Photos by Dave Zucker
Whiskey River is a gloriously inventive respite from the humdrum blues of quarantine takeout.
I have a confession to make. Despite the governor’s stay-at-home order, I have been practically living at downtown Peekskill’s newest restaurant, and it’s probably the only thing keeping me sane at this point.
Whiskey River, located on N. Division St in the former McDonald & Peacock Cider House, grabbed me from the start: When the sign went up, I was excited. When the website and Instagram launched, I was hooked. I was all set for opening weekend, coinciding with the town’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.…You can guess how that turned out.
“We did a soft opening on March 12 and had three solid days before the governor closed all restaurants down,” says owner Cynthia Rosario-Neville.
This is the Nevilles’ first restaurant — Cynthia owns her own advertising agency and husband Pat is retired military and FDNY — however you couldn’t tell from the spot’s quick pivot to carry-out. Original bartender Ashley Lurie, former chef-owner of Harrison’s Tannery, stepped in as interim head chef while GM Mark Hernandez has become a Jack of all trades, and the quartet figured out how a small space could draw in new customers. (Those Instagram pics really help.)
The house menu is purposefully small and designed to keep customers coming back. Every week, new dishes rotate in to replace old ones: a mezze platter, veal bratwurst, and a pulled smoked chicken and chimichurri sandwich one week, Indian tacos, spicy Asian chicken soup, and pork bao buns the next.
While always on the menu, the burrata salad shifts every week as well: I’ve tried melon, Mexican street corn and mushroom, and a bacon-and-blue cheese wedge in as many weeks.
What’s the empanada of the day? You’ll have to call to find out: It’s always a surprise.
There are, of course, a few house specialties that aren’t leaving the menu any time soon. Ahi tuna fish tacos are always a good call. Wings are brined, baked, then fried, and always available in four flavors: truffle Buffalo (wade with real truffle, not that oil nonsense), Asian sticky sauce, garlic parmesan, and blueberry BBQ, as well as the occasional surprise flavor like Vadouvan French curry, all served with celery and house-made blue cheese.
Oh, but the house’s namesake Up the River Burger might just be my new nominee for best burger in the county. A double-double quarter-pound beef patties and American cheese, this titanic beast of a sandwich comes on toasted brioche with extra thick slabs of candied bacon, beer cheese, crispy fried beer-soaked shallots, and Sriracha aioli, all served with your choice of house-cut salt & pepper fries or broccoli salad.
Utilizing their small kitchen to the fullest means, the staff at Whiskey River never serves anything less than the freshest dishes: Your burger is never frozen, there’s no freezer; your fries are hand-cut daily, because there’s nowhere to store 200 lbs of fries (and yes, that’s how much they go through each week, even during lockdown).
Even the cocktail menu is wildly creative: The prickly pear margarita is served in a 16oz zip-top freezer pouch reminiscent of an adult Capris Sun. Looking for the cure to what ails you? Try one of the bar’s 16o. cocktail-for-two kits, featuring medicinal bottles of spirits and all the garnishes you need to make a “Painkiller” (sort of a piña colada), Strawberry Buck (with Tito’s and club soda), a coffee-spiked Black Manhattan, or a “Filthy A.F. Martini.”
Prefer something a little lower ABV? The house also rocks a custom, internally cooled 18-beer tap system for domestic and imported craft and light beers, as well as a few select bottles. Pat Neville himself built the bar shelves, which adds a few carefully chosen wines and additional spirits to the drinks list, along with eight shelves of domestic and imported whiskey.
Even the atmosphere is lovely, for when that’s finally an option again, giving off cozy modern industrial vibes that complement the River’s gastro-comfort food menu. Peekskill regulars will also be excited for the eventual return of Division Street’s yearly outdoor dining and live music, something Whiskey River seems especially well-suited for.
All in all, Whiskey River has hit the ground running despite some serious hurdles in the market. They’ve partnered with local all-stars Blithe Bagels for a Mother’s Day gift basket and are already working on more team-ups and limited-time menu options. The food is outstanding, the drink options are copious (and quality), and for all that the prices are shockingly reasonable — only $12-$16 for most entrées in large portions, and $15-$20 for jumbo cocktails (though you can snag an 8oz happy hour margarita until 5 p.m. for just $5).
Local foodies will definitely want to check out this rising star in Peekskill’s downtown scene by putting in a take-out order now. By the time restaurants reopen, we’re not sure you’ll be able to get a reservation.
38 N. Division St,