What greater pleasure can there be than easing into a dock after spending a day cruising the waters of a beautiful locale and enjoying an elegant dinner alfresco or in the fine dining room of a renowned restaurant? The restaurants listed below are among the premier spots to enjoy just such an experience. They not only offer convenient docking facilities and breathtaking waterfront views, but also are distinguished by high-quality cuisines created by expert chefs. Everything from a tropical Floridian paradise to a trendy California hotspot to a Southern mansion are included in this eclectic list of America's finest. Most of the following recommend calling ahead to reserve dock space.
1. Ophelia's on the Bay—Sarasota, FL
A pink sunset over the mangroves can be spied at Ophelia's in Saratota.
"To the celestial and my soul's idol, the most beautiful Ophelia." When Shakespeare wrote this line, he must have had a premonition about the enchanting effect Ophelia's on the Bay has on its diners. This romantic waterfront restaurant on the southern tip of Siesta Key is ready to accommodate boats up to 50 feet at its 100-foot dock. The view and ambience are what make Ophelia's the number-one choice in dining. According to owner Stanley Ferro, the exotic feeling is due to being nestled in the shore of Little Sarasota Bay. "We are often visited by manatees [and] dolphins, and with an island bird sanctuary across the bay from us, we often see many different bird species," he explains, adding that they can be spied from one of the two glass-walled dining areas or the dockside patio overlooking the mangrove islands.
This year marks Ophelia's 17th season, and the restaurant has been recently renovated to give it a modern flavor. It is no wonder it continues to win numerous prestigious awards, like an "Extraordinary" rating from Zagat ten years in a row and exceptional reviews in Gourmet and Food & Wine. This is in part due to the culinary genius of chef Daniel Olson, who changes the menu of Continental cuisines nightly, mixing American, Italian, Asian, and local influences. A popular dish enjoyed by die-hard locals, as well as Olson, is the black grouper crusted in coconut and cashew and served with a flavorful papaya jam. He recommends following it with Ophelia's White Mousse, a dish that would delight any true epicurean.
Ophelia's (941) 349-2212
2. Chez Franois—Vermillion, OH
The rustic decor, traditional haute cuisine, and magnificent riverside location of Chez Franois make it the perfect landing spot. You can dine in the formal indoor dining room, which has a comfortable antique feel, with wagon-wheel chandeliers, vintage French posters, floor-to-ceiling aubergine drapes, and brick walls left over from the building's previous life as a sail loft. (The site is actually a National Historic Landmark.) There's also the outdoor Riverside Cafe, which boasts an open porch with wrought-iron seating that's perfect for a more casual relaxing evening and attracts a "rowdier crowd," as owner Matthew Mars calls it. Boaters can pull up to one of the three slips that can accommodate boats to 63 feet and head inside to enjoy the Signature Dinner, a prix fixe meal that uses only in-season ingredients. Chez Franois is famous for the artistic designs of its elaborate dishes, including smoked salmon on Osetra caviar, fromage du jour (cheese selection of the day), filet mignon over white and black truffles, and escargots au basilica (escargot with basil sauce). With more than 600 wines to choose from on the Captain's List, the restaurant prides itself on having the biggest selection of vintage wines in northeast Ohio. C'est magnifique!
Chez Franois(440) 967-0630
3. The Cannery—Newport Beach, CA
The Jellyfish bar at The Cannery in Newport Beach is renowned for its stylish under-the-sea motif and mouth-watering drinks.
