The Terwilliger Family, Owners of Riverview Cafe
Misty C. Lee
Down a winding, two-lane road that passes through scrubby maritime forest that seems to thrive in this coastal fishing village, giving Sneads Ferry almost a fairytale feeling, the view opens up to a wide expanse of blue sky and the New River. After taking one more quick turn, the Riverview Restaurant appears, its wooden frame freshly painted taupe after a bad run-in with Hurricane Florence. The restaurant sits just a few feet from the riverbank, where Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base can be seen in the distance just across the river.
Since it opened as an oyster bar in 1946, the Riverview Restaurant has earned a reputation among locals and tourists alike for fresh-off-the-boat seafood; in particular, shrimp. The Terwilliger family has been frying and broiling the best shrimp around since the days when a dollar could buy a fried shrimp dinner. A time-worn menu from 1946 hangs on the wall near the entrance, showing that a plate of fried shrimp was just as popular then as now. Today, a large whiteboard with the day’s specials are on display, with peel-and-eat shrimp, grilled Mahi, fried oysters and clam strips among the offerings.
“The fact that you’re looking at the river where a lot of the seafood is coming from makes a difference,” says Manager Andrew Terwilliger, who spent summers as a child working in the restaurant. “I have been cleaning fish that were literally swimming an hour before they’re on your plate. That’s as fresh as it gets in my opinion. I can attest to that.”
When oysters are in season, the Riverview serves “oysters in the shell” pulled from Stump Sound, which is almost within view of the restaurant. Among oyster lovers, the Stump Sound variety is as good as it gets. “They have a unique quality to them because of how the water washes in,” Terwilliger says. “There’s something special about them. I had a guy the other night who only wanted oysters if they were Stump Sound oysters.”
Arrive By Boat Or Drive Across The High-Rise Bridge From Topsail Island
Traveling by boat, the Riverview Restaurant is this close to Topsail Island, where there are restaurants aplenty offering tasty seafood and entertainment. Even so, lots of folks like to gather up their families and drive across the high-rise bridge to the mainland fishing village, where the Riverview is located. Some come looking for fresh local seafood; others come for a sense of nostalgia because they grew up going to the Riverview on special occasions with their parents or grandparents. Some are looking for the Riverview’s friendly welcome; it’s not unusual for waitresses to remember what your regular order is, or to ask about the rest of your family. The warmhearted atmosphere extends to the kitchen, where many of the staff are either related to the Terwilligers or have been working with them for twenty to thirty years.
“I waited on this man one time. He got a piece of chocolate pie and it brought him to tears, literally, because it reminded him of his mom,” says Julianna Terwilliger. “He hadn’t had pie in a long time that tasted so close to his mom’s. It’s one of those things, it brings you back to home. Bonds, there are bonds here.”
Today, on one side of the kitchen, a large pot of collards is coming off the stove, while one of the cooks, Melissa Hunter, is making macaroni and cheese for the lunch crowd. She came to the restaurant in 1991 and later learned to make the Riverview’s famous pies from the original pie maker, Janice Terwilliger, whose father, Jimmy Lewis, was the restaurant’s first owner. Janice Terwilliger is a well-loved part of the Riverview’s history: much of the seafood is caught on the restaurant’s own shrimp trawler, affectionately named “Miss Janice,” and her recipes are still used to this day.
“My grandma definitely had an impact on a lot of what we do here, her pies especially,” Julianna Terwilliger says. “These are her recipes and it’s a piece of your heart. Every time we’re serving these pies and people say how good they are, it gives me a feeling of home. My grandma loved to cook. It was her thing. It’s nice to see, even though she’s gone, that everything she worked for is still going.”
Misty C. Lee is a long-time local Onslow County resident and freelance writer. Photos by Onslow County Tourism.