Niagara Gazette

Columns

June 21, 2014

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: A visit to the Old Bedell Grill

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Mariners — Until the South Grand Island Bridge opened about this time in 1935, visitors arrived here by boat, berthing at the east end of what we unimaginatively call Ferry Road. Feasting frequently followed. When the bridge opened the ferry folded but now, almost 80 years later, dockside dining has returned.

We visited on Father’s Day. Doug could have stayed all afternoon, watching the boats pull in, the hot dogs sizzle and the clam broth emit its fragrant vapor. It was one of those “Goldilocks” weather days so coveted by Perry Jost, new proprietor of the Old Bedell Grill.

Here once stood the Bedell House, a Roaring ‘20s getaway destroyed by fire about a quarter-century ago. The late Charlotte Guenther kept the surviving shed going ‘til she was called up. Two summering schoolteachers ran it three years until they toted up the balance sheet and realized their profits amounted to less than minimum wage.

Enter Perry Jost, a Californian, and partner Deborah Saxton Lewis, Islander by birth. “Maybe I had different, West Coast, eyes,” he told us this week during a brief break from a breathless schedule.

“But what I saw was a long stretch of river without a lot of places to pull in.” (One, Turner’s First Turn about a mile to the north, has a profitable, but more party-driven, clientele.)

It’s a lovely setup. A hand-hewn wooden deck extends about 20 yards out above the water, and for the less adventuresome there are bumbershooted tables within a whiff of the grill. Actually, the olfactory sensations extend pretty far. We saw several craft in mid-river suddenly turn west. Jost says a sea-level sign – not visible from land – heralds the Grill’s presence, but also, “your nose will tell you.”

The key to success, Jost says, is “consistency, just knowing that we’ll always be there.” It’s open 11 a.m. until the indefinite dusk and last year ran ‘til mid-October, this year perhaps not so long. Besides the standard dog-and-burger fare there are crab cakes (all gone by the time we arrived), clams, baked wings and a roasted chicken that was gaining raves on Father’s Day. (We had a later engagement.)

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