A different kind of 'meals on wheels' in Portsmouth

Dashing Dan’s Cafe Car a big success at Melville train depot

Posted 1/16/24

This train car may not move, but its chef certainly does.

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A different kind of 'meals on wheels' in Portsmouth

Dashing Dan’s Cafe Car a big success at Melville train depot


PORTSMOUTH — This train car may not move, but its chef certainly does.

Michael Durrett hardly stopped for air last Friday as he served happy customers, took phone orders, threw some smash burgers on the griddle and onion rings in the fryolator, and checked on a brisket he was smoking for a customer’s takeout order.

His diner-on-a-train car, Dashing Dan’s Cafe Car, has been a big success since it opened last year, as its quality food and unique dining experience has drawn customers from all over.

Located at the bottom of Stringham Road as you enter the Melville marina district, the stationary train sits across from Rail Explorers at 1 Alexander Road.

The vintage 1950s train car was built for the Long Island Railroad and spent decades transporting commuters from New York City to seaside towns like Montauk, Greenport, and the Hamptons. Seating 26 (there are also picnic tables outside if it’s warm enough for you), the diner is open five days a week for breakfast and lunch, and takeout orders are welcome.

“I’ve been here maybe six and a half months and it’s been great,” said Durrett, adding it was “insanely” busy when he first opened at the end of the last summer. “When you open a new place you usually don’t get business right away, but it was awesome. I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve got a lot of good customers.”

Durrett, who’s originally from Providence and has been a chef for 25 years, was already familiar with the train depot at Melville.

“I knew the owner of this whole property for years,” he said, referring to the Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad Co.’s Dinner Train. “I was his head chef for many years. After building a good friendship with him, he offered this to me as a lease to own.”

After taking the car over, he changed its name from Dashing Dan’s Clam Car to Dashing Dan’s Cafe Car. Some of the original equipment was already there, but he added more, cleaned up the place “and put my little touch on it,” he said.

The restaurant features many staples you’d expect to see in a good local diner, such as breakfast sandwiches or bowls, smash burgers, chourico and chips on a roll, southern fried chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches, cheese steaks, Rhode Island hot weiners, plus salads, onion rings, fries, and dough boys.

The menu doesn’t stop there, however, and features daily specials.

“I do all kind of food. I do southern, we do Taco Tuesdays, we do Seafood Fridays, we also do Saturday Smoked Barbecue,” said Durrett as he checked on his brisket that was smoking in the rear of the car. “I’ve been doing a lot of catering with the smoked barbecue. They love my barbecue, my man!”

He’s also got bigger plans come this summer, when he’ll offer a cooler treat from another nearby vintage train car.

“I’m going to open a rolled ice cream shop right next door,” he said.

This story was reported by Richard W. Dionne, Jr. and written by Jim McGaw.

Dashing Dan’s Cafe Car, Newport Dinner Train, Rail Explorers

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.