It was a nostalgic gem, a neighborhood watering hole and a work in progress all in one.
But if and when everything comes together, it will probably be one of the coolest dining destinations around.
The Old Train Depot is nestled in Pierceton, one of the best antique destinations in the area with a reputation that is growing, and it fits the town's theme perfectly.
It is just what it says and there is no mistaking that as you drive up. My eyes lit up when I saw the big coach car attached to the back of the building, and I could not wait to check it out. But I couldn't because, well, it is a work in progress.
That silver car can be booked for parties – just like the gorgeous reception room in the old station – and you can dine in it once every month if you get a reservation for one of the theme dinners held in it. It might be open for daily dining someday, a bartender told me, but they have to find a way to renovate and get the kitchen closer to the train car.
The upstairs bar area – which was beautiful with all of the rustic charm one might expect – seemed to be the most used space in the Depot. During one evening visit, my party sat and waited for several minutes after walking in the door to be greeted and seated in the downstairs family room, but I was forced to climb the stairs to that bustling bar area and find an employee to seat us.
The little family room has only four tables and apparently doubles as a storage area as an old TV and a set of drums were packed in under the stairs in that area.
Once we were seated, however, we had nary an issue with the service. During a lunchtime visit, I was immediately greeted and seated and the service was, again, fine.
The menu did not excite me at first as it is pretty lowbrow with just sandwiches, pizzas and the like. But the food I had satisfied pretty well.
Naan played a role in the two best appetizers. The spinach-artichoke dip came with nicely toasted Indian bread that paired well with the creamy dip. It had good flavor, plenty of both name ingredients and I would have it again.
The pesto pizza was better, however. It was made on the naan bread with the thick, garlic-heavy pesto as the sauce along with tomatoes, black olives, finely diced pepperoncini and grilled chicken. The combination of the acidic, ripe tomatoes and those salty, briny olives worked beautifully and the only flaw was that the naan was a little over toasted and lost most of its chewy bread texture.
The best thing I ate came highly recommended by my server. The blackened salmon sandwich was smeared with a house-made dill cream that the server said she often ordered on its own to eat with chips or naan.
The inch-thick fillet was delicious – flaky and almost buttery in texture – and the blackening spice was not overdone so it just seasoned the fish. The shiny artisan bun was perfect, there were baby greens for a little crunch and that dill sauce lived up to the hype. You could slather it on a shoe and make it taste good.
The steak burger came on a ciabatta bun and had lettuce, tomato, onion and choice of cheese. I chose provolone and paid 50 cents to add bacon. The burger was nicely seared, the bread was great and I enjoyed every bite.
Some of the best finds weren't food at all. There were a few featured drinks listed in the margins of the menu.
The Train Hobo – a fitting name – was made with whiskey, blackberry brandy and Sprite. The Dreamsicle martini was also worth trying. When I saw that name, I thought it was going to be an orange-infused drink, but it was actually a chocolate martini with Cointreau and Godiva White Chocolate liquor.
A great snack to go with those cocktails were the pretzel bread sticks. They weren't fancy homemade pretzels or anything, but they were a little crisp on the outside, soft and tender inside with plenty of salt crystals on the outside. The Old Train Depot offered regular cheddar sauce for dipping or a mix of cheese and salsa, which I preferred.
The mandarin salad, to which I added chicken, and the chicken club sandwich were both decent options, but not really worth going into detail about. They are just what you would expect, though the addition of a couple of a pretzel sticks on the side of the salad was a nice touch.
The only things I might pass on next time I visit the Old Train Depot were the soups.
The cauliflower-Parmesan was the most exciting sounding soup and it was OK with pureed cauliflower and Parmesan melted into its creamy base, but it was a bit void of flavor. A little Parm melted on top might have helped.
The red bean and rice soup was respectable with a not-too-spicy base, but it was served a bit tepid. The vegetable-beef was pretty much standard fare.
The desserts – none made in house – were also pretty much standard fare with the chocolate lava cake being the best of the bunch that included a chocolate layer cake and a few types of cheesecake. My server said she has been trying to convince the owners to do some homemade desserts and hoped that would be the case in the near future.
Just another thing to look forward to at the nifty little spot that is still trying to find its niche.
Restaurant: The Old Train Depot
Address: 115 E. Market St., Pierceton
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: pretzels ($5.99), artichoke-spinach dip ($5.99), pesto pizza ($8.99), soup ($3.39 cup; $4.99 bowl), burger ($8.49), salmon sandwich ($9.99), chicken club ($8.49), mandarin salad ($8.99), Train Hobo ($4.50), Dreamsicle ($9.75)
Rating breakdown: Food: *1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Old Train Depot
Out of a possible five