Is Henderson Harbor the New Culinary Hotspot on Lake Ontario?

I’ve brought you tales of delicious dinners at Ryan’s Lookout, comfort food at Cooper’s Landing, and daybreak delights at the Cherry Tree Inn. Well, there’s a new kid in town, and he’s got a view.

The Waterside Bar and Grill is Billy Caprara’s latest business venture, but there are no cars to be found here. This restaurant, with dockside service, fire pits, and outdoor seating, has brought a ringer into its kitchen – Chef Kevin Gentile, from Syracuse. You may remember my review of Gentile’s several years ago. I was impressed then, and our recent, lovely dinner at Waterside only underscored that impression.

First of all, the venue is pretty luxe – Billy has built a gorgeous dining room with a fireplace tucked in one corner, and a wall of windows to see Lake Ontario. There’s plenty of outdoor seating for nice days, and the three fire pits out front, which the busboys were struggling to light on the windy night we visited, reminded me of chic restaurants in California and Florida. I’ve also heard that Billy quite often will order appetizers on the house for folks seated at the bar, and in fact, he was present during our dinner, and stopped by to greet us. A present owner is a good owner, in my book.

But let’s get to the food, shall we? We began with a sexy little threesome…of shrimp. Get your minds out of the gutter, folks! The shrimp 3 way was the perfect combo of two big coconut fried shrimp, two bacon wrapped beauties, and two cold, steamed shellfish served with fresh-tasting, punchy cocktail sauce. I also loved the sauce served with the fried ones – a horseradish mayonnaise that was light but sharp. The shrimp were good-sized and not a single one was over-cooked. We loved every bite, but I think the bacon-wrapped version dunked in the horseradish mayo was my personal jam.

A round of salads preceded the entrees, and while I didn’t snap a pic, rest assured, they were fresh and decked out with lots of toppings – no wilted iceberg nonsense. I did grab a shot of the Caesar salad with shrimp ordered by one of our diners. I grabbed a bite, too, and it was delicious – the dressing creamy without too much saltiness, but still homemade and flavorful. I loved the big curls of parmesan cheese on top and the hefty, robustly crunchy homemade croutons sprinkled throughout. Beware, though, those of you skittish about anchovies – the little fishies come along for the ride on this one.

The chicken riggies is one of Chef Gentile’s specialties, but my dining companion was caught unawares of just how spicy this pasta dish can be. The dish of rigatoni, chicken, hot cherry peppers and bell peppers in a light tomato sauce that hails from Utica can range from tangy to five-alarm spicy. I’d put this version at about three-alarm, but when your first bite contains one of those cherry pepper slices, LOOK OUT. That said, the chicken in this dish was juicy and tender, and there was lots of it, plus sweet bell peppers to take the edge off the sauce, which was close to a Buffalo wing flavor, but less vinegary.

There’s a very mysterious menu item called Quiz Chef Gentile Risotto. You KNOW I always have to order whatever the craziest thing is, right? So, our delightful, attentive waitress Lindsey asked if I was allergic to anything or didn’t like anything. I asked for shrimp and no asparagus, and beyond that, let Chef go nuts.

He did just that, sending out two pear-shaped arancini of crab risotto set in a port wine sauce with grilled shrimp, fresh, quartered figs, and some gorgonzola cheese. Pears are typically poached in port wine and served for dessert in French preparations, so I loved this hint of whimsy. I also happen to love fried risotto balls, so the aracini were a great move. That said, the figs in the port wine sauce were a little sweet-on-sweet, for me, and all that flavor completely overpowered the delicate crab and shrimp. I could have done with just the sauce or just the fruit, but not both. But this was a very ambitious dish, and I absolutely award points for effort – I enjoyed it even with the cacophony of flavors.

After all this good food, dessert was an obligation, not an option. I ordered the raspberry cannoli cake. Have I ever covered the extent to which I adore cannoli cake? The combo of sweet cake and slightly savory mascarpone filling is just about dessert perfection, in my book. This one had tart raspberries in the mix, plus tiny chocolate chips and whipped cream frosting to lighten up the overall flavor. It was simply delicious.

The lemonade cake was decidedly sweeter, but no slouch itself. It was terrifically lemony and very moist (yeah yeah I know you hate that word). We loved it.

Every table dining at Waterside the night we visited was basically treated like royalty. For a fairly casual restaurant, the service here is friendly and very conscientious. Beyond the great food, you have a lovely view of the lake and a gorgeous dock to either park your boat or pose for pictures on after dinner – this is summer dining in Northern New York at its finest. I give Waterside Bar & Grill a nine on the BHS scale, and I can’t wait to return to try the lobster roll and the bahn mi sandwich! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger! 

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