Wine & Dine on the Water

From Put-in-Bay to Port Stanley, the Lake lake offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy a great meal with an even better view. Here are 10 of our favorites, along with top picks for quick-and-causal eats, on-the-go picnics and even a few riverfront options. 
After hibernating under a blanket of clouds all winter, there’s nothing more coveted than summer on Lake Erie. Imagine yourself sipping on a cold, perspiring glass of pinot grigio while lapping waves provide the soundtrack to a summer night of al fresco dining on exquisite culinary creations beside the lake. It’s a feast for your eyes and stomach.

With 871 miles of shoreline, there’s no shortage of waterfront dining options from which to choose. Here’s a round-up of mouthwatering options sure to drive you to the water’s edge. 

North East, Pennsylvania

Noosa brings a touch of Australia’s Sunshine Coast to the Lake Erie waterfront. Named for a stunning beach Down Under, the casual fish and seafood restaurant at the North East Marina highlights Pennsylvania-made wine, beer and spirits and from-scratch dishes.

The Experience: If you’re expecting typical bar food, you’re in for a refreshing surprise at this casual dock-and-dine restaurant. The inventive menu, stellar cocktail list and modern, chic surroundings perfectly complement the bold summer sunsets enjoyed on a large covered patio at the water’s edge.

The Menu: The menu may be small, but it makes up for it with the sheer variety of flavor profiles from around the world, such as shrimp ceviche and veal skirt stir-fry, makes up for it. Prices range from $11 to $-30, depending on whether you go for the smaller or bigger plates.

The Chef: Noosa is the third venture for chef/owner Dan Kern, an Erie native whose restaurant group also operates 1201 Kitchen, in Erie, and Bird, located at Five & 20 Brewing & Spirits in Westfield, New York. Opened in 2017, Noosa comes closest to capturing the carefree feeling Kern gets when vacationing in Australia, where he met his wife, Chrissy. “We both go back to visit often, and we long for the simple days eating and drinking champagne by the water,” Kern says. “Noosa is all about the lake; we try to reflect that same simple beauty back onto the plate and provide an atmosphere that allows people to connect and focus on each other.”

We Love: The snow cone you craved as a kid has grown up and gone gourmet. Sip on one of the many tasty concoctions created with shaved ice from a fancy machine imported from Japan. Try the vodka, kiwi and mint blend.

Dock and Dine? Yes

Alley Cat Oyster Bar

When Alley Cat Oyster Bar opened in 2015 in the midst of a Flats East Bank revival, it was destined to be a sure thing with Chef chef Zack Bruell at the helm. While other restaurants have come and gone, Alley Cat continues to stay the course.

The Experience: Alley Cat’s casual, but chic, industrial design reflects the expansive view of the Flats and the Cuyahoga River right outside its window. With its two-story patio, diners have an unrivaled front- row seat for what Bruell calls an interactive show on the river, with Great Lake freighters navigating the crooked waterway. 

The Menu: The broad menu favors surf over turf. The raw bar, one of the few in Cleveland, features a variety of oysters. “We can easily crank out 2,000 oysters in a night,” says Bruell.

The Chef: Bruell dominates the Cleveland restaurant scene, with eight distinctive eateries in the city. He credits his success with never resting on his laurels. “We’re only as good as our last dining experience,” he says. “I keep my eyes on what’s in front of me and focus on what we’re doing.”

We Love: Load up on Blue Point Oysters for $2 each during the daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m.

Dock and Dine? Yes. Boat cleats are available along the Cuyahoga River, but there’s no docking in 11 designated safety zones, include a 600-foot section stretching from Alley Cat Oyster Bar north to the Norfolk Southern Bridgebridge.

The Keys
Put-in-Bay, Ohio

The Keys — the northernmost bar on South Bass Island — capitalizes on the flavor and flair of the Florida Keys at its waterside dining multiplex located next to the Jet Express dock in downtown Put-in-Bay.

