Mill River Road, the long and winding road that splits from Northern Boulevard just south of Oyster Bay, is one of those quintessential tree-lined stretches on Long Island’s North Shore: There are times you aren’t quite sure where you’re going, but you’re likely to enjoy getting there.
And back in 1989, any eaters seeking a destination restaurant would find Mill River Inn and its rising-star chef Michael Meehan. Since then, the restaurant has shifted tastes and owners, while Meehan has made his way through a journey of his own. He’s elevated cuisine at restaurants across the island, like Sea Cliff’s traditional Tupelo Honey, Huntington’s punk-rock burger bar Vauxhall, and many more. And now, nearly three decades later, Meehan finds himself back on Mill River Road with River Road American Bistro.
As the name suggests, the restaurant serves new American cuisine in a bistro setting, with chef-driven recipes that utilize farm-friendly ingredients and ocean-fresh catches for creative, yet easily approachable dishes on a menu that keeps its options tight and concise. And the restaurant’s palette of ingredients extends from Brooklyn to Montauk, as the chef regularly features local, artisan food, beer, wines and spirits.
Before you scoff at the notion of artisanal ingredients as mere lip service, sit down and order a cocktail from the impressive bar, River Road’s stately centerpiece. The fresh and fortified cocktails include the Spring Fling, with black cherry vodka, limeade and sparkling rose; along with the striking Out of the Blue, with white rum, pineapple, Blue Spiraluna and coconut. But to start off, listen to the bartender’s recommendation and order The Hombre. It starts with organic Mezcal and is at once sweetened and soured with kumquat, hibiscus and Low-Fi sweet vermouth.
Staying with the adult beverages menu, you’ll notice that a vast majority of wines are from right here on Long Island, while beer—from tap to bottles to cans—come from New York and Long Island breweries like Oyster Bay Brewing Company, Blue Point Brewing, Barrier Brewing Co. and Sixpoint Brewery.
And once you’re sufficiently refreshed, it’s time to talk appetizers—specifically, “Snacks & Shares.” This list of starters includes a Pretzel Cheese Board, with smokehouse ham, smoked cheddar and an IPA beer mustard; Crab & Corn Fritters, with rémoulade sauce and pickled vegetable relish; and a steamed mussel pot infused with the aromatics of citrus, thyme and shallots. But the absolute must-order on the starter menu is without a doubt the Crescent Farm Duck in a Jar. Here, the chef serves duck-confit rillette in a mini jar, and surrounds it with pretzel bread croustades. The duck rillette, similar to pâté, is mild with a hint of fatty saltiness that is right at home spread on the crunchy pretzel bread. Share or feel free to eat it all by yourself.
River Road also serves Potato Herb Flatbread “pizzas” with toppings like barbecue chicken and garden-fresh yellow tomatoes, baby arugula and fresh mozzarella. And as a sort of pre-entrée bonus, the chef prepares Housemade Cavatelli with chicken basil sausage, yellow squash and peas in sage brown butter. As for the restaurant’s salad offerings, you can’t go wrong with the spring-ready Brooklyn Bibb Salad, featuring butterhead lettuce, dried peaches, bleu cheese and sunflower seeds in a bright cider dressing.
Now, before diving into the entrées, let’s talk about oysters. But not just any oysters—Pine Island Oysters. If there’s one oyster that should reside at the top of every ocean-to-table lover on Long Island, it’s these local pearls of the sea. Locally sourced in Oyster Bay waters, Pine Island oysters are large, plump and moderately salty with a sweet finish. At River Road, Meehan prepares them three ways: On the Half Shell with Crystal Cocktail Sauce; Char-grilled with Tomato Absinthe Butter; and Cornbread Stuffed & Baked.
When it’s time for dinner, River Road’s proteins deliver big bites with nuanced preparations. Among the choices are Montauk Tuna, seared with greens, tomatoes and ponzu; NY Steak Frites, a shell steak with house fries, red wine jus and chimichurri; Meehan’s signature Grilled Freebird Chicken, with roast farm veggies, fingerling potatoes and chicken jus; and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, with red mustard greens, pickled corn relish, and red pepper puree. But the personal favorite of this eater was the Smothered Berkshire Porterhouse Pork Chop. This meaty chop is indeed smothered in pickled peppers, vidalia onions, green beans and wild greens with a balsamic reduction. Spice lovers will embrace this dish, as those pickled peppers pack a punch that sneaks up on you. The chop itself is thick and served on the bone—perfect for picking up and eating with your hands for those hard-to-reach pockets of pork.
And for a sweet finish, choose from three mason jar desserts. There’s strawberry shortcake with orange cornmeal biscuit, vanilla whipped cream and whiskey smoked sugar and a Smore’s offering with Nutella ice cream, graham cracker crumbs and toasted marshmallow fluff. But for peak refreshment, order the Aperol Creamsicle with naval orange sorbet, vanilla bean ice cream, blackberries and Aperol syrup, made from the classic aperitif.
River Road American Bistro is located at 160 Mill River Rd., Oyster Bay; 516-802-5661; www.riverroadoysterbay.com