You needn't be an Olympic hopeful or even a weekend sportsman to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
You could just be hungry.
The River's Edge Bar & Grill offers a spectacular spectator's view of the nearly three-year-old, 307-acre park near the Catawba River and its three man-made channels.
For couples, concerts outside from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, May through October, may be a welcome alternative to dinner and a movie.
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Singles are just as likely to munch and mingle indoors at the bar and outside on the elevated patio, which offers an even better view of canoeing, kayaking and raft rides.
Want a serving of adrenaline before dinner? Try the rock-climbing wall, or call ahead to sign up for a raft ride.
“This is a really unique place,” said Nicholas Dowling, a 2007 Johnson & Wales University grad who manages the dining room. “It's a world-class training facility, and it's fun for all. Our crowd is so diverse.”
Fellow JWU alum Ben Lanier introduced a new menu at the smoke-free restaurant in March, and his creations are diverse.
It's got Southern favorites such as a pulled pork sandwich with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce ($8.95) and a pimento cheese melt ($6.95).
Tender, dry-rubbed pork ribs with two side dishes ($13.95) are among four entrées served after 5 p.m. The classic burger ($8.95) and chicken tenders ($6.95) are family favorites, and families are abundant among the park's yearly visitors, who are expected to exceed 1 million this year.
Salads are available for health-conscious diners. The Beijing Salad is a nod to the Olympics. It's made with salad greens, chicken breast, red peppers, carrots, mushrooms and fried wontons in a sweet sesame dressing ($8.95).
There's also a hummus and vegetable wrap and a “TBLT.” That's pan-seared trout, thick-cut bacon, spinach and tomato on focaccia bread (9.95).
Athletes who visit for training before a competitive event often choose one of three River's Edge Bowls, made with brown rice and red beans. Toppings include salmon or pulled chicken or pork.
The park's $5-per-vehicle parking fee also entitles guests to a serving of cobbler and ice cream, with purchase of a meal.
“We've got great food, great surroundings, and we have beautiful sunsets,” Dowling said. “You're watching people go rafting and enjoying a tasty appetizer and a great meal. It makes for an adventurous dining experience.”