10 www.htcinc.net | Winter 2017 Rivertown Bistro: Serving up 'fresh,' Smith-style By Carlie Mills If you ask anyone in the Conway area — heck, anyone in all of Horry County — where to go for a fresh and delicious fine-dining experience, you’re likely to be pointed in the direction of Rivertown Bistro, located in historic downtown Conway. The restaurant's two-story dining room has a relaxed ambiance, featuring exposed brick, warm lighting and city-sleek fixtures. Or, diners can opt for an alfresco experience on the rooftop patio overlooking scenic downtown. The restaurant strikes the perfect balance of cozy and chic, setting the tone for the creative American cuisine to come. Since opening the restaurant nearly 25 years ago, chef and owner Darren Smith has been “preparing the food he wants to eat” — culinary artistry that covers the spectrum from Lowcountry classics and fresh seafood to Japanese-inspired dishes and homemade cheese. He offers up a diverse, exciting and — in his own words — fun menu. He didn’t start out that way. A former college soccer player, Darren had what could be called a hands-on cooking education. “I worked in restaurants in Charleston under some great chefs and worked my way up,” explains Darren. “Eventually, we came to Conway, where my wife is from, and thought it would be cool to put our own restaurant here.” They were right. The Rivertown Bistro menu is both innovative and varied, but the food speaks for itself. To start, we sampled one of the seasonal salads with bleu cheese, candied walnuts and apples prepared three ways: stewed apples with maple, dehydrated apples and julienned fresh apples, all topped with a buttermilk hickory syrup dressing. The tang of the cheese met with the sweetness of the apples at exactly the right halfway point, resulting in a full and flavorful taste bite after bite. We also split the “Everything Roll” — a delightful tuna, shrimp, avocado and cucumber roll topped with a spicy crab salad and hand- rolled in-house. Although each piece just barely bordered on too big for a clean, one-bite execution, you could literally taste the freshness here. For the main course, the chef sent sesame-seared tuna cooked medium- rare atop a vegetable spring roll with a sweet onion-ginger marmalade. Although it tasted absolutely perfect alone, the wasabi cauliflower puree and soybean shitake nearly eclipsed anything on the table. Always curious what a chef chooses for himself, I had to know: What are Darren’s personal picks? “I tend to lean toward the seafood — I love anything from the sushi menu,” he says. “My favorite may be the tuna tartare — a dish of cubed raw tuna, cucumber and avocado tossed in a light wasabi mayonnaise. It has enough richness and enough heat and enough crunch, and it’s not too heavy. That’s what I get here just about every time.” And you can’t leave without trying a Lowcountry Spring Roll, a Rivertown Bistro signature dish with its own dedicated roller — an employee of over 20 years. Having staff stick around for several decades is a veritable anomaly in the food and beverage industry — and Darren has several. It’s a testament to the truly pleasant environment that the restaurant provides. Just by perusing the menu alone, you may not grasp the high quality of the chef’s selections. Darren exclusively uses choice and prime beef, the finest cuts of meat and the freshest fish available, all with a keen understanding of cost and quality to value. Perhaps that’s what keeps this restaurant full day after day: People can count on quality here, so they keep coming back. “We are right on the coast; we are surrounded by this amazing, fresh fish,” he says. “I stay as local as I can. It’s been nice making relationships with Harrelson’s Seafood Market, right down the road, and with the local people who grow vegetables — it’s a nice network we’ve made.” To that end, “shopping small” is important to Darren. Palmetto Farms, also featured in this issue of Life Connections, has been providing grits, cornmeal and rice to Darren since he opened. His dedication to supporting fellow local businesses is also evidenced by his partnership with a hometown cooperative like HTC. “We’ve had a great relationship with HTC,” explains Darren. So much so, in fact, that Darren knows he can call his contact (and personal acquaintance) at HTC and have confidence he will be quick on the draw. “You just can’t get that with any other provider.” To that, we raise a glass and say, "Pass the spring rolls." Get a taste for yourself, or host your next event in the private dining room. Call 843-248-3733 for reservations, and visit www. rivertownbistro.com to learn more. ADDRESS: 1111 Third Avenue, Conway HOURS: Open Tuesday through Saturday Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner: 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Tues., Wed., Thurs.; until 10 p.m. Fri. & Sat. (Closed Sunday and Monday) LIVE MUSIC EVERY SUNDAY Get entertained on the river 'fun menu' Take in the riverfront vibe Be sure to check out Darren’s other local restaurant, Bonfire — A Smokin’ Taqueria. Set on the Waccamaw River in Conway, Bonfire is more casual, but no less satisfying than Rivertown Bistro. The joint offers a range of smoked pork, tacos and BBQ to the rave reviews of diners — visit www.smithsbonfire.com to learn more! Winner of “Best Conway Restaurant” 2017 Myrtle Beach Awards Ranked #1 for “Best New American Restaurant” in 2014 by WMBF News Best of the Grand Strand Awards Named to Southern Living magazine’s 2006 list of “Best Restaurants in South Carolina” 11 Winter 2018 | www.htcinc.net Darren Smith, Owner & Chef