St. Marys restaurant straddles railroad history

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Jeff Baughan A train rolls down Second Street in St. Marys, above, passing the Boxcar Restaurant three or four times a day, according to owner Kristian Lenard.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Jeff Baughan
A train rolls down Second Street in St. Marys, above, passing the Boxcar Restaurant three or four times a day, according to owner Kristian Lenard.

ST. MARYS, W.Va. — Kristian Lenard sits at the table of his restaurant on Second Street in St. Marys where a train rolls past not more than 20 yards from his door.

“That happens three, four times a day,” he says as he smiles. “There’s a lot of towns and cities which have railroads running through their towns. St. Marys, I’m told, is the only town in West Virginia which has a railroad running through downtown.”

That would be Second Street, where vehicles usually end up straddling a rail as they travel parallel to the nearby Ohio River.

The rails run through a street much like the days of the street car. These rails, however, carry many cars, including boxcars. Thus, the inspiration for the name of Lenard’s restaurant, the Boxcar.

“We were trying to come up with a name and the railroad has such a history with St. Marys,” he said, “and the railroad was an obvious one. And so that’s what it became, The Boxcar.”

The decor is a work in progress, according to Lenard, and will be railroad orientated.

“We’ve got some pictures and calendars framed and ready to place,” he said. “Other things we’re trying to secure. Not just railroad items, but St. Marys and the area railroad orientated.”

Tabletops have universal railroad signage and along the walls and counterspace is corrugated metal used in the production of a boxcar. The cooking area is in full view of every table, along with the aroma that can reach every nose in the place.

All of it is by design, according to Lenard, who came to the area almost a year ago from Akron and the Firestone Country Club where he was the executive chef at the Public Course.

“I’ve been in restaurants since I was 15. I’ve been executive chef at some country clubs, mostly in Texas,” he said.

“I’ve been here about three months and the response…,” he paused, smiled and continued, “well, the response has been so much better than expected.”

Thirty-six chairs are distributed with the tables. Much of the mid-afternoon crowd Wednesday are adults with small children, but teens started to stop by as St. Marys High dismisses for the day.

Lenard said there is usually a large crowd for lunch “and we’ve done a good take-out business. We’ll do 150-200 meals a day from this small kitchen. I’ve got nine people here through the day and everyone hustles.”

Lenard excuses himself for a minute to make the rounds of asking locals how their food tastes and how their day has been. Sometimes he gets a response, sometimes it’s a thumbs up or a nod of approval as the table of people have their mouths full when he arrives to visit. “Satisfied customers,” he says and smiles.

The Boxcar is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and everyone gets the day off on Monday.

Although The Boxcar is named such, the menu is not a hobo menu. The lunch menu has burgers, sandwiches, salads and wraps but the dinner menu isn’t the average meat and potatoes menu. Two dinner specials of recent days included prime rib served with au jus, garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables and chili rubbed pork tenderloin with root beer BBQ sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables. A dessert choice: blackberry bread pudding made with all butter croissants. Topped with Jack Daniels honey sauce and whipped cream.

“We have pasta, steaks, salads, pork chops, salmon….,” he said. “But we have a motto which is ‘eat locally.’ I’m going to be buying as much as I can from locals – foods and veggies. I want to support locals as much as possible.”

One of Lenard’s favorite foods is the hamburger. Not your average Wimpy burger but an artfully made burger. “A hamburger is so much more than a piece of meat between a bun,” Lenard said. “You want certain meats, the right bun, the right toppings, correct seasonings. We start with angus meat and I prefer it with a single pass grind. That way the meat is not too fine and it has some texture.

“And I cook it on a griddle, not over coals. If you cook a burger over coals, the fat dribbles on the coals and it releases a smoke which can make the meat taste bitter. When I have it cooked on a flat top, I get a bolder, meat flavor. And then if you don’t a good bread for the bun, you don’t get the flavor enhancement with the taste a bun can give. The same goes with the seasonings. There’s so much more to a great burger than what people realize.”

Business has been good, he said.

“It’s been better than expected,” Lenard said. “I’m excited. I’m enjoying this. St. Marys seems to be enjoying it too.”

He stops and speaks to waiters as they take orders to the customers and says, “Good food for good people. Good deal.”

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