BATAVIA – Stepping inside River’s Edge Bar & Grill feels like time traveling to the early 1900s, the era when the 1880s stone building first became home to a succession of drinking establishments just east of the Fox River on North River Street in downtown Batavia.
The carved, wooden Brunswick back bar was used at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, a vintage match for the rich wood in the venue’s two rooms, set off by a patterned tin ceiling.
Melissa Monno acquired the business a year ago this month, and has nurtured its reputation for live music and good food. She is fine-tuning it as a gastropub, collaborating with executive chef Rick Kaniuga. A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, he has been chef at River’s Edge since its start in 2014.
“About two months ago, we changed up the menu – every meat [and] cheese are locally sourced, everything’s from a farm within a 300-mile radius,” Monno said. “We’re family-run, and we can support local family farms. Everything is slow-cooked and made from scratch [like] the hand-pressed burgers. You can tell the difference. Virtually nothing is frozen in the house. Everything is fresh.”
That includes the hickory-smoked back bacon made in-house. She said menu favorites range from the River Street burger with a coffee barbecue sauce to duck confit and a country pate. The chicken fingers appetizer is breaded with Cap’n Crunch and Corn Flakes for a sweet-savory combination.
“I worked with the chef to bring that one into the world,” Monno said.
She notes the bar offers a rotating array of 10 beers on tap, complemented by 100 brews in bottles or cans, and also does its own aging of beer in bourbon barrels.
“We buy stuff we like to sit on,” she said. “When you age the beer a little bit longer, the flavors meld together and become something really special. I become a geek when I start talking about beer.”
She said she keeps track of other bars’ offerings and is happy when she discovers River’s Edge is the only one within a 40- to 50-mile radius to carry a particular find on tap. Trained as a journalist, she creates the written descriptions for all of them.
Kaniuga is working with Penrose Brewing Co. in Geneva in preparation for a beer dinner in January. The plan is to offer a monthly one at River’s Edge, Monno said, adding she also is working on the cocktail menu.
“We are seasoning our barrels right now to do Manhattans in,” she said of the oak barrels previously used for sherry.
Also local is the nonalcoholic Windmill Ginger Brew made in Geneva. The bar is on its second batch of Swedish glogg, accompanied by homemade pepparkakor, Swedish ginger cookies. Hot buttered rum is another winter offering, and whiskey options are growing.
The chef changes the dinner specialties every few days, encompassing seafood, vegetarian and meat dishes, and accommodating gluten-free requests. Recently featured were lamb chops, a Bloody Mary stew, and hickory-smoked pork shank.
She said the new lunch menu features seven sandwiches, and there’s a to-go adult sack lunch. Because the bar has a package goods license, one can carry out a sandwich, side and tall-boy can of beer from Surly Brewing of Minnesota.
Musicians and music lovers appreciate the multiple nights of entertainment, from bluegrass at 5 p.m. Sundays including a monthly jam session; to open mic Tuesdays; and live music Fridays and Saturdays, spanning rock, folk and rockabilly.
“There’s a wealth of talent around here,” Monno said. “We’re across the street from a music store. It feels very European at times. People will have their instruments and play a couple tunes in the middle of the day.”
She said patrons range from 20-somethings to folks in their 60s and 70s, many with a story about the venerable pub.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be part of – I love Batavia,” she said, noting she’s happy to team up with other businesses as special events in town take shape like the recent debut Oktoberfest on North River Street.
“Hospitality is in my blood,” she said. “My first job was in the industry.”
She said she garnered experience working at family-run places to corporately structured venues, tackling everything from bartending to managing. She even used to grab a ketchup bottle as ersatz microphone, and belt out a ’50s song as a choreographed singing diner waitress at a burger chain.
With help from the historical society, she’s delving into the past of her location, and looking forward to spring, when patrons can flock back to the five-tiered, dog-friendly beer garden with outdoor bar and stage.
Winter hours at River’s Edge Bar & Grill, 12 N. River St., are 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closing at 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and midnight other days. It’s closed Mondays. The kitchen stops serving at 9 p.m. during the week, and at 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, but late-night appetizers are available. For information, contact 630-406-9200 or theriversedgebatavia.com.