The Experience: This is the place for a casual meal, frozen drinks and a tropical-vacation vibe. For the best views of Gibraltar Island and Perry'’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, it’s best to nab a spot on the waterfront deck under the colorful and shady sun sails. But even if you dine inside, the large, open windows bring the outdoors in.

The Menu: Diners have a variety options from salads to burgers priced from $11 to $-30, but the Caribbean-influenced items, such as conch fritters and key lime pie, are stand outs. Another tasty option are the Island Tacos that come a choice of mahi mahi, chicken or shrimp that can be grilled or blackened (yes, please!).

The Chef: Chef Chad Overmier, who trained at Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts, has overseen the menu at The Keys since it opened in 2011.

We Love: Fat Tuesday frozen drink specials are a steal. Our server recommended the Book’s Bushwacker. “It tastes like a Wendy’s frosty,” she says. We agree.

Dock and Dine? Yes, if you’re a member of the Park Place Boat Club.

The Beach House
Port Dover, Ontario

Every summer, sun seekers flock to Port Dover for Canada’s version of a tropical escape, complete with real palm trees swaying in the breeze. Little do they know, the palm trees are part of the ambiance of The Beach House, a casual restaurant that’s been operated by the Knechtel family since 2004.

The Experience: Diners can watch the action on the beach and commercial fishing boats come into the harbor with the latest catch while they sink their teeth into perch, walleye and smelt specialties on the back deck.

The Menu: The big draw is fish, but the eclectic menu has something to suit all tastes, whether it’s English-style fish and chips or the flavorful Jerk Pickerel (walleye) prepared with a house-made rub and served with mango chutney. Prices range from $13 to $21 for most items.

The Chef: Chef Jason Loft, who is new to The Beach House this year, recently moved back to Ontario from the Banff area. “He brought back new and exciting ideas that a small town like ours doesn’t normally see,” says Peter Knechtel, who operates the restaurant. “We’re going slow with introducing a new menu, but we run specials all the time that showcases his talent. Music is a bunch of notes arranged in different ways — and so is food. We have some different flavors than we had before.”

We Love: Sunday brunch has never been so decadent with The Beach House’s twist on eggs benedictBenedict. Specials change weekly, but the Lobster lobster Benedict with spicy mayo, field greens and crispy onions is a hit.

Dock and Dine? No. Nearby, the Port Dover Harbour Marina has 11 transient slips for visitors.

Pier W
Lakewood, Ohio

Pier W clings to the side of a cliff in a building that was designed to resemble the hull of a luxury cruise liner. For more than 50 years, the iconic restaurant has been top of mind among Clevelanders when it comes going out for a celebratory meal. 

The Experience: Located below street level, diners descend the stairs (or elevator), past a wall-sized aquarium and into a gorgeous open dining space with blue accents that complement the view of Lake Erie in the foreground and a shimmering city skyline in the distance. 

The Menu: Sustainably harvested seafood plays a starring role on the plate, but the menu also includes locally sourced land-based fare, including beef, lamb and pork. Prices range from $19 to $60 for entrées. 

The Chef: When Chef Regan Reik joined Pier W in 2006, the chef made it his mission to go to the source for the freshest seafood harvested with the least amount of impact on the environment, whether it’s farm raised or wild caught. 

We Love: The grand brunch on Sunday is amazingly decadent, but, at $42 per person, it’s definitely a splurge. But the daily Happy Hour bar menu is another story. With prices nearly slashed in half, there’s no reason not to load up on Prince Edward Island Musselsmussels, lobster bisque and a burger.

Dock and dine? No

Stone House 1891
Pelee Island, Canada

When Stone House 1891 opened its doors in May 2018, it brought new ideas and bold flavors to Pelee Island. With one season under its belt, the restaurant is ready to “take off its training wheels” and become a top destination spot in the middle of Lake Erie.

The Experience: While you can easily spend time sipping craft beer, including its own honey cream ale, at the interior bar surrounded by the historic structure’s exposed stone and wood trim, the big draw is being able to kick back with a drink on the large west-facing deck, watch the sun sink below the water line, play games on the lower patio and eat freshly prepared wood-fired pizzas and other shareables.

The Menu: Stone House wings, perch tacos and Neapolitan-style pizzas from the wood-fire oven have been the mainstay since Stone House 1891 opened, but the restaurant recently debuted new items like the panuzzi, a football-shaped sandwich made with bread baked moments before it reaches the table. Prices range from $9- to $20.

The Chef: Chef Joseph Petrinac cut his teeth working for the Ritz Carlton in France along with other upscale establishments in Europe and Canada. “He pays extraordinary attention to detail,” says co-owner Clayton Walls. “It matches the efforts we have put into making this an unforgettable and entertaining dining destination.”

We Love: You’ll be hard pressed to find a better margherita pizza, adorned simply with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil grown on the island. The secret is the silky-smooth, hand-tossed crust, made with Italian Caputo 00 Flour, a special blend that gives the pizza that its all-important crunch.

Dock and Dine? The West Dock Marina is a one-minute walk from the restaurant. Stone House 1891 also offers free pick up from Scudder Marina on the north shore for diners who call ahead and make a credit card deposit for a group of 6 six or more.

Chez Francois
Vermilion, Ohio

A historic sail loft in the former shipbuilding town of Vermilion has been the home of Chez Francois since 1987. It’s one of the few restaurants that still follows a strict dress code in its main dining room, which lends to its elegance and reputation as a special-occasion destination.

The Experience: Steeped in tradition, Chez Francois exudes Oold- wWorld sophistication without being too stuffy. On any given night, there are first-time visitors celebrating something special, but the restaurant has its fair share of loyal customers, who are in the know about the restaurant’s other more-casual dining areas, including the riverfront café and the Touché bar.

The Menu: Although butter, cream and sauces form the foundation of the rich French dishes, there are lighter options on the menu, too. Entreés, which range from $35 to $-55, include Beef beef Wellington and Assiette de Coquillage au Basilic, a seafood medley served over a saffron fettucine. 

The Chef: Co-owner and Chef chef John D’Amico has a reputation for creating dishes with consistent quality and freshness, which has earned the restaurant many accolades and repeat business year after year. “We have a vision for the restaurant,” says co-owner Matt Mars. “We don’t skimp on quality, but we still try to give value.”

We Love: A late-summer visit offers the best in alfresco dining and the widest range of fresh local ingredients, including the tomatoes used in the gazpacho amuse bouche, a complimentary starter that tempts the taste buds.

Dock and Dine? Yes. There are three dock spaces on site, and the Vermilion public boat dock, adjacent to the restaurant, can accommodate overflow.

Liberty Hound

When Liberty Hound opened in 2012, owners Jason Davidson and Mike Shatel were some of the first entrepreneurs to take a chance on the revitalization of the Canalside District at the western terminus of the historic Erie Canal. Their eatery, located next to the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park, is now a staple on the water, serving a thousand people on a summer day.

The Experience: Liberty Hound'’s 1,519-square-foot patio rocks one of the most unique places to get a brew with a view in Western New York. Not only is it adjacent to three historic naval vessels, it’s also directly across from the nightly light show projected on Buffalo’s Connecting Grain Elevator.

The Menu: While you’ll find Buffalonian favorites, like wings and beef on weck, Liberty Hound’s seafood specialties are the its most popular menu items. Asian-inspired tuna nachos, lobster grilled cheese and the shrimp po'’ boy hit the mark with prices under $20.

The Chef: Chef Max Moore stepped into the Liberty Hound’s kitchen three years ago to take on the high-volume food production in a tiny space. “He knows how to manage the mass of people with incredible consistency,” says Davidson. “Guests have never been more complimentary.”

We Love: Weekday happy hour with margaritas for $5, plus beer and wine specials, not to mention great deals on such appetizers such as steamed clams and fish tacos.

Dock and Dine? Yes. Seasonal docking space at Canalside is available on first- come, first- serve basis. 

Bayfront Grill at the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel 
Erie, Pennsylvania

The 11-year-old Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel is at the heart of Pennsylvania’s Riviera. Located at Dobbin’s Landing, its Bayfront Grille capitalizes on its waterfront location with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor patio with seating for 120 people.

