The River Brasserie & Bar: Room With a View

Cuyahoga Falls has some of the most envious views in the area. Its landscape, with a focus on the Cuyahoga River, serves up nature’s four courses throughout Ohio’s changing seasons. Now the city’s growing culinary scene has started to rival its scenery, with the river serving as a magnet for more upscale restaurants in the village.

The River Brasserie & Bar, a converted 1914 hydroelectric plant nestled near the falls, fits the trend. Although the wood beams and some nuts and bolts are all that remain of the original structure that powered the former Walsh Milling Co. until the early 1960s, owner David Slaght tries to reconnect diners with the past through vintage images recalling Cuyahoga Falls’ industrial age and the Silver Lake amusement park.

And in another nod to the past, Slaght and executive chef and co-owner Michael Fiala have kept many familiar aspects of the former LeFever’s River Grill, which had a nearly 10-year run in the space.

“Décorwise we put a fresh coat of paint in the bar and some wainscoting in the main dining room,” says Fiala, formerly of the Inn at Turner’s Mill.

A small boat on the ceiling of the main dining room, a new touch, emphasizes the connection to the water. It’s a fact you can’t ignore with large windows on every wall, a constant reminder of its stunning waterfall views.

“The only thing left was to bring my style of food to the restaurant,” Fiala says, explaining that his style is to fill the menu with fresh local produce, fish and meats.

Fiala’s concept isn’t new: Cleveland’s dining scene is full of new and established restaurants catering to locavores. But it’s refreshing when a chef successfully brings out the rich flavor of local produce in his work. It’s a friendly reminder of why we love living in the land of cornfields, or in Fiala’s case, poultry farms from
Loudonville, pickle produce from Garretsville and fresh lettuce from Orrville and Norton, to name a few regional purveyors on the menu.

Fittingly, we started our meal with a hearty winter dish of butternut squash agnolotti ($9). The agnolotti, a pasta similar to a ravioli, was all about balancing the ingredients. The creaminess of the squash played well against the pan-seared crispness of the pasta. The sweetness of the squash complemented the saltiness of the prosciutto. And a top off of sage cream sauce and arugula added a finishing touch.

Sauteed rock shrimp with cheesy polenta, spinach and chorizo ($13) was good, too, but the rock shrimp were more like baby shrimp. Rock shrimp are closer to lobster because of their very hard shell and similar sweetness. Nevertheless, this was a good dish. The little shrimp and cheesy polenta were in good company with spicy sausage that brought it more flavor.

The River Market salad with bacon, cauliflower and crumbled blue cheese ($6) was beautifully presented with tiny diced greens and vegetables that rested like little jewels atop the salad. When the “jewels” landed on the fork, it made up for a scant gathering of blue cheese that had little flavor. The house white French dressing’s nice vinegar flavor carried the salad well.

No doubt the restaurant’s forte is its fine selection of entrees. A pan-seared duck breast ($25) was amazing. Thick slices of rare to medium rare meat came out wonderfully tender and juicy. A fine Madeira sauce brushed over crisp skin gave the meat a smart sheen. It also added flavor to the accompanying wild rice and apple pilaf. A real culinary delight overall.

The beautiful venison loin ($34) didn’t disappoint either. It was buttery tender and served with swiss chard, roasted tomato and onion sauce, and a goat cheese polenta that tames the venison.

The menu has a nice diversity with four meat dishes, five fish selections and several meatless offerings.

The tender and flaky walleye ($28) inherited a nutty flavor from the fish’s pumpkin seed crust, which also intensified the taste of the mild fish. This was a good dish, but what made it even better was its accompaniment. The julienne of celery root and apple slaw tasted as though the sweet apple had been drizzled over the dish, leaving behind a wisp of spice. A bit of Swiss chard balanced the dish.

If you like fish sandwiches, you’ve come to the right place. This is one of the best I have ever had in the region. It is huge in flavor and also in size with a large plate holding four big fillets of tilapia and a mound of fries ($10, with chips; $1.50 to add fries).

It comes with an egg roll, corn salad and a chipotle rémoulade. This condiment smothers the beer-battered fish and makes the naturally bland tilapia sing.

Some important details to note about this lunchtime entree: The crispy fish are not in any way greasy, and if you don’t want potato chips that come with the meal, it’s worth splurging for the fries.

The only disappointing dish was a comfort food I regularly enjoy combined with goat cheese, which I also love. However, the homemade goat cheese potpie ($12) covered in a delicate puff pastry and filled with chevre cream sauce fell a bit flat.

There’s no doubt the view of the Cuyahoga River and beautiful waterfall is a major reason people come to the Brasserie. In fact some people come to the restaurant for the view more than the food, packing the patio after work until closing on summer nights. One glance out the window and it’s easy to understand why the setting brings diners in, but the food here is as worthy of attention as the views.

The River Brasserie & Bar, 2291 Riverfront Parkway, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-923-4233. Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. Fri & Sat 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.,
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