The Boathouse Grill may be only a few years old, but it harkens back to days gone by. Not just in that it occupies the one-time home of another longtime Manistee restaurant, but because it also nods to the Port City’s past.
It derives its name from Manistee’s boating heritage. In fact, it’s just across the Manistee River from the site of the Century Boat factory, which produced some of the country’s most celebrated – and fastest – watercraft during the mid to late 20th century.
“The Century Boat factory was right across the channel where you see that apartment building,” said general manager Chris Diebel, whose family owns the restaurant.
With that in mind, Diebel keeps an eye out for items that could add to the décor. Posters on the walls beckon boaters to the area’s waterways, and there’s even an old outboard motor on one of the half-walls dividing the dining room.
“People say I should put more things on the walls, but most of the walls are windows,” he said with a laugh. That includes a window wall with views of the river as it winds its way through town and out to Lake Michigan.
Diebel’s family owns both the Boathouse Grill and Rico’s, the popular Mexican/American eatery on Caberfae Highway (M-55) in Manistee. “Unfortunately, the owner (of 440 West) had passed away, and we bought it and opened it in 2007,” he said.
No doubt the decision to take the restaurant in the direction of fish was based on its location, with those stunning views. The restaurant’s patio is always crowded in the summer as the diners watch the boats plying the river.
“It’s the most popular place in the summer,” Diebel said. “It’s full all summer long.
The tourists love it. If it’s sprinkling, they don’t have a problem, they have an umbrella. Everybody else is (saying) ‘It’s raining out.’”
As for the boaters, many of them tie up at the docks just below the restaurant. “We get a lot of transient boaters. They have to keep some of the slips for them.”
Diebel says using fresh ingredients has been a staple of the Boathouse since it was opened. “We started out with local foods before that became a big deal,” said Diebel.
But he goes on to say that it’s nearly impossible to completely rely on fish from the nearby waters. “We have a good supplier out of Grand Rapids. It’s so spotty otherwise.
“We use lots of fresh fish, walleye, perch. We go through 150 to 200 pounds of perch a week, so we want to make sure we have it,” he said.
FISH & STEAKS
As that statement indicates and as one might assume from the restaurant’s name, the fish is among the most popular items on the menu. The perch, whitefish and walleye are probably the most requested, in that order. But when pressed for what is the best item on the menu, Diebel goes another direction.
“I’d say probably the hanger steak. It’s marinated in balsamic vinegar, honey, Worcestershire and soy sauce. It’s sweet and it’s salty,” he said.
Diebel is pleased that business this summer continued a trend of each year outstripping the previous one. “It’s grown a little every year,” he said.
He says they will spruce things up again this winter, primarily working on the facade in front to make it more noticeable and welcoming. “Unfortunately we’re down near the end of River Street, and if people don’t see things open down here they won’t come this far,” he said.
That’s not a problem in the summer, but with the off-season staring him in the face, Diebel says the restaurant will come up with other promotions to bring in the locals. That includes a continuation of last year’s “Three-Dollar Thursdays.”
“We have $3 drafts, $3 house wines and half price on appetizers and pizzas,” he said.
THE LOCAL ECONOMY
While he has seen the business climate in Manistee yo-yo from good to not-sogood, Diebel continues to be optimistic.
Not only has the Boathouse Grill bettered its previous year each year it’s been open, he believes the upcoming re-opening of the Vogue Theatre will help boost the city’s (and the Boathouse’s) fortunes.
“We’ll look to do some dinner and a movie thing,” Diebel said. He added that hopes are that the theater will be open for the Manistee’s Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend the first weekend in December.
He also has high hopes for the fall season. That includes the Port City Festival, this year taking place in mid-September rather than the first weekend after Labor Day.
“The fall color season is always great.
We get a lot of car clubs, bikers, older tourists that don’t want to compete with the families,” he said.
The Boathouse Grill is open 11 to 9 Sunday through Wednesday, and till 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. It is located at 440 River St. in downtown Manistee. Call (231) 723-2300. Online, visit its Facebook page.
Don’t Miss: Lake Erie perch. Perch fi l- lets are lightly breaded and served with home-made tartar sauce and a host of sides, including freshly baked bread, loaded mashed redskin potatoes, vegetable, and house salad.
Cost: Sandwiches from $7.49, entrees from $13.99.