Michigan’s Best Outdoor Dining Lansing poll winner is a deck overlooking the Looking Glass River

PORTLAND, MI – Oh, that bridge.

In the summer, when there’s no pandemic, the Looking Glass River Bridge at Fabiano’s River House Bar & Grill in Portland rocks. Live music on the weekends, a huge fireplace, big crowds and good times.

“You know what this terrace looks like,” said Bill Fabiano, who opened the restaurant in December 2014 with his wife Rachelle. “The patio is the big draw.”

It refers to the day Michigan’s Best visited in 2017, when we were on the hunt for Michigan’s best chicken wings. That day, we ate their Michigan Chicken Wings Gone Wild Sauce, right on this deck.

But we did it without Bill and Rachelle. They were in the hospital for the birth of their first child, Vivienne.

“We went to the hospital the morning you arrived,” recalls Fabiano. “She’s not so small anymore. She is 3 and a half years old.

READ: Your Guide to the Best Chicken Wings in Michigan: Where We Been, The Wings We Ate, Who We Met

Well, we remember the day well and that beautiful and spacious terrace right on the water.

This is the reason why Fabiano was elected first for Michigan’s Best Outdoor Dining in the Lansing area with 58 percent of the vote, winning in a landslide over Lansing Brewing Company, which has 12 percent of the vote, and Acapulco Mexican Grill in Charlotte with 3.8 percent.

Fabiano’s River House Bar & Grill is known for its patio overlooking the Looking Glass River in Portland, Michigan. “The patio is the big draw,” says Bill Fabiano, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Rachelle.Courtesy of Fabiano’s Riverhouse Bar & Grill

Fabiano said the bridge, which is actually located where the Looking Glass River meets the Grand River, is typically closed every winter.

In fact, they had just overwintered when the second stop closed Michigan restaurants and bars from November 18 through February. 1 to limit the spread of Covid-19.

“We had to move everything outside,” he said. That meant adding heaters, fire tables, and even carpeting on the deck, which typically has a capacity of 80 people.

It also meant no running water, sinks, soda guns or draft beer on tap. It was all inside.

“The girls had to do everything,” said Fabiano.

Were they happy with it?

“They were happy to be working,” said Fabiano, who laughed but very seriously praised his staff of about 25 employees who worked so hard during the rollercoaster of the pandemic.

“But they wear snowsuits and mittens and do their best to stay warm.”

With an indoor dining area at 25 percent of its capacity, it lowered the sides to use the space as an additional indoor dining area.

But “as soon as the weather drops below zero, we’ll go up the sides and call alfresco dining again. The wood fireplace makes the difference. Forty degrees in the spring is much warmer than 40 degrees in the fall.

A booming delivery service within a 5 mile radius of Portland also helped them through the two closures.

Fabiano said he invested in insulated carriers and car roofs just before a historic flooding in February 2019 on the Grand River. The community has been declared a local state of emergency. Fabiano had to close for two weeks.

READ: Local state of emergency declared for Portland after ice jam and flooding

Delivery has been suspended.

Then when the first shutdown was in March, he was ready to go. Literally.

“That first day everything was ready,” said Fabiano. “It was a saving grace … I hadn’t realized the request for delivery to Portland in such a small town.”

Food

Michigan's Best Outdoor Dining - Fabiano's

Fabiano’s River House Bar & Grill in Portland, Michigan is known for its wings, bone-in or out. They were finalists for Michigan’s Best Wings in 2017. They use Michigan’s Gone Wild sauce for all of their flavors.Jean Gonzalez

On the food side, customers love the wings, of course. Garlic Parmesan is the best-selling flavor. And the popular Friday Fish Fry is back with $ 12.99 of all-you-can-eat cod.

But Fabiano said the pizza was getting rave reviews from customers as well, especially the ranch’s specialty chicken and bacon pizza.

The name Fabiano is synonymous with pizza and dates back to the 1970s with his aunt and uncle’s party store in nearby Wacousta, he said. His uncle, Steve Fabiano, owns the Eagle Inn (which was also part of our search for the best wings). There is Fabiano’s Pizzeria in Westphalia. And his father had Fabiano on the river on Torch Lake for many years until he sold in August.

“All the same family, all independently owned and operated,” Fabiano said.

As for the terrace, people still use it, despite the cold.

“We’re actually going to keep the patio open all year now,” he said.

It opens at 4 p.m. most days and at noon on Saturdays.

Michigan's Best Outdoor Dining - Fabiano's

Bill and Rachelle Fabiano are co-owners of Fabiano’s River House Bar & Grill in Portland, Michigan, winner of Michigan’s Best Outdoor Dining in Lansing. Also pictured: their 3-year-old daughter Vivienne and dog Liberty.Courtesy of Bill and Rachelle Fabiano

A 2001 Portland High School graduate, Bill and his wife Rachelle live in Eagle. Both also have full-time jobs. Bill is a firefighter for the city of Grand Rapids and Rachelle works for a credit union in Lansing. In addition, they have the little one.

They love the Portland community.

“We had great support … people are coming out,” he said. “They don’t mind that it’s a bit cold.

The search for Michigan’s best outdoor restaurant is sponsored in part by Warm fitness.

Michigan's Best Outdoor Dining - Fabiano's

Here’s what the bridge looked like in 2017 when Michigan’s Best stopped for wings at Fabiano’s River House Bar & Grill.Jean Gonzalez

IF YOU ARE GOING TO

Fabiano’s River House Grill

104 W. Grand River Ave., Portland, MI 48875

517-647-4400

Hours: 11 am-8pm Sundays and Tuesdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; closed on Mondays. The outdoor patio opens at 4 p.m. most days; on Saturdays, it opens at noon.

More information: riverhousebarandgrill.com Where facebook.com/FabianosRiverHouseBarAndGrill/

Michigan's Best Outdoor Dining - Fabiano's

Garlic Parmesan Wings are best sellers at Fabiano’s River House Grill in Portland, Michigan. They were finalists for Michigan’s Best Wings in 2017. They use Michigan’s Gone Wild sauce for all of their flavors.Jean Gonzalez

If you have any questions about this research or suggestions for future research, please feel free to email us:

Jean Gonzalez: [email protected]

Amy Sherman: [email protected]

Follow our best Michigan adventures on social media:

@mlivemibest on Twitter

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Facebook at MLiveMIBest.

Participate using hashtags #mibest and # alfresco dining.

Besides:

Jean Gonzalez is on twitter @michigangonzo, as good as Facebook and Instagram @MichiganGonzo.

Amy sherman is on twitter @amyonthetrail, as good as Facebook and Instagram @amyonthetrail.

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