At this time of year, the pleasures of waterfront dining can’t be beat. Sunlight sparkling on the waves, a fresh, briny breeze, and the always-busy sea birds transport me to a state of advanced relaxation. We’re lucky to have a wide range of summer dining options by the water: from casual to upscale; beach to river; and salt to fresh water.
Our first stop this season was Ripka’s Beach Cafe at Calf Pasture Beach over the holiday weekend. Clyde Ripka has taken beach food up a couple of notches at the revamped cafe. In addition to the old favorites like hamburgers, fries and ice cream, Ripka has added steamers, lobster rolls, creative sandwiches, and a raw bar plus craft beer on tap, wine and frozen cocktails. But the view is the best of all. Sit at the outdoor counter facing the harbor, grab a picnic table or spread a blanket on the beach, it’s as close to “on the water” as you can be. We always see someone we know.
Just around the corner is the Sunset Grill where the Norwalk River meets the Harbor. The outdoor deck is the place to enjoy the breeze, watch the boats cruise by and have delicious seafood with an Italian accent. Open from March to October at the Cove Marina, the west-facing deck is a front row seat for sunset over the harbor.
A little further upstream casual and fine dining vie for attention at Harbor Lights and Overton’s Seafood. These next door neighbors contrast the classic clam shack offerings at Overtons with the full menu and fine dining at Harbor Lights.
At Overtons, order fried shellfish, a classic seafood roll, or a burger at the window and walk around back to the picnic tables on the dock. It’s a summer classic and a long-standing Norwalk tradition. Across the parking lot, white table cloths, professional service and 180 degree views of the Norwalk River are paired with Harbor Light’s award winning food. The floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides bring the harbor inside. The dark and light striped floor mimics the traditional teak and holly cabin sole from the wooden yacht era.There is usually a little-known but delicious Greek wine offered by the glass, but you may have to ask for it.
Visit SoNo Seaport Restaurant, across the river, for casual dockside dining. The large deck with rows of picnic tables and the iconic lighthouse bar is right by the boat slips. Bowls of steamers or mussels, bright red lobsters, fish and chips and crisp fried shellfish cover the tables. The Tallmadge Brothers oyster docks are just down stream. We try to get there a couple times a summer for oysters, lobsters and cold beer.
Much further upstream, way beyond the rise and fall of the tide, Mediterraneo overlooks a waterfall at the Flock Mill Dam on the Norwalk River. A sleek new restaurant at the Hotel Zero Degrees with a wall of windows facing the waterfall, dock cleats for door pulls and the same teak and holly style floor give a slightly nautical feel to the riverside dining room. The menu focuses on seafood with a Mediterranean accent, but beholden to no individual country. The food from the open kitchen is creative and tasty, and the desserts are enticing – worth the extra calories.
The gray-shingled Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood has long been source for fresh local fish. This popular spot overlooking the Five Mile River has partnered with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to offer sustainable menu items in support of healthy oceans and strong fisheries. The creative menu includes shellfish on ice, flatbreads, seductive appetizers and inventive mains. Come by car or boat (call for dock reservations) for memorable waterside dining.
Somehow my food tastes better when I can see the waves dancing and watch the activity along the water. You may catch me getting my waterside fix at any of these places–just as long as summer lasts!
Ripka’s Beach Cafe
Calf Pasture Beach
SoNo Seaport Restaurant
The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood