- GETTING KNOWN: The food at River Road.
Cherry Street is the Main Street of Helena. It runs parallel, and nearest to, the towering levee that separates the town from the Mississippi River. Although it’s mostly quiet and inactive these days, it’s not difficult to imagine Cherry Street as a lively, energetic commercial district back when Helena was a bustling port city.
There’s no shortage of character, anyway, since most of the original buildings on Cherry Street are preserved. For most visitors to Helena, they serve mainly as a backdrop for the famous annual blues festival in October.
Yet, there is a hidden gem on Cherry Street behind the new permanent festival stage. A restaurant called River Road makes wonderful use of an old building to bring a higher level of dining than one might expect in a sleepy Delta town.
Open since last April, River Road serves lunch and dinner in a warm, expansive space accented by exposed brick walls, sturdy wood furniture and an intimate antique bar.
It was a cozy retreat on a recent cold day. The restaurant offers daily lunch specials, along with an array of sandwiches and other items on its menu. According to River Road manager Marshall Faulkner, the special usually includes fried chicken.
But the fried chicken we had there wasn’t the typical plate-lunch fare. It was light, tender, flavorful and almost subtle. “We bake our fried chicken, which gives it a different taste,” Faulkner said. “We flash fry it and then bake it the rest of the way through.”
The specials (which that day also included a lasagna) are $6.95 and come with a choice of two side items. The au gratin potatoes also were more sophisticated than what we’re used to, with a smokier cheese and a less oily texture. Green beans and English peas were lightly seasoned and fresh.
River Road also serves dinner five nights a week, with an upscale grill menu that includes an array of seafood, a 14-oz. bone-in pork chop and a mix of steaks. The splurge item is a 22-oz. ribeye at $34.95. All of the entrees come with a salad and two side items.
It’s a struggle to keep a white-tablecloth restaurant afloat in Helena, Faulkner admits, but he credits support from the locals for bringing them this far.
“It’s been mostly locals until recently,” Faulkner said. “But we’re starting to reach into other areas, like Tunica, Clarksdale and Forrest City. It takes a while for word of mouth to spread, but that’s the best kind of publicity to have.”
115 Cherry St.
An elegant restaurant in historic downtown Helena serving classic grill food and upscale lunch fare.
Lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.