The Cannery Seafood of the Pacific, located in Newport Beach, offers a multitude of culinary wonders to attract what manager Tom Anderson calls an "eclectic mix of clientele" that keeps coming back to this "historic building with a new, contemporary mix." Any boat less than 70 feet requires a reservation with the dockmaster to pull up to the restaurant's 250-foot dock, "the largest private dock in all of Newport," according to Anderson. After tying up, you can enjoy a cocktail in the trendy Jellyfish Bar, which has magnificent sea creatures made of vividly colored glass hanging from the ceiling, or head straight to one of the dining rooms to enjoy a culinary masterpiece. The upstairs sushi bar features fresh fish delicacies, while the water-level Grill Room is perfect for those in the mood for anything from Baja pink abalone ala Cannery to New England clam chowder. Diners also have the option of settling down on the patio overlooking the Rhine Channel while feasting on the expertly prepared dishes of chef Felix Salcedo, who travels the world for inspiration.
The Cannery(949) 566-0060
4. Pierre's Restaurant—Islamorada, FL
Immerse your feet in the sand at Pierre's Morada Bay Beach Cafe while listening to live music and indulging in the Mediterranean menu.
Inspired by the plantation houses of West Africa and classic French cuisine, Pierre's was created to incorporate the elegance of international cultures into its island setting. After tying up at the 25-foot dock, guests head towards the two-story colonial house, where they will be stunned by decor that includes what manager Judy Roberts describes as crystals, a monastery door from India, arches from Tibet, and a polo lounge. The upstairs dining room is full of Moroccan accents, and events manager David Shine emphasizes the "old-world cigar lounge feel" of The Green Flash Lounge. The gourmet food prepared by chef Benjamin Loftus integrates worldly influences, with imported ingredients from locations as far-flung as Hawaii, Norway, and Australia. Delicacies include grilled rib eye au poivre, Margez lamb sausage, and mahi-mahi. For guests who prefer to lounge in Adirondack chairs with a cocktail in one hand and two feet buried in the sand, Pierre's offers the Morada Bay Beach Cafe & Bar, right on the shore. This outdoor area features live music and a Mediterranean bistro menu for those who relish New World flavor.
Pierre's Restaurant 305) 664-3225
5. River Forest Manor—Belhaven, NC
How many Victorian mansion restaurants can boast a world-famous smorgasbord and visiting celebrities such as Walter Cronkite, James Cagney, and Robert Ripley? River Forest Manor can. Its melt-in-your-mouth Southern cooking makes this restaurant a hit. "We cater to the transient-boat crowd traveling the Intracoastal Waterway," executive chef Christian Brown notes, so customers continually come back. The private marina in back of the manor has two dockage areas that are free for diners to use: a 120-foot T-dock and a second one with 34 individual slips. Featured in Country Inns of Old South and National Geographic, this manor (once a duck hunting lodge!) has attracted guests since 1941.
River Forest Manor (252) 943-2151
6. Boathouse at Breach Inlet—Isle of Palms, SC
An old bait shop was transformed into this popular waterfront dining spot.
The beach resort Isle of Palms is a major vacation spot on the coast of South Carolina, and it's lucky to have the Boathouse restaurant to draw in even more visitors. "We are known for our Crow Bar on the roof, where people can watch dolphins and the sunset," says manager Leslie Wade. This is the original Boathouse that has spawned three sister locations because of its immense popularity. The Chef's Trio is the restaurant's most notable dish. It includes a six-ounce filet mignon, crab cakes, and lobster tails and is the work of chef Charles Arena, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. "Our menu changes biannually," Wade says. "We use local produce and fresh herbs." He adds that a raw bar was being added this year. Anyone interested in experiencing the Southern charm and intrigue of what the Charleston Readers Poll voted the Best Isle of Palms Restaurant 2004 and 2005 should pull up a boat (less than 32 feet) into one of the two slips at the restaurant's 50-foot dock. Once you escape into this sunny inlet, you'll never want to leave.
Boathouse at the Breach Inlet (843) 886-8000
7. Pattigeorge's—Longboat Key, FL
Diners at Pattigeorge's in Longboat Key can injoy cooking bay breezes and views of Sarasota along with American fare with exotic hints.
