Dining on the river
Valley Gem’s barge converted into restaurant
Salads with maple pecans, pork medallions with port wine sauce, even an array of desserts are now in store for those looking to enjoy fine dining on the Muskingum River.
Today the Riviera opens for dinner beside a longtime staple of Marietta, the Valley Gem.
“The primary reason we’re opening the restaurant is to keep on our talented crew,” said General Manager Heather Sands, 41, of Marietta. “Because we are a seasonal business with the Valley Gem we would only have work for our crew really through that busy season, but we did this to keep them on and have a viable full-time job.”
Currently the Riviera is a stationary barge, but Heather and her husband Jason Sands, 44, of Marietta, said they are working to acquire the certification to also allow the boat to move with passengers come springtime.
The couple own the only business located on the water in Marietta that serves a full meal.
Food isn’t a new business for the pair – they’ve been catering since 2012- while taking passengers out on their lunch and dinner cruises. Though with the additional plans they have added on a few new team members bringing their current employee count to 10, while looking for two more.
“But the way we serve will be different, because before it was buffet style,” explained Heather. “Now it’s more things going on at once, with individual dishes, and more prep work to have things on hand to get out in a timely way.”
Shannon Foltz, visitor experience director for the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the expansion of the business into a restaurant a win for tourism in the area.
“People are always looking for a new and unique dining experience when the come to town and the Valley Gem is one of the biggest draws for tourists already,” she said. “So here you’re eating on a boat, even if it’s not going anywhere. That’s exciting and the food is already great from when I’ve had their catering.”
Chef John Schlotterbeck, 42, of Marietta, said he’s getting excited to make the dishes in smaller quantities as they’re made to order.
And the menu has varied flavors, but all tested by the couple’s family and friends, or inspired by dishes the couple have had out elsewhere.
“A lot of it was born out of a desire to have everything made here,” said Heather. “We really want you to leave here saying ‘oh my gosh I can’t believe that was so good.'”
The Mesclun salad is drizzled with a dressing that has Vermont maple syrup mixed in and the greens are topped with goat cheese and maple toasted pecans that provide a sweet crunch in contrast with the soft cheese.
“But then there are shallots and figs in the pork medallions’ port wine sauce,” explained Jason. “This one hasn’t been on our catering menu before but it is so good.”
Evan Cavalier, 27, of Little Hocking, who works for the Sands, has even contributed to the menu.
“We wanted a light pasta dish on the brunch menu,” he said. “So the Pasta Aglio e Olio is probably the lightest you could ever go. It’s a light tossing of olive oil, your salt and pepper and spices and topped with the parmesan.”
Carrie Ankrom, executive director of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion of the business is also good for other businesses in the community.
“When we lost the Becky Thatcher many moons ago it was a loss of that experience on the water and the people it drew there but also into the other businesses downtown so we’re really excited for this adventure for them,” said Ankrom. “We’ve had some meetings and events on the Valley Gem so I’m excited to eat at the Riviera and see what they’ve done to keep on the great staff that they have throughout the winter season.”
Though the barge does not currently have a liquor license, the couple said they are working with the state of Ohio to get one.
“We have a West Virginia license for the Valley Gem, but that’s only once we’re out on the water, which the Riviera will not be this season,” said Jason.
But the options come spring are endless, they said. Perhaps they’ll chose to run two boats on the water, or they’ll keep the restaurant docked.
“We’ll see where things go,” said Heather. “We really did this to keep on the crew in the winter season, and with a warm cabin you can do that.”
The restaurant opens today at 4 p.m. and will serve dinner Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“That gives our crew Sunday and Tuesday nights home with their families but still allows for most to work full time here,” said Sands.
On the menu
¯ Stuffed Mushrooms.
¯ Shrimp Cocktail.
¯ Spinach Artichoke Dip with Pita Bread.
Soup of the Day
A La Carte Sides:
¯ Mashed Potatoes.
¯ Grilled Asparagus.
¯ Cavatappi with Alfredo.
¯ Baked Potato.
¯ Rib Eye Steak.
¯ Chicken Marsala.
¯ Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken.
¯ Riviera Chicken.
¯ Pork Medallions with Port Wine Sauce.
¯ Stuffed Salmon.
¯ Peppered Shrimp Alfredo.
¯ Capellini Pomodoro.
¯ Eggplant Parmesan.
¯ Chicken Tenders.
¯ A la carte sides:
¯ Macaroni and Cheese.
¯ Greek Salad.
¯ Caesar Salad.
¯ Mesclun Salad.
¯ Fresh Fruit Platter.
¯ Soup of the Day.
¯ Poached Egg Caprese.
¯ French Toast .
¯ Steak and Eggs.
¯ Grilled Salmon.
¯ Pasta Aglio e Olio.
¯ Pork Tenderloin.
¯ Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
¯ Chocolate Fudge Cake.
¯ Coconut Cream Pie.
¯ Apple Crisp.
¯ Ice Cream Sundae.
Drinks: Coke products, hot cocoa, coffee and teas.
¯ Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 4-10 p.m.
¯ Sunday Brunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Source: Heather and Jason Sands