Potomac River Grill is in an unlikely place for a restaurant: perched on the Hancock side of the U.S. 522 bridge crossing the Potomac to Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
It is a small place but lives up to the old saying that good things come in small packages.
My friend, Pap Ricka, talked me into going for a long bike ride on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The only way to get me on a ride longer than about 5 miles is to feed and water me at regular intervals. To that end, we started our ride by eating lunch at Potomac River Grill.
The restaurant is newly renovated and opened March 1. It is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Pap and I drove up and crossed the bridge traffic to the small parking lot in front of the restaurant. There were a couple of tables and chairs outside, which we would definitely have taken advantage of if we were midway through the ride instead of just beginning it.
Inside we were greeted warmly and invited to sit anywhere we wanted.
The Potomac River Grill was charming. Black-and-white linoleum tiles decorated the floor with red leather-like booths lining the walls.
Chrome tables with red leather chairs filled the center of the room. On one end of the room was a cash register and there was a short counter with red leather and chrome stools in front.
Desserts of pineapple upside down cake and brownies were displayed on covered glass pedestal stands. The walls were paneled in knotty pine about half way up.
It felt as if we had been transported back to a 1950s diner.
Our waitress came over promptly, gave us menus and took our drink orders.
The menu choices were very simple: pit beef, pork barbecue, ribs and chicken for the most part.
These could be ordered as platters or sandwiches. In addition, there were burgers and a garden or Caesar salad. The platters came with fries and a choice of side dishes.
It didn’t take us long to make our choices. I decided upon the “Mile High Pit Beef platter” with sweet potato fries.
For my other side, I picked macaroni and cheese. It was a bit of an odd choice to get with fries, but I decided I needed to load up on the carbs for the bike ride.
And besides, I just had to order mac and cheese in a place like that. The other choices of lima beans, southern baked beans, potato salad or applesauce might have been good, but I was happy with my selection.
Pap picked the “Potomac Pork BBQ platter” with sweet potato fries and cole slaw.
In no time at all, our dinners were brought to us. It was a substantial amount of food. My pit beef was thinly shaved into a big soft pile of meat. I first tasted it unadorned. It was so moist and tender with absolutely no tough or chewy parts.
Our table had three different sauces: mild, spicy and N.C. vinegar. I tried all of them. The mild and spicy were similar, both being traditional tomato barbecue sauces. The spicy was indeed more peppy than the mild, but it was quite gentle overall.
The N.C. (which I took to mean North Carolina where the barbecue sauces tend to be made from vinegar and not tomato) was piquant and very thin. Each gave the beef an entirely different taste so it was fun to sample all of them.
The sweet potato fries were hand cut with the skins on. They were fried to a deep caramel and not a bit greasy. I thought they could have used a bit more salt, but Pap told me to squirt them with the N.C. vinegar sauce and that made them perfect. The mac and cheese was creamy and soft. It didn’t appear to have been baked as there were no crusty parts. Perhaps it was a stove top version? In any event, I liked it as it was velvety and smooth and not grainy the way some macaroni can be.
Pap’s pork was as moist as my beef. Lovely browned bits were snuggled among the pieces shredded into a tasty heap. He offered me a bite of his cole slaw.
He and I differ about what makes a good slaw: he tends to like a sweeter, wetter version than I do. We both agreed that this cole slaw was great: crisp and crunchy with a dash of something spicy, maybe horseradish?
To round out the meal, we each were given a wedge of cornbread. These had been baked in to individual triangles so that all sides were browned. It was sweet and crisp around the edges, soft on the inside.
I have to say, we weren’t sure what to expect from a restaurant on the edge of the bridge. But we were pleasantly surprised and fortified for our bike ride.
Friendly service and delicious food at a great price will bring us back again.
I’ll even ride my bike to get there
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.