The charm and laid-back attitude of chef/proprietor Tommy Klauber (trained in La Varenne's Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, France, and honored by Chefs in America) is what makes Pattigeorge's an exquisite choice for those desiring to indulge in diverse international dishes. He encourages boaters to dock in one of the nine slips that can accommodate vessels to 50 feet and wander up to the "Key West-style house with an old-Florida outside." The real adventure begins when you choose a meal from a menu that is a fusion of Italian, Asian, and South American influences. Even the fun names reflect exotic inspirations: Palermo pad Thai, woo woo pizza, kicked-up wasabi mashed potatoes. Klauber's deft hands are intent on creating the best. He stresses, "Our menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available" and adds that the most popular picks are the miso-glazed chilean sea bass and crispy lobster tails.
Pattigeorge's (941) 383-5111
8. East Hampton Point—East Hampton, NY
The East Hampton Point Restaurant is a special treat for summer diners. It's a favorite among Long Islanders and boaters from April 1 until Labor Day. This seaside escape has a fun yet sophisticated ambience, with a mirrored dining room just steps from the East Hampton Point Marina. The restaurant is famous for its wide variety of classic wines and American-style food, such as the seared yellowfin tuna, which can be enjoyed either on the outdoor deck or inside. The view of Three Mile Harbor is a favorite of visitors and the Hamptons crowd, making this fashionable restaurant an undeniable hotspot.
East Hampton Point (631) 329-2800
9. The Lobster Shop on Ruston Way—Tacoma, WA
This fancy Tacoma restaurant is so dedicated to upscale Pacific Northwest seafood that it's built right over the waters of Commencement Bay. A waterfront window wall gives every guest a view of Puget Sound, the Kitsap Peninsula, and Mt. Rainier from terraced seating areas. The dock is available from Easter through late September and can accommodate boats to 100 feet LOA; diners can even remain onboard while being served. Opened in 1981, The Lobster Shop remains a local favorite due to superior service and hospitality provided by an experienced staff as well as varying seafood delicacies. As the name suggests, there is also devotion to lobster, specifically from Australia, which is used in the house specialty bisque as well as in the Australian rock lobster tail entree. The Twilight Menu, available Sunday through Friday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., is a particular favorite, since customers can choose an appetizer, entree (everything from king salmon to top sirloin), and dessert to feast upon without breaking the bank. To add a little bit of spice to the night, try a vintage wine or a special martini that features a splash of Noilly Prat vermouth to either Bombay Sapphire dry gin or Ketel One vodka.
The Lobster Shop on Ruston Way (253) 759-2165
10. Terra Mar Grille—Old Saybrook, CT
The classic New England setting of Old Saybrook combined with a Five Bell Marina and AAA four-diamond rating make Terra Mar Grille an obvious addition to our list. Boats up to 200 feet can pull up to either a fixed or floating dock in the marina, and guests can wander up to the restaurant while admiring the beauty of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Smart-casual attire is required, and you should make a reservation for Sunday brunch to sample the variety of gourmet choices, including Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict, pastas, salads, and a dessert buffet. Executive chef Jim Gallagher creates regional American cuisine using local seafood and produce, and the dessert menu has such devilish options as the chocolate almond quartet (white chocolate truffle, double chocolate almond bark, amaretto petit four) and a sparkling lemon sorbet float. Terra Mar Grille is Gatsby decadence overlooking Long Island Sound.
Terra Mar Grille (860) 388-1111
Become a better boater, take the Boaters University Boat Handling course:
For many of us, the most stressful part of boating is docking, especially if the dock in question is near the deck of a waterfront restaurant. For the first time ever, we are offering a TrawlerFest staple--Boat Handling in Close Quarters - to you online. This course will teach you the ins and outs of how to handle your boat around docks and marinas so that you can enjoy your day on the water with confidence, whether you're a new boat owner or have owned one for years. This course is designed for people with little or no boating experience. It is perfect for a first-time buyer who is considering a large powerboat purchase, someone who has already purchased that first boat, or an existing boater who is moving up to a bigger craft.
This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.