Seven for Summer: Virginia’s Hottest Destination Restaurants for the Summer Season

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: May 19, 2015

Comments: 9 Comments

The calendar may not say it’s officially summer until mid-June, but we all know the season starts in our hearts and minds on Memorial Day weekend.

Earth’s axis tilts a little more, and the days stretch out accordingly. We love it, because it gives us more daylight hours to enjoy Virginia and build up an appetite for several great Old Dominion eateries that are perfect during the summer.

No knock to our favorite cities in central and northern Virginia, but we mostly look at restaurants in the mountains and by the sea, two geographic areas we seem to gravitate towards, particularly when the thermometer rises.

Our appetite rises, too, for fresh, local, light fare done in the New Virginia cuisine style. Here are our picks:

 

—  FROM THE MOUNTAINS …   —

THE RESTAURANT:
Blue Mountain Brewery, Afton

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
At the brewpub in Afton, Blue Mountiain Brewery’s restaurant offers a charming setting, including an expansive patio, with the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. If the views and the sweet mountain air weren’t enough, this place has some great beer (in summer the Kolsch 151 is one of our go-tos) to enjoy right from the tap, along with tasty treats. Brewery tours are offered on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. and are complimentary.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
Start with a nice frosty mug of a Blue Mountain Brewery brewski and a Goodwin Creek Farms (from Nelson County) all-natural pretzel – large, savory, soft, fresh and delicious, served with a choice of Blue Mountain ale mustard (our pick) or housemade cheese sauce or house barbecue sauce.

Move on to a Bratwurst Pizza with apples and onions features flatbread, crispy on the bottom and topped with flavorful ingredients. On the pizza: Double H Farm bratwurst (from Nelson County) as well as caramelized onions, apples, mozzarella, fresh marinara and a balsamic reduction. It’s more than just pizza and beer.

Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain

THE RESTAURANT:
Bootleggers Café, Rocky Mount

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
Nestled up again the Blue Ridge Mountains and not far from the cooling waters of Smith Mountain Lake, Bootleggers Café pays homage to the region’s moonshine legacy in name and spirit. It also serves up delicious, approachable New American cuisine from sandwiches (they are noted for their puffwiches: stuffed puff pastry “sandwiches” to entrees. The charming restaurant, located in a renovated 1929 Coca Cola bottling factory, was a competitor in the 2015 Virginia is for Lovers Culinary Challenge for the Double Smoked Fatty.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
The Blind Pig plate offers a choice of three pork-centric dishes along with two sides and light, butter dinner rolls. From the meat options, we think barbecue pulled pork, barbecue-glazed pork flat iron and a quarter of a smoked chicken is swine-o-mite in our books.

This is a summer barbecue theme, and accordingly our side choices are a light, refreshing cucumber-tomato salad and bourbon baked beans. If you burned up some calories out on the lake during the day, add an extra side of cole slaw or macaroni and cheese.

 Bootleggers' Cafe

Bootleggers Café

THE RESTAURANT:
Harvest at the Mountain Lake Lodge, Pembroke

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
Atop Salt Pond Mountain, just a short distance from Blacksburg, this charming lodge not only offers overnight accommodations, but delicious dining as well. The summer heat is left at the base as your vehicle slowly makes its way up the winding road to the imposing 1938 stone building at a surface elevation of some 3,800 feet. Dine in the cool evening at Harvest, and look out across the grounds; if they seem familiar, it’s because much of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing was shot here.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
This is a highly seasonal and changing menu featuring many classic Appalachian dishes. Sustainable seafood, fresh meats and local fruits and vegetables find their way on the menu, and we love that. On our last visit, a delicious mountain trout was lightly dredged in flour and cornbread and fried until crispy on the outside and flaky and moist on the inside. It was served with several seasonal vegetables, and we enjoyed sitting on the covered balcony overlooking the lake as the day slowly faded into twilight.

 Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake Lodge

— TO THE SEA … —

THE RESTAURANT:
Mallards at the Wharf, Onancock

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a very special place, and just about smack-dab in the middle is the cute little town of Onancock. From a creek at town’s edge its just a short boat ride to the Chesapeake Bay.

House in a century-plus-old general store at the wharf, Mallard’s offers a Virginia-meets-Margaritaville feel of a fun fishshack with great food and beverages, excellent people watching, and a patio to sit back and watch the tide roll in.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
A wonderful dinner begins with a dozen local Sewansecott oysters, freshly shucked on served on the half shell in deep cups holding the briny liqueur.

