It has been said before, but worth repeating: Like an army, groups move on their stomachs. Touring Virginia, there’s no end to dining options for your group travelers. From a full-blown culinary tour to a few memorable meals, let’s dine around, Virginia-style.
Virginia certainly has a rich tradition of food and drink. In the early 1800s founding father Thomas Jefferson planted and cultivated grapes. Today Virginia wineries utilize the fertile grounds in more than 225 locations. Local distillers and craft breweries are also springing up throughout the Commonwealth.
The first official Thanksgiving in America took place at Berkeley Plantation in 1619. The menu is long gone, but it’s a good bet a catch from Virginia’s abundant waters was on the table.
Enough history, though. Let’s fast forward to the present and take a look at one of Virginia’s treasures. The “Coastal Harvest Feast,” an itinerary offered by the Virginia Beach CVB, is a delightful taste of seaside Virginia communities. From the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay through the area’s rich agricultural heritage, you’ll enjoy a true taste of the region.
Our arrival in Virginia Beach begins with an introduction to some of the city’s best group-friendly restaurants. Off the beaten path on Rudee Inlet you’ll experience a progressive tasting at Rudee’s on the Inlet and Rockafeller’s Restaurant. A nice finish to the evening is a stroll in the gentle sea breezes on Virginia Beach’s famous boardwalk. There’s plenty of entertainment in season. Just off the boardwalk on Atlantic Avenue is the Seaside Raw Bar, which serves up good oysters and clams.
On day two we depart Virginia Beach and roll across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Our first stop is the Cherrystone Aqua Farm for a tour that takes us through the development of both oysters and clams. Virginia oysters have a regional flavor. In fact there are seven regions and each has a distinct salinity and a rating by saltiness, sweetness and buttery/creaminess. Our visit today borders on the Upper Bay and Lower Bay Eastern Shore regions.
Lunch with an incredible view is at the Aqua Restaurant in Cape Charles. You know the oysters we’re enjoying are fresh. They were harvested and sent from the Cherrystone Aqua Farm this very morning.
For dessert we’ll venture to Cape Charles’ quaint downtown and the Cape Charles Coffee Shop, housed in a former bank and clothing store. Remnants of the latter’s architecture are still prevalent.
A visit to Virginia’s Eastern Shore is complete with a stop at Chatham Vineyards. The owner provides insight into the business with a tour of this award-winning winery. Afterwards enjoy a tasting and some refreshing palate cleansers.
We’re headed back to the Virginia mainland over the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. It is still considered “One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World.” Consider the Barbecue on the Bay option at Virginia Originals, the only restaurant on the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and save time for shopping in the gift store.
On our way to the Virginia Beach Farmers Market the next morning, there are plenty of fun things to do. The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Museum defines the importance of Virginia’s abundant waters, while the Military Aviation Museum shares the area’s rich aviation history. The region’s largest farmers market is a showplace for farmers and their harvest. Be ready to sample everything from ice cream to seasonal fruits and vegetables.
For lunch and an afternoon of exploring, we’re off to Smithfield. The Virginia Landmarks Register states Smithfield is “perhaps the best preserved of Virginia’s Colonial seaports.” Here history and, yes, hams blend seamlessly into a charming small town.
We’ll start our visit with a delightful lunch at the Smithfield Inn Restaurant & Tavern. Enjoy Chesapeake Bay favorites and Smithfield Ham on a yeast roll. The afternoon goes by quickly as we visit the Smithfield Museum and browse the shops on Main and Church streets in Smithfield’s Historic District. Taste of Smithfield is a cafe and gourmet grocery featuring Smithfield Hams and all varieties of Virginia peanuts.
A short drive leads to Darden’s Country Store, where we step inside a wooden shed and have the host share the process of traditional Virginia ham curing. It takes about a year for the ham to be cured, seasoned, cooked and sliced thin.
After returning to our hotel for a brief rest, we’re off to the Virginia Beach Town Center. The area’s hottest destination is a mix of shopping, dining and entertainment options all within walking distance. Enjoy dinner at one of 17 restaurants.
Culminating a culinary tour of Virginia Beach is a Harvest Feast at Cellars Restaurant Bar & Lounge at Cherry Point Manor Bed & Breakfast, where the chef specializes in “French country with a Southern flair.” Local aqua and agricultural seasonal products are always featured. Many of the items you might just recognize from your travels the past few days.
Thanks for joining me on this tasty adventure and do remember −Virginia is for Food Lovers!