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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Fabiano’s River House Grill
104 W. Grand River Ave., Portland, MI 48875
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.
If you have any questions about this research or suggestions for future research, please feel free to email us:
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