Get Johnny Mo’s All Crab Cakes, large, delicious offerings of cakes lightly pan-sauteed with crab meat, spices/seasonings and nothing else except a ton of flavor and faulousness. The crab cakes are served with red skin mashed potatoes, asparagus and a pineapple-chipotle aioli.

 Mallards at the Wharf

Mallards at the Wharf

THE RESTAURANT:
Salacia at The Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Virginia Beach

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
Located inside the beautiful Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, one enters Salacia and into a clubby, comfortable world. The interior is relaxing – what we love so much about summer. Cobalt blue, sandy brown and marine white reflect the outdoors – which is the beach. Sit outside and hear the ocean waves crash, smell the salt air, and count your blessings.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
We’ll be honest that we don’t often order lobster outside of New England because that’s where it’s fresh and local, but the Grilled Whole Maine Lobster at Salacia is the best we’ve had south of Connecticut. It’s large, perfectly grilled, moist, sweet and – in a word, heaven. It’s served simply grilled with a little bit of fresh herb butter and charred lemon on the side.

Another good bet (bite?) is whatever the fresh catch of the day is, because it truly is fresh, and, like the lobster, perfectly prepared. It’s grilled over hard wood to impart a delicate layer of smoke and served with roasted vegetables and a lemon-herb butter.

Salacia. Courtesy Photo.

Salacia. Courtesy Photo.

THE RESTAURANT:
The Chesapeake Club at The Tide’s Inn, Irvington

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
Tucked in a quiet cove just off the amazing Rappahannock River (you may hear it referred to as The Rivah in these parts), the venerable Tide’s Inn – a study in upscale but relaxed style, is a great retreat during the summer away from busier waterfront locales. There is a marina, spa, golf, gorgeous views and delicious food and wine at several of the resort’s dining facilities.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
Start with a glass of wine and a nibble (we’ve enjoyed the Smoked Fish Dip made with local catch and served with lavosh) at The Terrace Lounge. Lose yourself in one of the seagrass wingback chairs and watch the comings-and-goings on Carter’s Creek.

Move to The Chesapeake Club for supper, a wood-paneled dining room that glows in the late afternoon sun. Starting with a dozen of the famous Rappahannock oysters is a must (get them flash-fried and served with pickled watermelon rind). A favorite has been the Panko-Crusted Bay Flounder with pea tendril salad in lemon vinaigrette and charred lemon.

 The Tide's Inn

The Tide’s Inn

—  AND ONE IN-BETWEEN  —

THE RESTAURANT:
Amuse at the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, Richmond

WHY IT’S PERFECT FOR SUMMER:
When traversing between east and west or north and south, you inevitably pass through Richmond, and that’s a good thing. The summer is a wonderful time to explore urban trails and historic sites and visit many of the world-class museums here.

Amuse, at the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, is a fine dining restaurant with a simple color palate and clean, crisp lines in its dining room, and a welcoming patio to, making either a nice respite from the gorgeous galleries.

IF YOU ONLY TRY ONE THING:
Try many things – one way we like to eat is by noshing on a number of small plates with guests at our table. Here are a few snacks/starters delicious little edible works of art: Kimchi Tater Tots, Deviled Eggs du Jour, Pimento Cheese Dip, Curry Fried Oysters with cucumber mint raita and pickled veggies and Chicken Liver Pate with crostini, onion, cornichons and mustard.

Amuse at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Amuse at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Patrick Evans-HyltonPatrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com

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9 Comments

Light Horse says:

Tides Inn is top notch. It’s a little off the beaten path, but worth the trip.

Anita says:

Have you been to the Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston (Giles County)?

patricia muldoon says:

we think its number 1

Paula says:

How do you leave out Chateau Morissette off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd? And think about going further south, exit on Route 58 East into Patrick County for Primland.

Hey Paula – we love Chateau Morrissette any time of the year, but we think autumn is when the views from the lovely restaurant are at their peak – sorry for the bad pun. We actually wrote about them in the fall destination restaurants last year, so we are showing some other great Virginia eateries some love in this article. And stay tuned – you never know where Primland may pop up in upcoming posts! We love to hear suggestions, so keep them coming! Best, Patrick (post author)

Teresa says:

You missed the River and Rail in Roanoke:(

Linda Mohr says:

I love the Mountain Lake Lodge.We used to go there when I was a child! It was wonderful!