Where we go to eat

Roosevelt Island Best: Riverwalk Bar and Grill

Updated 1 year ago Peter McCarthy
Riverwalk Bar and Grill
Riverwalk Bar and Grill
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Riverwalk Bar and Grill tries to be a little bit of everything for anyone who happens to touch land on Roosevelt Island. The good news is, owner Johnathan Hoo pulls it off.

Up and out early, you can grab, maybe, a bagel or an egg sandwich and some coffee to wash it down at Riverwalk Bar and Grill's Express Deli. It opens at 7:00.

By midmorning, the deli evolves into a great place for sandwiches and salads as the nearby dining room readies to serve sit-down lunches.

Riverwalk Bar and Grill bills itself as "comparable to a T.G.I. Fridays or Applebee’s." That's incorrect. It's much better.

The expansive lunch menu includes a variety of sandwiches, including a veggie, along with entrees based on fish and chicken.

Dinner starts early and ends late. At 5:00, an artfully wide array of full plates joins a more casual selection of burgers and salads, multiple choices for all tastes and preferences, all available until 11:00.

A whole other menu welcomes sports fans who join the crowd to watch events on 15 big screen monitors on weekends. 

Service at Riverwalk Bar and Grill is as friendly and accommodating as any I've seen anywhere, the food great and well prepared. If there's a fault, it's that the plates are generously filled with delicious eats, a hazard for people like me who only stop when the food's all gone.

Wait. I guess that's a fault of mine, not theirs.

Changing Roosevelt Island

When Southtown was being built, it was easy to see how the residential complex was going to vary from the traditional local architecture. Buildings would open to fresh air and water with a shared common at the center.

What intrigued my wife and me most was the question of what restaurants would occupy the ground floor spaces. Rumors spread, and we all knew about Starbucks in advance. But until Riverwalk Bar and Grill, Nonno's Pizzeria and Fuji East opened their doors to let us inside, each was a mystery.

Judging by the space allotted for the Bar and Grill, we guessed Pain Quotidien, which excited us because we enjoyed their menu but found the restaurant's Lexington Avenue spot too crowded and noisy. Roosevelt Island, we hoped, would bring a mellower ambiance.

Riverwalk Bar and Grill turned out to be a pleasant surprise as did Fuji East, which we will write about later. Pain Quotidien outgrew us, expanding widely and sacrificing unique flair along the way.

Starbucks devolved from a cozy place for coffee and an occasional lunch into a sort of community study hall, lacking distinction or comfort. And Nonno's gave way to Piccolo while a competing pizza food truck plies the same market.

But in seven years, Riverwalk Bar and Grill has grown into the automatic choice for neighborly lunches and dinners as well as the go-to place for meetings, large and small, and a place to meet and make friends at the well-stocked bar.

With longtime community favorite Trellis shut down for over two years and no concrete signs of reopening in its reincarnated form as Nisi, an upscale Greek restaurant, the bar and grill that was once a newcomer fighting for customers has now helped shift the center of gravity south on Roosevelt Island.

When Cornell Tech opens in September, 2017, Riverwalk Bar and Grill will be one attraction certain to draw our newest residents past the subway. Maybe its time for Johnathan Hoo to research upstate favorite Cornell Chicken, an import worth considering.

Conclusion

Roosevelt Island is changing. Demographic shifts are seismic and likely to become more so. We've adopted innovation, welcoming Wholesome Factory and Main Street Sweets along with the churn of new neighbors. Not every local institution has stayed with the tide. Riverwalk Bar and Grill has and, in the process, has become an institution we rely on.

Maybe the milestone came when Irene bore down on New York and they stayed open to host an impromptu hurricane party.

Convenient to everyone with a Red Bus stop at the front door, the subway a stone's throw away and the Tram a couple minutes down the block, the restaurant fills its mission through long days satisfying the multilayered needs of residents and visitors.

Nisi will eventually emerge from Trellis's long slumber and David Nasser plans to open a wine bar beneath Rivercross next summer, but Riverwalk Bar and Grill has set a standard that's unlikely to be rivaled anytime soon.

 For many Roosevelt Islanders, it's home away from home in the great tradition of corner bars with great food added into the bargain.