Coastal Cuisine in Virginia’s River Realm
A Spotlight on Some of Our Unique Coastal Cuisines
Chefs from around the world have made their home here in the River Realm. Others grew up here on the waters, learning from generations of watermen before them. The mixing of cultures and traditions creates some of the finest flavors in the Chesapeake Bay region. Take one look at our Foodie Guide and you’ll understand what we mean.
Drawing from the local rivers and Bay, our restaurants and foodie spots will draw you in and keep your cultural curiosity fed at every turn. Along the way, you’ll be exposed to a variety of influences and experiences as you indulge. Here are a few of our most unique coastal cuisine discoveries:
Inspired by the Keys
Chef Bryan Byrd grew up in Virginia’s River Realm. His stepfather was a third generation waterman. He’s spent more than a decade working in the restaurant industry here. He’s familiar with the local watermen and knows how to cook up fresh, creative seafood menu items. He serves them up from his roaming Byrd’s Seafood food truck. From frog legs to soft shell crab, Bryan always has something new and interesting to try. What’s different about Bryan’s creations is the kick! He spent five years in Key West. Thanks to his time here, he delivers foodies like you a taste of what he grew up with, but with a Caribbean spin.
Try the grilled oysters on the half shell with jalapeno sauce. Dig in to his well known and loved oyster tacos, which feature spicy Sriracha and key lime coleslaw. Check his Facebook page to find out where he’ll be during your visit.
Welcome to Europe
During a visit to the River Realm 15 years ago, Don Marvin fell in love with the area. We’re glad he did. He and his wife purchased Eckhard’s Restaurant, which he transformed into an elegant fine dining getaway worth the trip from wherever you are. While Don serves up contemporary American classics including Black Angus steaks, his dishes heavily feature fresh seafood, oysters and soft shell crabs from the Rappahannock River. He adds an authentic German and Italian twist to his dinner and dessert items.
Kick off your meal with Breaded Oysters served over white wine sauce and topped with a creamy pesto sauce. For the main course, one of our favorites includes the Clams Fra-Diavolo, which features one dozen fresh clams simmered in spicy marinara sauce over linguini. It’s sure to fill you up. Wash it all down with draft German beer, imported beers, specialty wines and cocktails.
Straight from the River
There aren’t many people who know and love the Virginia oyster quite like Rufus Ruark. He has worked in the oyster business for 40 years. His father opened Shores & Ruark in 1976 and the family opened Urbanna Seafood Market and Raw Bar five years ago. You can visit the hidden foodie gem by driving down a winding dirt road or pulling up by boat. The raw bar offers a truly unique experience to enjoy fresh seafood creations as they come in right off the boat. Shores & Ruark is known for its wild caught and aqua-farmed oysters, which they ship and serve all over the region. At the raw bar, however, you can enjoy savory seafood favorites while you watch the boats roll in and the sun set.
Thanks to fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, you have to try the Crab Balls with a Zesty Remoulade Sauce, Crab Bites, Crab Cakes and seasonal soft shell crab creations. If you want to get your hands dirty, dig into a Low Country Boil for two. If you want take-out or to play chef at your own backyard party, head to the Urbanna Seafood Market next door for fresh fish, oysters, clams and crabs.
A Bit of the Bayou
The Tides Inn blends a unique atmosphere of laidback luxury and natural beauty. Set in Carter’s Creek, you can enjoy a meal in the Chesapeake Room or on the terrace, both with a view of the River Realm. Here, Chef TV Flynn serves up a variety of high end dishes featuring produce, herbs, and seafood from the area. Because of his farm-to-table approach to cooking, every bite is touched with an extra fresh flavor. He’s a transplant from New Orleans, so expect a bit of a kick to some of his traditional recipes.
A few of our favorites include the She Crab Soup. It’s a rich recipe and definitely has a bit of heat. If you’re looking for even more eat, you can’t go wrong with the signature “Angry Oysters. These fresh Rappahannock oysters are lightly roasted and tossed in a butter-based hot sauce and served with traditional watermelon rind relish.
Right Off the Boat
To truly understand the beauty of where your River Realm seafood comes from, you need to get on a boat. Let one of our authentic working waterman act as your personal guide on a Watermen’s Heritage tour or a Virginia Oyster Academy. Local captains have created their own personal water tours. While on board their deadrise boats, you can learn about the ecology of the Bay, how seafood is harvested, and our foodie history.
As you head out onto the water and bring in fresh oysters, crabs and clams, our captains will show you how to shuck, prepare and slurp them down. If you aren’t ready to try them raw, then indulge in roasted oysters and steamed crabs. As you start to dig in, you’ll have a hard time not wanting to bring the bounty of the bay home with you. Learn more about the Virginia Oyster Academy and the Watermen’s Heritage Tours.
As you take notes from our favorite restaurants and watermen, we hope you discover a new passion for cooking up these delicacies yourself. Whether you’re here visiting friends or headed back home, be sure that the taste of the River Realm goes with you. There is a full list of places who package up fresh, local seafood to take back to the campground or to your own backyard.
Chef Helen Elizabeth Ward at The Table at Wilton features cooking classes incorporating River Realm grown ingredients and locally fished seafood to help you create dishes that will tempt your curiosity and feed your soul.
J & W Seafood is just one of the purveyors of fresh local seafood. Here, you can pick up prepared seafood dishes, gourmet foods, beverages and sauces. You can also fill up your trunk with live crabs, steamed crabs, soft shell crabs, raw oysters, scallops, shrimp, clams, and rockfish. Don’t forget to grab something from their selection of specialty micro-brews and wines for the perfect pairing. Ask when “sugar toads” are in season. And no, it’s not frog’s legs. See a full list of places to pick up seafood.
From the Land
It’s not all crabs and oysters down here. The creative culinary prowess of our coastal region produces other drool worthy bites. Southern flare and down-home cooking are the backbone to some of our other local favorites.
If you’re a brunch fan, we recommend Car Wash Cafe for their famous Huevos Rancheros and homemade sausage gravy. For more down home breakfast items, Big Oak Cafe is sure to fill you up with items like French toast, fried green tomatoes, and traditional chicken salad.
If you’re craving red meat, take a walk to NN Burger. Their handcrafted burgers, Twister Chips and hand-spun milkshakes are an adventure all their own. Enjoy in-house smoked meats at Something Different. Order items including Texas-style beef brisket, tri-tip beef, baby back ribs with homemade dry rub, and kickin’ chicken.
More Coastal Cuisine to Love
The River Realm is packed with eateries in every corner. Make sure you visit our Business Directory to get a full list of places to enjoy our favorite coastal cuisines. Our blog is also full of new ideas and lists to indulge while you’re visiting our enchanting part of the world.
Share Your Foodie Finds
You’ll have a hard time not wanting to snap photos of all of your coastal cuisine finds. We want to see your perfect flat lays and smiling faces! Tag us using @virginiasriverrealm and we’ll share your photos of your favorite foodie shots.