The Experience: The Bayfront Grille’s patio is a popular spot on the weekends when live music accompanies the contemporary cuisine influenced that is influenced by both global and local tastes. The experience is enhanced by gentle ripples on the bay backlit by the glow of Bicentennial Tower.

The Menu: Prices range from $10 to $34. The restaurant’s signature dishes include filet mignon, crab-stuffed trout, crab cakes, pan-roasted salmon and crispy fried perch. Wash it down with the craft cocktails, including the Presque Isle Manhattan.

The Chef: With executive chef Matt Stallings on board, the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel has ranked the highest among all Sheraton properties for food and beverage quality for the last five years running. “He brings a unique culinary style to the Erie Bayfront,” says general manager Daniel Pora. “He combines local Erie cuisines with modern cooking styles that satisfy all the demographics of our clientele.”

We loveLove: The hotel restaurant is not too stuffy to have a little fun, especially in the winter months when couples can participate in the Polar Bear Challenge if they dare. If they can remain outside in temperatures below 30 degrees long enough to have a three-course meal with not-hot beverages, the meal is free.

Dock and Dine? Yes. A boat slip is located in the marina in front of the hotel. 

Horizons Restaurant at The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake
Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Whether staying as a guest at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake or not, Horizon’s Restaurant has been a favorite upscale dining venue in Ohio’s first summer resort town since it opened in 2004. Located in the heart of the state’s wine-producing region, the restaurant has its own certified wine specialist, who hand selects pairings to accompany the restaurant’s upscale American cuisine.

The Experience: The glass-enclosed octagonal dining room was built to give guests an unfettered view of Lake Erie while live piano music — on weekends — enhances the culinary experience. In warmer weather, take advantage of al frescoalfresco dining at the more relaxed Horizons Terrace Grill just outside. People naturally gravitate toward the Fire Terrace for sunset gazing with a glass of wine in hand.

The Menu: The menu changes seasonally to reflect the dedication executive chef Ashley Miller and Sous sous Chef chef Laura Bradek have toward local and seasonal fare, including 100 percent Ohio-raised beef, perch, walleye and tofu made in Cleveland. The new spring menu, debuting this month, will feature walleye chowder — a local spin on a classic soup recipe. Prices range from $17 to $35.

The Chef: Executive chef Ashley Miller joined The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in July 2017. “Chef Miller and his culinary staff have created an environment where the whole team builds and refines the Horizons menu as it changes with the seasons,” says general manager Eric Frantz. “The entire team can be heard calling out creative ideas while they work. Our guests love the results.”

We Love: Horizons Lounge features its own menu for more casual dining and hosts live entertainment on weekends. 

Dock and Dine? The Geneva State Park Marina has transient slips available. From there it’s a short walk to the The Lodge.

Keep it Casual
Roll in right off the water at these low-key lakefront hotspots. 

Dockside Café, located at Portside Marina on Kelleys Island, is as causal as they come with little more than a covered bar serving cocktails in plastic cups and a smattering of tables with umbrellas. But one glance at the menu and you’ll think you’re at an upscale restaurant. Drunken mussels, flat-iron steak and lobster martini are just a few of the favorites.

Bluebird Cafe in Lakeside, Ohio, offers super-fresh paninis, salads and smoothies, as well as fresh berries-and-cream and organic frozen yoghurt made with dairy from grass-fed cows. Grab a seat outside and enjoy a view of the pier and beach. 

Famous for neon orange-ade and a special sauce to accompany hot dogs and French fries, Mackie’s has been an essential part of any visit to Port Stanley’s Main Beach in Ontario since 1931. Step right off the sand and into this fast-food restaurant for some grub and arcade games.

The Hatch is a Buffalo classic known for grilled burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes by the Erie Basin Marina. It’s the go-to spot for a bite with views of the Buffalo Light that dates from 1833. In recent years, The Hatch has added a full-service bar and live music.

