BayouEats: River Grille
River Grille’s new owners Jeff Jarrell and John Hopper, Jr. revamp this neighborhood gem with a delectable menu, superb atmosphere and superior service.
article by Meredith McKinnie
photography by Martin G Meyers
Jeff Jarrell and John Hopper Jr. will be the new owners of River Grille in Monroe beginning January 1st of 2017. The partners have been in the restaurant business for the last seventeen years. Friends since college, Jeff met John while working in John’s dad’s restaurant, Rio Café, where John was the manager. There they joked about one day going into business together. After a brief stint doing construction work after college, Jeff returned to Monroe and teamed up with John in the restaurant industry. Together they opened Gravy’s in 1998, a lunch place in West Monroe. They co-founded Crawfish City in 2002, and only sold the business a few months ago. They also own Daq’s in Monroe and in Bossier, with a third location opening in Shreveport in the spring of 2017. They have the experience in business, the passion to please customers and the knowledge of what makes a restaurant succeed.
While all the menu staples will remain, only improved versions, the emphasis is on fine beef. Having replaced all the equipment in the restaurant, their most notable addition is a top quality steak broiler that cooks at 1600 degrees. The sear on the meat and the high temperature cooking are essential to the superior flavor. The cut options are: six or ten ounce filet, fourteen ounce New York strip, sixteen ounce ribeye, twenty-four ounce bone-in ribeye, and two pound Porter House. The fine beef is right at prime level, the highest quality beefs. The flavor is phenomenal and gives customers “an excellent product at a reasonable price.”
The lunch menu will feature two country specials each weekday. Mondays offer fried chicken or smothered pork chops. Tuesdays bring hamburger steak or chicken and dumplings. Wednesdays serve up beef tips or thin fried pork chops. Thursday’s offerings are meatloaf or smothered chicken. And Friday’s specials are chicken fried chicken or hamburger steak. All plate lunches come with rice or mashed potatoes and gravy, two more sides, bread and tea. Customers can also order from the daily lunch choices of cheeseburgers handmade with 80/20 Angus beef, po-boys with roast beef, sliced and roasted in house, or turkey, also smoked and sliced in house. The catfish is available grilled, fried or blackened. The corned beef sandwich is River Grille’s take on the Reuben, featuring Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Thousand Island dressing on a Ciabatta roll. Grilled chicken breasts and grilled chicken salads are on the lunch menu, as is red beans and rice. The side dishes on hand are mashed potatoes and gravy, fried okra, macaroni and cheese, buttered corn, cole slaw, rice and gravy, lima beans, green beans and turnip greens, all country staples to top off one’s soul food lunch plate.
The appetizers on the dinner menu cover all food preferences with the staple of southern flair. The traditional hushpuppies, along with homemade, hand-cut mozzarella cheese fries and onion rings marinated in hot sauce are available as appetizers. For even more mix of flavor, the Parmesan truffle fries are a favorite, cut from russet potatoes, drizzled with truffle oil, topped with Parmesan cheese and served with a Cajun-seasoned dipping sauce. The fried eggplant are diced into one-inch cubes and topped with Parmesan and a thick lemon aioli sauce. The fried green tomatoes are smothered in colossal lump crabmeat and Cajun-seasoned cream sauce. The crab claws are marinated in olive oil, green onions and Italian seasonings. For the shrimp lovers, they come battered, fried or sautéed in garlic, rosemary, olive oil and are served with French toast points.
The seafood gumbo is overflowing with crab and Gulf shrimp. If seafood is not your choice, but gumbo is, try the chicken and Andouille sausage version. Both gumbos come topped with fried okra. The soups will be rotating seasonally, but the current flavor is French onion. Some lighter options come in the form of salads. The River Grille Salad contains mixed greens with Creole mustard dressing. The Italian Salad is made up of mixed greens, olives and Italian dressing. Caesar salad and grilled chicken salad also round out the menu with all dressings hand made with fresh ingredients.
The cheeseburgers, po-boys and corned beef sandwiches are also available in the evenings, along with grilled chicken breasts and a one and a half inch bone-in pork chop that is started on the grill and finished on the broiler for that nice, juicy taste. The catfish and shrimp are available in a variety of options, along with fresh Gulf red fish, served in lemon butter, and topped with colossal lump crabmeat, red pepper and green onions. The Cajun pasta comes with your choice of chicken and Andouille or shrimp. Regardless of your craving, River Grille has your palate covered.
Putting a lot of effort into the bar offerings is General Manager, Brad Castle. A native of Monroe, Brad has been in the service industry for the last twenty-three years. Having just kind of landed in the restaurant business, Brad claims it “gets in your blood.” He’s a foodie, a cook, a fan of a good cocktail, and a wine and craft beer enthusiast. Brad is the creator of the unique cocktail offerings at River Grille. The Cosmo Blanc is made with Absolut Citron Vodka, white cranberry juice and St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur. The River Grille Tea is a peach bourbon tea with white peach puree, muddled thyme, lemon juice and simple syrup, a great “patio sipper.” The Moscow Mule is made with gin instead of vodka, lime juice, simple mint syrup, Gosling ginger beer and has a “spicy ginger kick.” The Green Beast is a mix of Absinthe, gin, cucumber, club soda, mint and lime juice. With many longtime favorites on tap, the bar is also serving up beer from local breweries, Great Raft, Flying Tiger, Abita and Ouachita Brewing Company. Higher end drinks, pint favorites, house drinks and quality wines will be served, and, if your favorite wine is not at the bar, Jeff and John will do their best to accomodate. The cocktail menu will evolve, as Brad likes to come up with his own drink recipes.
Lunch will be served on Saturdays and Sundays with TVs inside and on the heated deck for sports enthusiasts. River Grille is a family-friendly atmosphere with a jumper out front for the kids. The bar has been expanded with high-top tables that seat four comfortably with a good view of the game and a partition separating the bar and main dining area. Come casual or fancy, as Jeff and John are seeking to establish more regulars and repeat business. Being in the middle of a neighborhood makes the restaurant unique and convenient. They also welcome seasonal parties and events, promising to accommodate your needs.
Jeff Jarrell and John Hopper may have been kidding two decades ago about becoming business partners, but the decision sure has served them well. Both family men, the restaurant industry has allowed them to pursue their passion and provide for their families. Jeff has been married to Jennifer Jarrell for the last eight years and has two girls. Madison is four, and Peyton is two. John has been married to Shanna Hopper for just over two years. They know their customers, what works in the Monroe area, and how important it is to provide locals with a consistent, quality product. They pride themselves on superior service, a good time and a superb atmosphere. Whether sipping a signature cocktail on the deck, laughing with friends at the bar or dining with family, the experience should be had at River Grille.