If you didn’t look closely, you might not notice that this location at 435-7 North Main St. is  now River House Bar & Grill. Richard Abel|Westmore News
If you didn’t look closely, you might not notice that this location at 435-7 North Main St. is now River House Bar & Grill.

Richard Abel|Westmore News
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Last month I promised the imminent opening of River House Bar & Grill on North Main Street near the Connecticut border. This remake of the former JT Straw's hascometo fruition and is making a splash with its spruced up décor and culinary delights-including house made ice cream-which are a cut above what you'd expect at a bar and grill and are served late into the night.

Egyptian-born Tarek Elsharkawy, Tom Smario and Joe Ribeiro, who all live in Greenwich and worked together at Thatway Café and Sundown Saloon in that town across the border, opened River House at 435-7 North Main St. on Sept. 19.

They hired Johnson and Wales-trained executive chef Gabriella Syvaniemi to develop a menu featuring New American cuisine and Adam Zikaris as the sous chef to help carry it out.

The result is seven varieties of tasty, thin-crusted pizza cut into eight small slices and perfect to share as an appetizer or just to eat by itself as well as some terrific appetizers. Among those I can recommend are the arancini, three crunchy rice ball halves made with braised beef and served with a savory smoked tomato aioli dipping sauce ($10), truffle fries with parmesan herb aioli ($8), meaty mussels in garlic white wine broth served with toasted bread ($10) and mac 'n' cheese made with small shell pasta in a thin aged white cheddar sauce topped with braised short rib ($9). The latter is rich, creamy and to die for.

On one recent visit three of us shared the warm kale salad ($13) which consists of sautéed kale, honey citrus vinaigrette, goat cheese and candied walnuts. It was surprisingly delicious-a great combination of flavors-and healthy, too.

The juicy House Burger ($10) topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, griddle onion and house sauce on a soft bun was a hit with my husband who's fussy about his burgers.

My spouse and I were won over on our first visit when I had the scrumptious steak sandwich made with caramelized onions, horseradish aioli, arugula and provolone on toasted Italian bread ($13) and he ordered the mussels described above with a nice house salad tossed with thyme vinaigrette ($11). A good thick cut of beef was cooked perfectly medium rare for the sandwich which was served with piping hot steak fries flavored with seasoned salt.

On Columbus Day I had a half rack of meaty ribs with fries ($10), a blackboard special, and substituted the truffle fries for plain ones for $2 extra to give them a try. The smoky-tasting ribs were slathered with sweet barbecue sauce. The flavor was good, but I was taken aback to see the meat a pink color rather than well done. Subtly savory, the truffle fries stand on their own. You wouldn't dare ruin them with ketchup.

After being open nearly a month, River House Bar & Grill had a number of entrée and dessert specials on the large blackboard in the main dining room where River House, accompanied by an anchor, is scrawled in chalk. I was happy to see the house made ice cream that had been promised when I interviewed the executive chef back in early September. There was, in fact, house made chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream, carrot cake with vanilla ice cream and Guinness ice cream. Having already eaten entirely too much food, we only had room for the Guinness, which our waitress promised would not have a strong flavor of beer. It didn't. Three small scoops of the Guinness dessert-vanilla ice cream mixed with some stout-were topped with a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream ($4) for a lovely caramel flavor. I'll go back on an empty stomach to appreciate the cake and ice cream.

Besides what I've described, there are also other salads, appetizers as well as a few entrées. The latter include salmon risotto, sautéed kale, citrus beurre blanc ($22); a half chicken with creamy herb polenta, roasted cauliflower and pan jus ($20); and a 12-ounce sirloin with sautéed spinach, truffle mashed potatoes and sliced scallops ($26).

Nice touches

Water is served in mason jars, silverware tied up in a napkin with a piece of twine and, on our last visit, the beer glasses were chilled. I can't guarantee that will always be the case.

For two of my three meals at River House, the service was fantastic, another time not so good. However, in general there is plenty of staff on hand and often one or two of the owners are on the premises.

Hours

In keeping with this location's late night tradition, the kitchen is open until 3 a. m., and pizzas can be ordered until 3:30. The full menu is available from 11:30 a. m.-11 p. m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. A late night menu of appetizers, pizza and burgers kicks in after that. Rebeiro said they are serving lunch for now but acknowledged that parking is a challenge during the daytime and he's not sure how long it will continue.

Happy hour runs 7 days a week

I've so far focused on the restaurant aspect of this bar and grill which has as many as 12 beers on tap although I've yet to have that many different brews rattled off when my party has asked the server to name them. There are also another 21 bottled beers available plus seasonal brews and ciders. The beers are listed on a small blackboard hanging on the wall. Happy hour runs seven days from 4-7 p. m. with $2.50 Bud, Bud Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon draughts and Miller Lite bottles, $4 Fireball shots, $5 cheese pizzas and $6 wings. Aside from during happy hour, beers generally cost $4 and $5 while Dogfish goes for $7.

"Our beer prices are lower than anywhere else in Port Chester," bartender Marissa Frantisha said.

On Friday, Oct. 24, River House will be welcoming its first band, The Superheroes.

A cleaner look

Although the general choppy floor plan is the same as it was under the previous ownership, this bar and grill, which seats 65 at the bar, tables and the counter in front of the wood-fired pizza oven, has a cleaner look. Most of the booths have been removed (there are a few new booths to replace the previous tattered ones) and new tables added on both sides of the L-shaped bar, a new wood floor was put down, the rustic paneling on the walls was whitewashed and two crossed paddles and a wooden anchor hung, track lighting was added, all new equipment was installed behind the bar and in the kitchen, a fresh face was put on the pizza oven, the bathrooms were spruced up and the boxes for the all-digital TVs sprinkled around the establishment were moved to the basement.

I never knew there was a deck out back that overlooks the Byram River, but during one visit I had a chance to take a stroll out there. Plans are to rebuild the structure so there can be outdoor eating come spring, Ribeiro said.

Parking

Parking on North Main Street in front of River House is prohibited after 1 a. m., which hurt business for the previous establishment at this location, but Ribeiro said he and his partners have worked out an arrangement where customers can park in the Alba's lot after 11 p. m. River House has been patrolling and cleaning that lot daily as needed and, Ribeiro said, "so far, so good." He said they are trying to regain goodwill with business owners and residents in the neighborhood which may have been lost.