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River: An Italian-Inspired, Waterfront Restaurant With An Unrivaled View

One of Connecticut’s best new waterfront views at a restaurant may be at the back of a suburban office building in Wethersfield.

Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly.

This unlikely setting is River, a new restaurant and bar on the first floor of the CBS Xerox building in Putnam Park. The venue, with seating for about 300 between inside tables and a multi-level deck, offers unrivaled, sweeping views of the Connecticut River and Putnam Bridge.

Building owner Chris Henney says his original plans for the space — dating back about 35 years — included a restaurant, but at the time, he didn't want to be in the food business himself. The building would become home to offices, but about seven or eight years ago, he began to revisit the restaurant idea.

As Henney and his wife, Martha, were planning for the debut of River, they took over a small cafe space in the building, dubbing it Atrium Cafe and Bar and serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails. In the weeks leading up to River’s opening, they used Atrium as a test spot to preview some of the waterfront restaurant’s appetizers, pastas and entrees.

The Henneys hope eventually to transform Atrium into an “international cafe,” featuring different world cuisines every 30 days.

River opened in late April, and the team moved quickly to accommodate the demand for picturesque, warm-weather seating. In its first two weeks, the restaurant hosted a Mother’s Day brunch and since then, they’ve already seen guests come in from as far away as Stamford and Goshen, Martha Henney says.

“It’s a central meeting place,” she says of River's convenient location off I-91. “Our goal is to make it something that really everyone in the state knows about.”

In addition to its ample restaurant seating, River also offers space for catering and special events, with plans for more seating and an outdoor bar and grill below its deck closer to the riverfront.

THE ATMOSPHERE: River’s team calls the restaurant “polished casual.” The interior is sleek, with shades of silver, chrome and blue, and a semi-open kitchen features bustling action and a blue-tiled Marra Forni pizza oven. A grand piano resides on a platform above the dining room floor, ready for dinner entertainment.

The multilevel outdoor deck space facing the tranquil river views is outfitted with traditional tables alongside comfortable couches and lounge seating. The furniture is so cozy, guests are often reluctant to leave at the end of their meal, the Henneys said.

“It’s an enjoyable night out,” says Martha Henney.

FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: River’s cuisine is Italian-inspired, with fresh pastas, pizzas, steaks and chops among the dinner favorites. Guests enjoy starters and bar bites ($6 to $12) with wine and cocktails, with options like arancini, a bruschetta trio, fried calamari, burrata salad and large-format appetizers for two or more ($14 to $19) like antipasto, fontina fondue and bagna cauda.

Pastas ($17 to $25) offer standards like linguine and meatballs, gemelli Bolognese and Alfredo, and ravioli in lobster and vegan varieties (the vegan version, with braised mushroom and basil-cashew “cream” sauce, has been particularly popular, said executive chef Paul Krawic.)

Krawic also included “chicken riggies,” a dish of chicken and rigatoni with peppers, marinara and pecorino Romano, as a nod to the regional specialty from the Utica-Rome area of upstate New York, where his wife grew up. “It’s been amazingly well-received,” he said.

Pizzas from the wood-fired, gas-assisted oven ($14 to $17) feature classic Margherita and sausage and pepper presentations, along with River’s twists: a Bolognese pie, another with rigatoni and pesto, a buffalo chicken pizza with glass onions, Gorgonzola and ranch drizzle; white clam with bacon and a white pie with burrata, mushrooms, onions, garlic, cauliflower and pink Alfredo.

Grilled Sicilian swordfish and Asiago-crusted salmon are among the top-selling entrees ($18 to $27), and steaks and chops ($25 to $45) include ribeye filet, prime New York strip, cowboy steak and pork chops with accompaniments like chimichurri and garlic spread.

“We wanted to be able to accommodate everyone with a range of pricing,” Chris Henney says.

Pastry chef Marika Esteves-Smith creates sweets ($6 to $8) like tiramisu, cannoli Florentine, flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake and zeppole, or Italian doughnuts.

At lunch, sandwiches ($6 to $10.50) replace the entrees, with selections like a sirloin steakburger, a tuna wrap and a variety of panini. Happy hour, offered Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., features discounts on beer and wine, snacks and pizzas.

THE BAR: Beers on tap often feature Connecticut and regional brews, and the wine list focuses on bottles from Italy and California. Specialty cocktails are $8 to $10, with creations like a Little Havana (rum, pineapple and lime juices, housemade grenadine) a Lavender Lemonade with Tito’s vodka, fresh sage simple syrup and lavender ice cubes, and a Blood Hound, with house-infused hibiscus vodka, Aperol and grapefruit juice.

HOURS AND LOCATION: River is at 100 Great Meadow Road in Wethersfield. It's open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bar stays open later. 860- 257-3344, riverontheriver.com.

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