By George Culver
Hampton Roads has had a boom in food and drink establishments over the past several years. People will catch me out and ask, “Have you tried ‘so-and-so’ yet? It’s sooo good!” When that happens these days, I more often than not hear myself saying that I haven’t made it there yet.
So when someone recently suggested that my wife and I check out Blue Seafood and Spirits in Virginia Beach, I looked it up online.
The crab cakes on the menu drew my attention. I love crab cakes, and I will eat them whenever the opportunity arises! I’m not a list kind of guy, but I do have a list of places where I’ve eaten them, and I do keep score.
Shelby and I headed out to Red Mill Commons on a Tuesday night. We hoped it wouldn’t be too crowded early in the workweek, and we were right. I’ve heard Fridays and Saturdays are crazy in there, and we wanted a little space and time to take it all in.
There is plenty of parking outside the strip in which the restaurant is nestled. We pulled up close and ran in to escape the cold.
The Buy Fresh, Buy Local sticker on the front door was a good sign we’d like it. I’d already read that Blue’s chef/owner, Charles Thain, likes to locally source food and supports farm-to-table practices.
We were immediately greeted as we passed through the doorway and told we could sit wherever we like. We settled into the corner spot near the bar that the server suggested.
I peeked over at the bar next to us to check out the drafts. I immediately recognized each of the beer handles, which all belonged to local breweries: St. George, Smartmouth, Young Veterans, O’Connor and Back Bay. The beer menu had a great bottle selection from the region and beyond, as well.
Shelby went with a Red Nun from O’Connor ($6), and I had Smartmouth’s Rule G ($6). I needed something bright and green to remind me of warmer weather.
As our server, Tonya, told us a bit about the restaurant and the chef, Chef Thain delivered a canapé — crostini topped with in-house smoked Nassawadox Creek oysters on dill cream cheese – to each table.
Shelby fell in love with the oyster immediately, delicate and bursting with flavor. I started to get really excited about what we would be having for dinner. This bite set the bar high.
We decided to try half a dozen raw oysters on the half shell ($6) and a bowl of crab soup ($6.99). The menu described the soup as “ever changing,” meaning it could be tomato-based, sweet corn or classic she-crab style.
Chef Thain reappeared with a couple of small sweet potato biscuits on the house, another gift for the night’s diners. They were delicious, and the accompanying apricot butter took them up a level. Don’t miss these marvelous morsels if you go.
The oysters came out quickly, perfectly shucked and meaty, chew and a little grassy, with a faint melon/apple flavor.
The crab soup was on the table right behind the oysters. The restaurant served the tomato version that night, and the light acidity from the tomato base immediately popped out. The soup was well-seasoned, with a lot of sweet blue crab. While we finished our appetizers, we finally figured out what we were going to eat for dinner.
One of Tuesday night’s specials was the Eastern Shore dinner ($17.99, normally $21.99), a broiled lump crab cake and fried oysters with a choice of two sides. Shelby ordered that, while I got the seafood Belle Haven ($24.99), a broiled seafood platter complete with crab cake, mahi mahi (the fresh catch) and dry-packed scallops. We both ordered Asiago mashed potatoes and vegetables on the side.
The fried oysters Shelby got with the Eastern Shore dinner were excellent – perfectly seasoned, lightly breaded and not overcooked, almost melt-in-your-mouth. The crab cake was juicy, and if there was filler in it, you couldn’t find it. The sweet blue crab was moist and a pleasure to eat.
My seafood Belle Haven was also cooked perfectly. It showcased the seafood on the plate and the portions were good. We both ended up taking home close to half of our plates.
We were pretty much done for the night until Tonya came by and told us about dessert – Key lime pie made by the chef’s wife, and a chocolate bread pudding with Crown Royal crème anglaise. Probably not the best idea, but we had to order the bread pudding ($6.99) just because of the name. It sounded too fancy to pass up.
It was beautiful and irresistible; we devoured the whole thing. I ate more than half of it and I don’t usually do dessert.
At the end of our meal, we chatted with Chef Thain about his passion for supporting local produce, seafood and meats. Showcasing local breweries was a priority for him, too. He said he wants to showcase what the area had to offer, and I think he has succeeded.
IF YOU GO
The Spot: Blue Seafood and Spirits, 2181 Upton Drive, Virginia Beach
The Vibe: Small, casual and warm
To Try: Crab cake, fried oysters, sweet potato biscuit with apricot butter
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday at 4 p.m.
Contact: blueseafoodandspirits.com or 757-689-5395