A brief guide to eating your way along the inland waterways

By Brad Kovach

Part of the fun of cruising on the inland waterways is discovering new places, new people and, for some, new restaurants. To help you reach the highest levels of gastronomic boating bliss during your travels, we’ve compiled a list of spots where you can pull in and sample the local flavors within steps of where your vessel is tied up at the marina dock.

 

St. Croix River

 

Mallards Restaurant & Lounge – Bayport, Minnesota

 

Mallards serves up a heaping helping of Southern hospitality overlooking the beautiful St. Croix River at Bayport Marina. Try the award-winning seafood or Cajun fare, house-made barbeque or street tacos, and wash it down with a sweet tea. You can eat inside the clean and open dining room, on the screened porch, outside on the patio — or order delivery right to your boat! Mallards is open year-round and hosts a weekly Sunday brunch as well as a daily Happy Hour and special events like the River Valley Wine Fest. mallardsmn.com

 

Upper Mississippi River

 

Catfish Charlie’s – Dubuque, Iowa

 

Every seat in the house at Catfish Charlie’s features a view of Dubuque Yacht Basin and the Mississippi River. It will probably come as no surprise that seafood is the specialty — whole catfish, walleye and more — though the restaurant offers a wide range of menu items: everything from appetizers to sandwiches, pastas, steaks and Cajun dishes. Sunday brunch is a favorite for many. There’s a covered porch and contemporary interior for dining, and the Riverview Deck is a summer hot spot for live music and cool drinks. catfishcharliesdubuque.com

 

Illinois River

 

Grafton Oyster Bar – Grafton, Illinois

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broadway Oyster Bar has been one of St. Louis’ most beloved party places for over 30 years. About 40 miles to the north, its sister-establishment, Grafton Oyster Bar, features many of the same flavorsome dishes — try the alligator sausage and shrimp cheesecake, or the char-grilled oysters — and ups the ante with sweeping views of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. (The second-floor restaurant literally floats in the middle of Grafton Marina.) Enjoy live music during boating season, as well as annual events like the Crawfish Festival. graftonoysterbar.com

 

Allegheny River

 

Baja Bar & Grill – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

Located 9 miles north of downtown at Fox Chapel Marine & Yacht Club, Baja Bar & Grill stays hopping all year long with live bands and entertainment every weekend. The menu is just what you would expect from a good-ol’-fashioned American restaurant — and that’s a great thing! Choose from appetizers and salads, sandwiches and wraps, and quesadillas and pizzas. You can dance under the stars on the large outdoor deck, or lounge inside the glass-paneled dining room with boat-shaped bar and panoramas of the water. bajabargrill.com

 

Ohio River

 

Prima Marina – Moundsville, West Virginia

 

If a casual eatery serving serious comfort food and boasting “the best view of the Ohio River Valley” sounds appealing, then pull into Prima Marina. The no-frills exterior belies an inviting staff and quality fare inside, including large sandwiches and hoagies, dinner platters, and specials like homemade lasagna and fried chicken. A patio and picnic area front the water, and live entertainment and theme parties draw regulars and visitors alike on select weekends. Dine in or grab carryout for your boat. In either case, your stomach will thank you. facebook.com/theprimamarina/

 

Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille – Prospect, Kentucky

 

A Louisville-area landmark since the early 1800s, Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille looks the part: a sprawling lodge with multiple seating zones, each offering a different feel, whether the Stone Room, the Veranda or the Marina View Terrace. Big wooden decks spill down the slope to the boat landing, with this outside seating being much sought-after on summer weekends. The menu is broad and appealing — inventive starters, sandwich standards, steak and seafood entrees — plus a Sunday brunch that draws folks from far around. cqriverside.com

 

Cumberland River

 

Thirsty Turtle – Grand Rivers, Kentucky

 

The Thirsty Turtle Tavern at Green Turtle Bay Resort is where great food, fun and friends meet on Lake Barkley. On the menu, you’ll find gourmet pizza, specialty sandwiches and baskets, and the freshest peel-and-eat shrimp around. The bar is stocked with a variety of beers, wines and spirits. Outdoor and indoor seating is available, and kids of all ages will love the jumbo checkerboard, cornhole boards and other yard games. During peak summer months, live outdoor entertainment takes the stage on weekends. The Thirsty Turtle is easily accessible by waterway, with complimentary docks are available for boaters. greenturtlebay.com

 

Buzzard Rock Cafe – Kuttawa, Kentucky

 

You could say this retro-themed restaurant at Buzzard Rock Resort & Marina is business up front and party in the back. The café area is kid- and tourist-friendly, featuring a kitschy 1950’s diner ambiance and “the best burgers on the Land Between the Lakes.” Meanwhile, the venue’s Low Down Buzzard Bar on the rear patio offers two full-service bars and live music every Saturday afternoon during the summer. Cruise into one of the courtesy slips and dine inside or outside. Great views of Lake Barkley are free. buzzardrock.com/cafe

 

HU-B’s – Kuttawa, Kentucky

 

Love cheeseburgers in paradise? HU-B’s at Kuttawa Harbor Marina is locally world famous for its signature HU-B Burger and tropical Florida trimmings. Palm fronds and tiki statues embellish a vast, open-air patio that has picnic table seating (with thatch umbrellas or without), a hut-style stage and wonderful sunset opportunities. Dining is also available inside from a menu that includes traditional bar-and-grill selections: appetizers, salads, and sandwich and burger baskets, as well as a buffet breakfast on weekend mornings. kuttawaharbormarina.com/hubsmenus1.htm

