WHO IS IN CHARGE West Newbury’s Lindsay and Curt Bergeron bought the Essex Marina in 2010. Six years later, they opened Riversbend Restaurant. “We always knew we needed to expand on the amenities here,’’ said Lindsay Bergeron. “There’s a tremendous amount of traffic coming through our property each day during the summer, specifically. Since we have so many people there, we thought it would be so great to offer them food as well. “We always wanted to have marina fare,’’ she said. “When our customers step off their boats after being at the beach all day, we didn’t want them to feel like they had to be dressed up to come to dinner.’’ The Bergerons made a splash when they unveiled Riversbend in 2016, bringing in Essex native Frank McClelland, chef/owner of L’Espalier in Boston. Although McClelland and Riversbend parted ways last October, the restaurant continues his commitment to New England’s agricultural community. “We’re still trying to maintain that level of farm-to-table [food], because we get most of our products from local farms,’’ said Bergeron. “We really try to bring in the local vendors.’’
THE ATMOSPHERE The restaurant is a beautifully renovated structure that sits high atop a knoll overlooking the Essex River and surrounding marshland. The panoramic views from the deck are gorgeous, and well worth any minor inconveniences, such as needing bug spray or wearing a sweater on cool evenings. Inside, the Riversbend is inviting, seating close to 100 with an open floor plan featuring bleached pine and dozens of windows, a high ceiling, and a big, wraparound bar. The excellent service was a bonus. Riversbend also hosts functions, but is closed during January and February.
ON THE MENU Executive chef Stephen Bushway, sous chef Tiana Alexander, and pizza maestro Steven Grindrod focus on casual dining with the occasional flare. The key components, said Bergeron, are wood-grilled preparation with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. That means the menus typically evolve with the seasons. “I was just talking to our chef the other day, and he said ‘It’s almost squash season,’’’ said Bergeron. “And we’ll have more steaks, more meat dishes.’’
A pair of visits provided a nice cross section of the Riversbend menu. My daughter Brynne and I stopped in on a crisp midweek afternoon to share a Spinach Artichoke pizza ($17). The pizza was superb, with an airy crust and just the right amount of wood-fired char, topped with sweet spinach and artichoke spread, red onions, and a nice blend of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. It was the ideal lunch. My wife Lauri and I were joined by another couple for my second visit during dinner. We had fun with the appetizers, ordering the fried calamari ($15), the coconut shrimp ($14), and hand-cut fries ($7). Both the lightly fried calamari, served with pickled Fresno chile and lemon tartar, and the fat, plump coconut shrimp were “off the boat’’ fresh and prepared perfectly. For entrees, we went eclectic. Two of our party had the Caprese salad ($9), a delicious mix of tomatoes, basil, burratini cheese, and balsamic that embodies the restaurant’s farm to table philosophy. Lauri ordered hers with chicken (additional $7), which was grilled flawlessly. The Cheez-It encrusted stuffed halibut ($28), a thick, flaky filet served with clam stuffing, was an absolute hit. My smoked pulled pork sandwich ($13) could have been presented more attractively, but the barbecued pork and potato bun were mouth-watering.
For dessert, our foursome split the Cookie Jar for Two ($10), a whimsical collection of freshly baked cookies (the variety changes daily). My wife also ordered the White Russian “Boozy Float’’ ($11), a concoction made with coffee ice cream that was as potent as it was tasty.
Riversbend, 35 Dodge St., Essex. 978-890-7098, riversbendessex.com.
By Brion O’Connor
Brion O’Connor can be reached at email@example.com