Eight to Eat: Virginia Coastal Cuisine Must-Bites for Summer

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: May 29, 2015 | Updated: Jun 19, 2017

Comments: 16 Comments

Although Coastal Virginia is a relatively new term to describe Virginia’s low country, it isn’t a new region.

Rappahannock River Oysters

This area is ancient; waters of the Atlantic Ocean have lapped against the shoreline well before written record. The Chesapeake Bay is old too, forming some 10,000 years ago as rising sea levels flooded the area around a meteor impact crater.

In this region salt water and brackish water are home to an amazing array of sea life, and soil is sandy and loamy and perfect for growing many edible treasures.

Those dynamics come together to craft a unique Coastal Cuisine – some of it old, some of it new. It’s centered around seafood, but isn’t exclusive to that. Sometimes it’s the use of signature produce, like sweet potatoes. Sometimes it’s a preparation method, like dredging in cornmeal and cooking in a cast-iron skillet. It’s a richly historic, multi-faceted way of cooking.

But one thing remains the same, regardless of time or place: the main hallmarks are fresh, seasonal, simply prepared ingredients which create a sense of place and a sense of palate.

A day exploring along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, relaxing at Virginia Beach, or traversing the Northern Neck give a good idea of what life is like here and what foods flavor the region.

Memorial Day has come and gone, and summer is knocking at the door; now is the time to explore some of the seasonal dishes in the region.

Here are eight of our favorite dishes (and where to get them) that say Virginia Coastal Cuisine to us:

 

BRONZED TUNA TACO

At Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar, Norfolk

Inside this fun and festive crab shack fresh seafood abounds, prepared by chef/owner David Watts. A nod to the surfing culture in the region, the Bronzed Tuna Taco takes a local fish, cooks each side at sizzling temperatures in a fire-hot skillet until golden, and serves in flour tortilla with such cooling ingredients as queso fresco, lettuce, salsa and sour cream. Baja beans and rice comes on the side.

Captain Groovy's

 

FRIED FLOUNDER SANDWICH

At Island House Restaurant, Wachapreague

Located about midway up Virginia’s Eastern Shore is the hamlet of Wachapreague. This village stands on the marshy waterways that meander out into the Atlantic Ocean and is called Flounder Capital of the World. As such, we crave the fried flounder sandwich at Island House, a replica of a turn-of-the-last-century lifesaving station. Presented is a delicate fillet fried golden brown and delicious and served on a kaiser roll with lettuce, tomato and onion. We like the cole slaw as our side.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

At The Landing, Virginia Beach

Open and expansive, The Landing focuses on local fare and fresh seafood. One of the appetizers we love is a southern classic – with a twist. Available at brunch and dinner, green tomatoes from nearby farms in Pungo are sliced to a perfect thickness and lightly coated and fried crispy and golden brown. Served with a drizzle of remoulade studded with blue crab, more blue crab is sprinkled on top, along with microgreens and applewood bacon.

OYSTERS, RAW AND ROASTED

At Merroir, Topping

Forget farm to fork, this is fork to farm. This quaint Middle Peninsula eatery is located on the banks of the Rappahannock River, overlooking where the oysters you are about to eat are grown. Heck, you can even watch the oyster boats being unloaded at the adjacent docks. Since you’ve come to the source, get the oysters. On the half-shell are Rappahannocks (sweet), Stingrays (mild) and Olde Salts (briny.) Slurp each one with gusto, for they are truly delicious. Try some roasted too, served with roasted garlic butter.

Merroir

SIGNATURE LUMP CRAB CAKES

At Blue Seafood & Spirits, Virginia Beach

This tiny, tidy seafood-centric restaurant from chef/owner Charles Thain – who spent much of his career on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – is soothing in cobalt blue and summer white. The crab cake is soothing too: packed with jumbo lump meat picked by Miss Libby Anne (a longtime picker in Deep Creek, near Onancock, on the Shore) from blues freshly plucked from Virginia waters. The cake is simply seasoned and broiled, it’s gorgeous bronzed crust concealing the sweet, tender crab inside.

SWEET POTATO ENCRUSTED ROCKFISH

At Smithfield Station, Smithfield

On the marshy Pagan River, the nautically-inspired Smithfield Station offers expansive water views and a menu focusing on seafood. Four of Coastal Virginia’s culinary calling cards – sweet potatoes, rockfish, country ham and blue crab – is offered in the delicious Sweet Potato Encrusted Rockfish. Here the striped bass fillet is marinated in honey, stuffed with Smithfield ham and jumbo lump crabmeat, rolled in sweet potato and then pan-seared. It is topped with pearl onions, honey cream sauce and crispy sweet potato straws.

Sunset on the Pagan River in Smithfield

 

TOMMY’S CLAMS

At Harper’s Table, Suffolk

In charming downtown Suffolk, just up from the wandering Nansemond River that feeds into the James, and then the Bay, is Harper’s Table, an upscale-but-approachable fine dining restaurant focusing on Southern cuisine. Start with one (or two, or three) of chef/owner Harper Bradshaw’s Pork Belly Biscuits and then enjoy Tommy’s Clams, a delightful offering of bivalves from Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Perfectly steamed in a broth of chardonnay, garlic and shallots, they are served with crispy grilled bread for sopping up the remains.

 

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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16 Comments on "Eight to Eat: Virginia Coastal Cuisine Must-Bites for Summer"

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Shannon Grimley
Guest

Try
Dockside Restaurant & Tiki Bar
Colonial Beach, VA 22443
http://WWW.DOCKSIDETIKIBAR.COM
#PlaygroundOnThePotomac

Kim levesque
Guest

I have just brok n some bones in my foot with a bad sprain in my ankle. I will use my new found time to visit and write reviews on these restaurants. I know my seafood being from Long Island NY and have been looking for a bit of a challenge being laid up for the next bit.

Barbara Bademian
Guest

Great fried green tomatoes at the Landing? Surely you jest! Honestly, these things taste like there were pre frozen, pre packaged.

Charles LeVecque
Guest

The only Eastern Shore restaurant is the Island House?….Shame on you….how about Capt. E’s Hurricane Grill in Saxis? ….That’s right, you don’t know where Saxis Island
is….

Denita
Guest

We have eaten at Merroir twice in the last 3 weeks. Both times were memorable, for the food, the service, watching the operation plus enjoying the beautiful changes to eating outside with the Arbor, the grass with the new tables and docks. Very exciting and so lovely! even in the warmth of August.

Ruth
Guest

Captain Groovy’s mac and crab was delicious, and fried oysters were just as good.

diana
Guest

Surf Rider Crab Cakes!!

Michelle RedBow
Guest

Don’t forget Croakers on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach!!! Try the Oyster Williams and their Rockfish St. Charles… The BEST Seafood and steaks at the Beach!!!!

joealvey
Guest

I agree with Michelle, 100% … even to the specifics, the Rockfish St. Charles! Casual dining at one of the Beach’s best kept secrets.

Brandon
Guest

Yea, The Deadrise on Ft. Monroe in Hampton, Va. You’re welcome.

Tammy
Guest

Wilkerson’s in Colonial Beach!!

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