 

Echo Charlie’s – Eddyville, Kentucky

 

Echo Charlie’s is a family-oriented restaurant featuring a variety of cuisine ranging from southern fried catfish to a thick, juicy steak. Overlooking Eddy Creek Marina Resort and its eponymous waterway, the downhome setting hides some coastal surprises on the menu, such as homemade crab cakes, grilled yellowfin tuna and Bubba’s Key West Salt Wings. Echo Charlie’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and welcomes live music every week from spring through fall to complete the casual waterside dining experience. eddycreek.com/restaurant.shtml

 

 Tennessee River

 

Harbor Lights Restaurant – Gilbertsville, Kentucky

 

Nestled in the lower level of the Village Inn Lodge at Kentucky Dam Marina and boasting a view of the last dam on the Tennessee River, Harbor Lights strives to bring its guests “the best of western Kentucky hospitality.” The restaurant serves breakfast (sandwiches, platters, omelets) plus a colorful lunch and dinner menu: from fried green tomatoes and white cheddar cheese curds to Kentucky hot brown and honey mustard grilled chicken. A supporter of Kentucky Proud program, it utilizes local meats and produce when available. parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/ky-dam-village/

 

The Grey Heron Grill – New Johnsonville, Tennessee

 

The Grey Heron Grill at Pebble Isle Marina has been in operation since 1998. Known for serving great catfish, the grill also features a salad bar showcasing 30+ items daily and is considered one of the best in the area. The Grey Heron also offers a full bar with quality wines and cocktails to enjoy on the patio. Whether you’re stopping in for a quick bite or an evening dinner with family or friends, The Grey Heron is a great option. It’s located directly on the water, so visiting boaters only have a short walk before they’re at the restaurant. And, as an added bonus, the turtles and fish provide plenty of entertainment for the kids. pebble-isle.com

 

Amigos Mexican Restaurant – Harrison, Tennessee

 

Voted Best Mexican Food in the Chattanooga Times Free Press People’s Choice Awards for 11 consecutive years, Amigo Mexican Restaurant at Island Cove Marina & Resort deserves a taste next time you’re in the area. The restaurant’s constant goal is “to provide the best possible food, drinks and service,” with a menu consisting of favorites from creamy queso and crunchy chimichangas to savory enchiladas and tamales. Take advantage of Taco Night (every Monday) and Happy Hour specials like two-for-one Margaritas — in “queso” you’re having a bad day. islandcove.com/amigos-restaurant/

 

Rick’s Dockside Grill – Maryville, Tennessee

 

Bordered by scenic forested hills and mountains, Rick’s Dockside Grill at Tellico Marina is a not-so-hidden gem on the Little Tennessee River southwest of Knoxville. The floating bistro features a cozy covered deck as well as inside seating and your choice of salads, burgers, sandwiches and larger entrees. Chef Rick Saffles cooks up weekly specials such as shrimp jambalaya and blackened chicken alfredo — plus all-you-can-eat fried catfish each Thursday — served with a side of live music and cold beer. tellicomarina.com/grill.asp

 

Tenn-Tom Waterway

 

Aqua Yacht Harbor Grille – Iuka, Mississippi

 

Overlooking Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina on Pickwick Lake, this quaint and comfortable eatery is open year-round and favors an all-American menu featuring steaks, seafood, po’ boys, salads and more. You can sit on the open-air deck and feed the turtles in the water below, lounge on the covered patio or dine inside the climate-controlled interior. There’s a nautical-themed bar that serves beer, or you can bring your own wine or spirit if you prefer a particular “docktail” at the end of the day. Great food, service and a for-boaters-by-boaters feel. What else could you want? facebook.com/Aqua-Yacht-Harbor-Grille-234707713563056/

 

Lulu’s – Gulf Shores, Alabama

 

People go to LuLu’s at Homeport Marina for food and fun. It’s owned by Lucy Buffett, whose brother, Jimmy, is well known to boaters as a moderately successful musician. Located in Homeport Marina, the family friendly environment has an arcade, three-story ropes course, face painting, volleyball nets, a large beach with plenty of toys and a Fountain of Youth to cool off. Understandably, the Cheeseburger in Paradise is popular, along with favorites like the gumbo and seafood entrees. There’s also an “allergy menu” for folks with six different types of allergies. lulubuffett.com

 

Playa – Orange Beach, Alabama

 

Located at Sportsman Marina & Drydock, Playa’s Caribbean-inspired menu features fresh-caught seafood, grilled steaks and tacos with homemade tortillas, offering something for everyone in the family. Throw in the best tropical drinks and lots of southern hospitality — served in a carefree and beautifully designed contemporary-yet-casual atmosphere with expansive views of Perdido Pass — and you won’t want to leave. Instead, linger in the lounge areas, browse the retail space and savor the creations of Chef Bill Briand, three-time James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef South. playaoba.com

 

Fisher’s – Orange Beach, Alabama

 

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina houses two restaurants under one roof, each devoted to creating a distinct waterfront dining experience. Adorned with linen draperies, antique cypress tables, an onyx bar top lit from the bottom and incredible light fixtures, Fisher’s Upstairs is upscale and beautiful yet very comfortable. The seasonally inspired menu celebrates local ingredients and a fine Louisiana heritage. Fisher’s Dockside is noticeably more relaxed with a beachy design and serving freshly prepared burgers, Gulf Coast seafood, salads, sandwiches and more. Both restaurants come highly recommended by Southern Living. fishersobm.com

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