It’s off the beaten track – far from Portland’s gentrified restaurant rows. But once you travel about four miles down Forest Avenue from the Portland peninsula, preferably after 6 p.m., when traffic abates, and turn onto Riverside Street, you come upon the city-owned municipal facility of the Riverside Golf Course and its brand new restaurant, The Riverside Grill. A year ago it was a dour space where golfers would drop in for burgers, hot dogs, fries and beer.
Now, after a year-long renovation, it’s a full-service restaurant open to the public, as well as golf club members, where lunch and dinner are served. There’s a full bar with a shiny new polished concrete top, and you can relax with a drink and food in front of the fireplace on a chilly night. But the real prize is its deck that overlooks the fairway. It will be an ideal spot for outdoor dining with its expansive view of the greens, golf course and fabulous sunsets.
Four of us trudged out earlier this week for dinner. The temperature never got about 47 degrees that night, and just as we pulled into the club’s parking lot, the thick gray clouds erupted, dumping the heaviest rain any of us had seen in ages.
We rushed into the main building and up to the second floor dining room, where the hostess showed us to a table. The gas fire in the fireplace was ablaze, and as we looked at the covered deck we all thought we must come back when the weather is better.
I was confident that the food would be good because of the chef-manager’s background in food and dining and his hand-picked staff of sous chefs and assistants. Steve Quattrucci is the food-service manager for the city of Portland and the Riverside Grill has been his pet project – he’s there daily to oversee his kitchen team. Quattrucci has a big background in food and dining and among other successes, he founded Back Bay Grill as chef and owner in 1988 as well as the West End Deli several years later.
The menu is well thought out, offering casual as well as fairly serious eats. The kitchen sources its food locally when possible, and most preparations are made in-house, like custard-rich ice creams, cakes and pies
To go with a few rounds of well-made drinks, we went overboard by ordering a lot of small plates. The fried fiddleheads were unique with a coating of cornmeal and Parmesan, creating a crusty exterior and a soft finish within. What a novel thing to do with these native ferns. The fried pickles are Morse’s sour mustard pickles, sliced in thin vertical strips, dipped in the house cornmeal and garlic mix and sautéed to a crispy finish, served with a Cajun tartar sauce. These had a sweet-sharp flavor from the pickles and breading – addictive and delicious. But the real standout was something called chicken pollitos, a play on chicken fingers. Boned leg meat is brined in buttermilk and sriracha overnight and then breaded and fried. The meat was lusciously tender and the coasting was perfect, without being greasy. These had a sensational sriracha ranch sauce with flecks of celery.
The menu has some interesting entrees and I think what we chose were standouts. Organic Statler-cut chicken breast is marinated in a red-wine vinaigrette, browned on the grill and then finished off in the oven. It’s set in a whole-grain mustard and wine sauce and garnished with the most delicious vinaigrette-marinated tomatoes, artichokes and olives. It’s served properly with the breast meat already carved and reassembled onto the breast bone. Served with it, however, was a side of grilled potatoes, which were incredible. They’re cut into thick slices, brushed with oil and put on the grill until cooked through to emerge crispy but soft within.
The crab cakes, according to my friend who ordered them, were the best he ever had. No filler whatsoever in these cakes but rather hand-picked local crab was coated in panko and pan fried until golden and crispy. They were served with a housemade local rhubarb chutney and a heady lemon-scented sour cream.
The poached local haddock was another finely prepared dish. It was poached in a house-made fish fumet, using fish bones, water, wine and aromatics. It’s served covered with a layer of zucchini chips air dried in the oven, coated with a generous dusting of Parmesan and moistened with olive oil and lemon juice—all very Mediterranean in taste.
Finally the fish and chips was the classic dish of white-fish fillets coated in rice flour and cornmeal, the rice flour giving it the lightness of texture that was so delicious on a dish that often is greasy and leaden.
Desserts were a real highlight, and we didn’t hold back, ordering everything in sight that night. The buttermilk chocolate cake had great texture with an exceedingly tender crumb; it was set in a silken bittersweet chocolate sauce and topped with fresh whipped cream.
The French double vanilla (bean and extract) ice cream was based on a yolk-rich custard, smooth and exceedingly fine. It held flecks and pieces of flourless chocolate cake draped over the top. Finally the crustless ricotta cheesecake, a Quattrucci recipe, was spiked with Amaretto and was just mouth wateringly good.
Prices are very reasonable. Appetizers or small plates run from $5 to $9; entrees are $15 to $24 for a New York sirloin. And as the two men hawking the sale say in the TV commercial for the South Portland’s Furniture SuperStore —Don’t Miss It!