On a busy beach day in Port Dover, Ontario, the bathing-suit-clad masses line up at Knechtel’s on the Beach for heaping plates of lightly breaded fish. More than 300 pounds of Lake Erie perch pass through the restaurant’s walk-up windows each day.

Woody’s Backwater BARge & Grill became the first floating patio in Erie, Pennsylvania, when it opened in June 2018. Drink festive Caribbean-style cocktails while dining on sandwiches, salads and wraps with a view of the US Brig Niagara and Erie Maritime Museum.

Breakwall BBQ in Conneaut, Ohio, is so smokin’ good, it draws people from far and wide for pulled pork and beef brisket served out of a nondescript cinder-block building with a green tarp-covered back deck overlooking the harbor marina.

Pick-up a Picnic 
With one quick stop, you can enjoy a delicious meal at the table or bench of your choice.

Pick up provisions at Gitta’s Table and Wine Shop in Avon Lake, Ohio, then head to Miller Road Park just down the road, which has picnic tables, shelters, a playground, walking path, boat launch and pier. The espresso bean cookie will rev you up after feasting on giant crusty-bread sandwiches and pasta salad.

Pull over at Birdie’s Perch for a Yellow Perch Cone stuffed with five pieces of perch, hand-cut fries and North Carolina slaw. Then make your way to Point Pelee National Park, where the southernmost spot of Continental continental Canada famously comes to its end in Lake Erie. But don't expect to enjoy a picnic at the point unless you want gritty sand mingling with your meal. Instead, park between Dunes and West Beach parking lots and find an empty picnic table on the uninterrupted beach.

Rudder’s Cafe in Port Clinton, Ohio, is the go-to place for carry-out before getting on the Miller Ferry for a trip to the islands. But who are we kidding? Chances are those pastries are gone long before the boat docks. But Iif you can manage to wait to eat your soup and sandwich, South Bass Island State Park has tree-covered picnic tables, plus a small beach and rentals for excursions on the water. 

Erie, Pennsylvania, is known for its pepperoni balls, which are best described as bite-size pizza poppers. Teresa’s Deli will heat theirs them up while you wait. Enjoy them at the Waterworks Area at Presque Isle State Park for a bay or beach snack and easy access to surrey rentals for further exploration.

Buffalo, New York, has its fair share of delis, but Sue’s NY Deli is a downtown favorite. To avoid the long lunch lines, order reubens, Philly wraps and gyros ahead — or, better yet, have them deliver your order directly to LaSalle Park, located where Lake Erie meets the Niagara River.

Explore Other Waters
Lake Erie isn’t the only game in town. Check out these other waterfront eateries. 

Ellicottville Brewing Company Co. expanded its brand to Chautauqua Lake in 2016 and opened the seasonal Ellicottville Brewing on Chautauqua in Bemus Point, New York. Open May to December, the brew pub plans its menu to pair perfectly with its IPAs, Ppale Aales, Bbrown Aales, Stouts stouts and seasonal offerings. All go hand-in-hand with the Chautauqua’s summer vacation vibe.

Top of the Falls Restaurant famously boasts a panoramic view of Niagara Falls from its prime location in the Niagara Fall State Park on the U.S. side of the border. The burger selection, named after features in the park, includes Bridal, which oozes with N.Y.-made cheese and a loganberry-white wine BBQ sauce.

Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge in Wyandotte, Michigan, makes good use of its riverfront location with ground level and upper deck al frescoalfresco dining. Adjacent to the Motor City Marina, the restaurant offers fine dining in a laidback setting across from the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

Brim House, located in the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, overflows with views of the Maumee River, not to mention artfully prepared cuisine with global and southern Southern influences. Pickling, braising and smoking are some of chef Aaron Lawson’s skillsets that lend bold flavor to the menu, which includes sharable charcuterie plates and lamb shank with a caramel lamb jus.

Watch giant freights navigate the Welland Canal while dining on gourmet steak, pasta or seafood dishes at Canalside Restaurant Inn & Kitchen Store in Port Colborne, Ontario. The quaint restaurant has a couple of coveted tables on the outside patio that overlooks the canal.