As the chef-owner of the New York City Culinary Salon, CITY GRIT, Sarah Simmons cooks in the kitchen some of the time, but also plays host to chefs from all over the country who come to cook. Simmons uses her travels to find both recipe inspiration as well as future guest chefs. She recently traveled to Virginia Beach to cook for the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic and extended her stay to eat around Virginia. Here, she shares her favorite finds.
“I didn’t know what to expect when we walked into Terrapin one evening for dinner. Starving, weary from travel, and nervous about the prep work ahead for my own dinner the next night, all I really wanted was a good drink and a decent meal. Chef Rodney Einhorn’s Virginia Beach bistro blew my mind. Everything, from the fantastic cocktails, extensive and affordable wine list, impeccable service, and a meal that rivaled any I’ve eaten this year, was perfect. Don’t try to decide between the oysters on the half shell and the house-made charcuterie, which is served with local cheeses, honey, and fruits, alongside the best sourdough bread I can remember eating. Get them both. I’ll never be able to thank my dinner host enough for introducing me to Lynnhaven oysters from Pleasure House Oysters (as well as introducing me to the Pleasure House Oyster farmer, Chris Ludford, who later in the trip took us out to harvest oysters on his farm) or suggesting that we order the bulk of the menu so we could taste everything. Everything was delicious but the fennel pollen dusted sea scallops served with perfectly cooked local oyster mushrooms, crunchy briny sea beans, delicately oven-dried tomato, and a garden herb pan sauce that tasted more like a rich bordelaise was a true winner. The bone-in pork chop with fresh garden vegetables, brown butter and sage gnocchi finished with a bourbon-sorgum veal demi glace was a very close second.” 3102 Holly Rd. #514, Virginia Beach, (757) 321-6688, terrapinvirginiabeach.com
“Travis and Ryan Croxton, owners of Rappahannock, are third-generation oyster farmers continuing the legacy of growing some of the country’s tastiest oysters. At Rappahannock, their flagship restaurant, they bring a whole new take on farm-to-table with the menu being heavily driven from the amazing oysters (Rappahannock Rivers, Sting Rays and Olde Salts) grown on their farms in the Chesapeake. Chef Dylan Fultineer (formerly of Blackbird restaurant), serves creative dishes showcasing the day’s catch, but I’m most content with a platter of raw oysters and a bowl of the smokey Barcat Oyster chowder with Benton’s Bacon washed down with a craft beer or two. Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and be in town on a night when the Croxton cousins are teaming up with Craig Rogers of Border Spring Farms for their legendary “Lambs and Clams” dinner. 320 East Grace St., Richmond, (804) 545-0565, rroysters.com
“Chef Lee Gregory is my kind of chef, serving food similar to my own style with a modern spin on traditional southern dishes at The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia. Both the oyster stew and the Nashville-style hot chicken oysters are must-haves (can you tell I love oysters?), as well as the poutine, and the smoked chicken wings. Vegetarians will rejoice at the chance to devour the chicken-fried tofu, a perfect pairing with a side of kimchi-fried rice and/or the corn pancakes with ratatouille and ricotta. I dream about the pork shoulder served with red beans and rice grits and a swirl of mustard based barbeque sauce—a lovely surprise to find outside of South Carolina. Don’t be afraid of the wine list featuring only Virginia wines. There are many bottles on the list rivaling some of the country’s most popular California wines, including my personal domestic favorite, the Barboursville Vineyard’s Octagon. Not sold on Virginia wines (shame on you!), try one (or five) of the 20-plus perfectly balanced and creative craft cocktails on their list for only $9 each. Compared to Manhattan’s prices, that’s almost free!” 623 North 25th St., Richmond, (804) 658-1935, rooseveltrva.com
The River & Rail
“After a day on Smith Mountain Lake, there’s nothing better than a warm shower and a quick ride down the mountain to Roanoke for dinner at The River and Rail. Chef Aaron Deal’s dishes exude elevated Southern cuisine executed with perfect technique. I started with a honey basil margarita and, you guessed it, a half-dozen Rappahannock River oysters as I settled in to study the menu. The Berrier Orchard nectarines—a Southern twist on a traditional panzanella— and the Snead Ferry clams and lamb sausage called my name as I said a quick prayer that the roasted rabbit fettuccini is still on the menu the next time I’m in town. I chose the North Carolina black grouper for my main course even though I was dying to taste the heritage pork loin served with baked field peas (I’m a sucker for fresh field peas) because I’ve heard chef Deal’s spin on banana pudding is a must-have for dessert. Sure enough, the creamy banana pudding served with crunchy bits of cornbread and a jalapeño coconut sorbet is a game-changer and a heart breaker in that I no longer think I make the world’s best banana pudding. It’s such a must-have, I suggest you have two. 2201 Crystal Spring Ave. SW, Roanoke, (540) 400-6830, riverandrailrestaurant.com
Foggy Ridge Cider
“The promise of sips of Diane Flynt’s crisp hard ciders is the only thing that kept me going as I was driving the winding roads up to Foggy Ridge for an afternoon at her orchard. When I arrived to find a walkie talkie on the cider house door with instructions to call her in from the orchard, I realized that this is not a vanity project. It’s an up at dawn, back breaking business in which Diane wears countless hats—a fact I can absolutely appreciate. Diane’s not only the face of the business, but is actually picking and pressing the apples herself and her dedication and love for the craft is evident when I take the first gulp of Foggy Ridge Handmade, which is the cleanest, freshest sparkling cider to ever cross my lips. My brain swirled with pairing ideas—oysters, scallops, shaved pork and pepper jelly on Gruyere biscuits—and continued to do so all day as we tasted through all of her various ciders. Later in the day, as I sipped the Pippin Gold, a unique blend of 100% Newtown Pippin hard cider and apple brandy from Laird and Company, the country’s oldest distillery, I couldn’t stop myself from dreaming about drinking this with a composed cheese plate. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to be the guest chef at one of the many pairing dinners Foggy Ridge holds throughout the year. Make sure to check out their schedule when planning your own trip.” 1328 Pineview Rd., Dugspur, (276) 398-2337, foggyridgecider.com