There are also soups ranging from smoked brisket chili to Maryland or cream of crab, along with a selection of five salads, from shredded Brussels sprouts to the “Boxcar Salad” made with greens, pickled red onion, strawberries, candied nuts and goat cheese.

For sandwich lovers, Boxcar40 offers cheesesteak subs, BLTs and a “Chili-Smash Burger” topped with chile rellenos, house-smoked bacon and pepper jack cheese.

Seafood entrees include seafood risotto, shrimp and grits, crab cakes and a daily selection of fresh, local fish.

The endeavor has been a family affair for Suplee. During both the stress test of feeding hungry local firefighters and the soft opening late last week, two of his children and several long-time friends pitched in both in the kitchen and as wait staff.

“I love it,” Suplee said. “I’m hoping this is a huge success and I can teach my children that you don’t have to get stuck wrestling a job for 40 years to retire and make 60 percent of what you can live on. I’d love to teach them that you can open a business, succeed, and employ other people and make those people happy too.”

Suplee, also a chef/instructor at Wor-Wic and a food columnist, has lofty goals for Boxcar40.

“I want this to be a destination restaurant that’s really comfortable for the locals to come in … but that also attracts from Baltimore, D.C., Annapolis and Rehoboth when they’re coming down,” he said. “We want to capture those groups coming from [across the bay bridge] and southern Delaware, and give them another option on their way to the beach.”

Rankin also said it is important to cater to the locals, adding, “We want to take care of them, because they’re hopefully going to take care of us.”

“We also want to create destination-type restaurant, where you don’t mind driving 25 miles to have a great meal and great service in a great environment,” Rankin said.

Working with Suplee has been an enjoyable experience, he said.

“The synergy has been really great between the two of us, with his expertise in the kitchen and the back of the house, and mine in the front of the house. It’s really been blending well,” he said.

“We’re super excited for our opening and we have very high hopes that we’re really going to knock it out of the ballpark for anybody that comes in here,” Rankin added. 

Boxcar40 will be open seven days a week, with dinner service starting at 5 p.m. each night. The restaurant will open on Sundays at 11 a.m. for football, with expanded hours likely during the next several weeks as staff is brought up to speed.

Visit the restaurant on 7456 Gumboro Road in Pittsville, just off U.S. Route 50.

For more information, call 410-835-5503, or visit www.boxcar40.com or www.facebook.com/pg/boxcar40.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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