Go to Riley’s, a restaurant plopped in the middle of a regular Syracuse neighborhood, and be ready to enjoy your meal from the very beginning to the very end.
This place, a warm cozy haven filled with dark woods and a welcoming atmosphere, was a true wonder on a recent Friday night. We’re heading back as soon as we can.
Brother M and his family were in town for Thanksgiving, and because we didn’t eat enough on the actual day itself, we had to head out to eat in advance of what has become a holiday tradition: the oohing and ahhing over the displays that are part of Lights on the Lake.
Colleague B had long ago recommended Riley’s, and it finally came time to try it out. The six of us were seated in a semi-private room off the bar area. It was a great setting, just detached enough for privacy but still open to the thrum of the restaurant.
We were immediately enthralled with what the waitress called Brian’s Bread, a crusty, full-flavored start to our meal that is made fresh every day on the premises. Wife L and I both opined that the bread was as good if not slightly better than the loaves we buy from The Franklin Hotel in Rome, which we consider sacrosanct.
When asked what the specials were, the waitress told us we were looking at them: the menu is written anew each day.
We had a wonderful selection to choose from, including lobster rolls, believe it or not, that proved delicious for two of our crowd. Wonderful chunks of lobster with a light dressing on a fresh roll. A surprise and a hit.
Wife L and I had Louisiana catfish prepared with a cornmeal coating and just a hint of hot sauce. The filets were moist and flavorful, with the occasional kick. Even the accompanying asparagus was done just right, lightly salted and buttered and steamed to perfection. Throw in a side of rice or mashed potatoes, and we were thrilled.
Daughter B and Niece K both had haddock; the former a platter and the latter a basket. Both dug in and enjoyed the perfectly battered fish. We also could have chosen from a roast pork loin, belly clams, sirloin steak, several salad and appetizer options. Everything sounded interesting and worth a return trip.
The capstone of our meal was a Franjelico chocolate torte with a huge dollop of luscious homemade whipped cream. The dessert was unbelievably good. Dense moist chocolate cake with a to-die-for icing. Wow.
The restaurant, a big building that hovers over the corner of Park and Whitwell Drive, just south of Schiller Park, is divided into the bar area, with our special room, and the restaurant section, where you can glimpse into the kitchen as they work their magic. The restaurant was filling up nicely as we departed for the light show on Onondaga Lake.
Riley’s put on a quite a show itself, and it absolutely merits an encore.