*** WARNING *** Do not ready this article when you are hungry!
I love food and I love trying food in all the new places I visit so when I was given the chance to join a walking food tour, courtesy of the Virginia Beach Visitor and Convention Bureau, I jumped at the chance.
The tour was run by “Coastal Food Tours”, a company which has an obvious pride in the local produce of Virginia Beach and neighbouring Norfolk. They know how climate affects the fruit and vegetables year round, they know about the culinary history of the area and how it has been influenced by various changes over the years. As they themselves say: ”
We are devoted to preserving and continuing the culinary heritage of each city in Hampton Roads. Your participation on our food tours helps to support each restaurant and shop we visit.
We hope to open your mind and palette to the sights, sounds and flavors that Virginia Beach and Norfolk has to offer. The area best known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant urban areas, and quaint historic neighborhoods, offers a wide range of cuisine that will change your expectations of Hampton roads.”
Sadly, it was a horribly rainy day when I met my food tour guide, Sarah. I was cold, wet and wearing some sort of plastic bag so goodness knows what her first impression must have been of me. She was warm and friendly and certainly knew a lot about the area, its restaurants and its food.
The first place we visited was a restaurant called Watermans, a locally owned and operated seafood grill, which had a perfect spot right on the seafront. We hurried inside to get out of the rain and I removed my ridiculous rain poncho.
Here we were served their specialty orange cocktail called “The Original Waterman’s Orange Crush”. Fresh squeezed oranges, orange vodka, triple sec and a splash of Sprite! Dangerously delicious!
Apparently this cocktail sells like crazy in the summer months where people need something refreshing to help them cope with the Virginia heat. They prove particularly popular when concerts are held on the beach.
We then nibbled on some Hush Puppies, which I learnt were deep fried balls of corn bread batter and are served with butter. The Chesapeake Bay Lump Crabcakes (which have won numerous awards) were to die for. Really huge, meaty lumps of juicy crab meat made these crab cakes the best I have tasted. Served with a roasted red pepper dip and a wedge of lemon.
After chatting and learning about the Waterman’s business, we headed out into the now clearing weather and made our next stop at The Burger Bar, a short walk from Waterman’s near the yacht mole.
Now don’t be put off by the word ‘burger’, this is no ordinary burger bar. Award-winning American chef, Todd Jurich, ensures his ground burger beef comes from 100% grass-fed, antibiotic-free and artificial hormone-free free-roaming cows. In this day and age, that’s quite something. What followed was a selection of mouth-watering burgers including an interesting vegetarian burger and a few of the other dishes they had available.
This classic starter was quite special. The mozzarella is hand-stretched and the tomatoes are sourced from a local elderly lady. It was a pleasure to eat tomatoes that actually TASTE like tomatoes. The mozzarella was soft and creamy. A wonderful start to our meal.
Next on to the burgers which thankfully were served in small portions or I might have needed to be carried to the next restaurant on our food tour.
The “Burger Bar Classic” seen below, is served with a small amount of their secret creamy, savoury sauce. The meat was tasty, tender and gristle-free. They also bake their own burger buns.
Their “21st Century Chicken Burger” is made from ground chicken served with a chilli garlic sauce and was just as tasty as the normal beef burger. The tomato and lettuce garnish was fresh and crunchy.
We also enjoyed some fresh green beans with our chicken burger. Perfectly cooked with a little crunch and covered in a Thai basil sauce with crispy pork belly bits. Delicious!
And just when we thought we were going to explode, the vegetarian burger arrived along with the most delicious fries I have EVER tasted.
Actually, to call this just a ‘vegetarian’ burger is an insult. It is called a “Faux Lafel” Burger and the patty is made from ground chickpeas, grilled green onions, toasted oats and risotto then topped with smoked gouda, avocado and smokey mayonnaise. It was gorgeous but I was, by that stage, bursting at the seams. And then the fries…. the parmesan cheese covered fries. Who even thought up such a thing? Strangely, I found space in my tummy for just a few…
With bulging waistlines, we waddled slowly but happily to our next stop. The well known, Rockafellas, known since 1989 as one of Virginia Beach’s finest dining landmarks. But would my stomach cope?
We were by the seaside so what better way to start than with oysters. I am not really a fan of oysters. The thought of something slimy sliding down my throat does not appeal to me in the slightest. But how about covering them with a spinach and cheese sauce and then grilling them? Served with a bacon-wrapped prawn or two.
It made quite a difference and I completely cleaned my plate (well, except for the oyster shells of course!). My stomach, now at a dangerous point, completely ignored the plate of fresh, warm breads that was placed in the centre of our table.
Thinking that I would never eat again, it was announced that dessert was on its way. I let out a long breath and noticed everyone around the table did the same. We had enjoyed such wonderful food, how could there POSSIBLY be room for any more. The tempting Key Lime Pie was put in front of us…
A moment of silence hit our table which was then broken by me announcing that I had a separate stomach for desserts and I bravely soldiered on. We all laughed and everyone tucked in. How can you turn down Key Lime Pie? It had a sweet, crunchy, biscuity base with a topping that had just the right amount of sweetness and refreshing lime flavour. An incredible finish to some truly delicious food.
Yes, there was a lot of food but when I looked back at how much I had tasted, I would have needed to stay in Virginia Beach for much longer to experience that many full dinners. This food tour was the perfect way to learn a little about the area, its locally produced and sourced food and how the restaurants are working with local suppliers. I tasted some mouth-watering seafood in the form of crab cakes, oysters and prawns, some very special burgers, tasty tomatoes, vibrant vegetables and a very sneaky key lime pie. My stomach is bulging but I loved my time on the tour and would definitely recommend it whether you are watching your waistline or not.
Contact “Coastal Food Tours” via their website
You can read about their tours in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and other areas such as Washington DC. It is recommended you book online because places fill up quickly.