Just as next summer will be a good time to visit Beijing A.,ª" with the crowds attracted by the Olympics gone but new facilities left behind- ÿthis year is a great time to visit Virginia's historic triangle - ÿWilliamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown- while it's still spruced up from last summer's 400th anniversary.
The River's Inn is just across the York River from Yorktown, which prior to the quadricentennial was often overlooked by tourists visiting its better-known neighbors on the Colonial Parkway.
Despite the key role it played in the American Revolution, for the second half of the 20th-century, Yorktown's best known attraction was probably Nick's Seafood Pavilion, a sprawling restaurant known as much for its kitschy sculpture garden and art gallery as for the overflowing plates of seafood.
Its owners, Greek immigrants Nick and Mary Mathews, immortalized their love of America by bequeathing the valuable site to the Jamestown-Yorktown Educational Trust. Nick died in 1984 and Mary in 1998; the building was razed in 2003 to help make room for a multimillion-dollar makeover of the waterfront.
While nothing can replace the welcoming atmosphere of Nick and Mary's place, the River's Inn improves on both the food and the view from the demolished landmark. The restaurant boasts an open-air deck where, in addition to savoring the she-crab soup and crab cakes available in the main dining room, diners can crack hard shells, lust for the 300 sailboats and yachts bouncing in the waves of Sarah Creek and watch a sunset over the York River.
The 95-seat indoor dining room has its own attractions, including a view of the boats and water and a much larger menu. Dinner entrees are in the mid-$20s and half that at lunch.
Foremost is the blue plate, which resembles dinner specials in name only. Available in various forms for lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner, it's a tour de force by executive chef Richard Carr. The dinner version is a three-course seafood rendering of a Hungry Jack meal. It begins with a creamy she-crab soup with a side shot of sherry followed by a chunky Caesar salad. The main course consists of a pan-fried lump crab cake, four crispy, local oysters in a basket, a handful of beer-battered shrimp and a baked crab imperial with country ham on a puff pastry, all prepared to perfection. Vying for space on the crowded plate are scalloped potatoes and strips of cabbage, carrots and green beans.
For even more variety, order a platter of shrimp, scallops, dolphin, clams and mussels over rice, bathed in vermouth.
Your plate doesn't have to look like you've made a trip to a buffet table, however. In addition to pairings of shrimp and oysters or crab imperial and salmon, you can concentrate on a single seafood, or even avoid seafood by choosing filet mignon with melted brie, slow-braised short ribs of beef or roasted Colorado lamb chops.
Out-of-the-ordinary appetizers include a basket of oysters in hollandaise sauce, clams over risotto and smoked bluefish topped with sour cream.
Don't expect nouvelle cuisine here; this is a straightforward, old-fashioned seafood restaurant. On the few occasions that the kitchen strays from the traditional, it falls short, such as putting mustard on the blue plate and sauces on other seafood dishes.
If you get lost trying to find The River's Inn (directions are on the Web site), you can get an approximation of its menu and atmosphere in the heart of colonial Yorktown at Riverwalk Restaurant or at Inn owner Tom Austin's older place, Berret's, in Merchants Square in the historic district of Williamsburg.
The River's Inn is a 70-mile, 90-minute trip from Richmond, which raises the question of why residents of the capital region have to drive that far to enjoy a locally owned outdoor crab house. Let's hope that among the many plans for condos and marinas on our own James River waterfront will be space for a waterside crab house. Meanwhile, enjoy the scenic parkway drive along the river shore. S
Editor's note: The Boathouse in Brandermill is the only metro dining room and deck with a waterview.