You know how it goes. You have a fresh oyster on a dock overlooking a bay, and it’s the best oyster you’ve ever had in your life. Back home, keen to reconstitute that magic, you hit the first oyster bar you see, even order that same variety, and wait. And wait. And, well, the thrill just doesn’t return. Sure, it’s delicious, but it’s just not the same.
The fact is, our brains wrap the flavors we encounter on a vacation destination up with the joys and sensory riches of that experience. At the beach, those tasty pleasures may be simple, but that makes them somehow all the more indelible. The beach is a place for seafood, for big breakfasts, and for sandwiches eaten while watching the waves, and Atlantic coast beaches are particularly known for their seaside specialties. One area you’ll want to visit if you’re as serious about good food as you are about sun, surf, and sand is Virginia Beach, Virginia. Here’s where to indulge in those quintessential flavors and make memories this summer.
With its sweet brine that tastes like the sea, a freshly harvested and shucked oyster reminds you of the beach more than almost any other food. And in Virginia Beach, the local delicacy, the renowned Lynnhaven oyster, is particularly regarded for its juicy, plump size and delicious salinity. The best way to get even closer to this summer flavor is to book a chef’s table tour with Pleasure House Oysters. On the tour, you’ll boat out to Pleasure House’s farm in the Lynnhaven River (which flows into Chesapeake Bay), visit the riverbed cages with oyster farmer Chris Ludford, and then gather for a stand-up meal in the wild, complete with raw oysters just pulled -- literally -- from the water, as well as barbecued beauties (Ludford has a small wood fire grill for this purpose). They’ll still taste great on ice at any raw bar back home, but you’ll want your feet back in Virginia Beach’s waters the moment one hits your tongue.
Brunch and open-ended vacation days in the South go together like, well, chicken and waffles. This marriage of sweet and savory is a hallmark of Southern breakfasts, and in Virginia Beach, the enormously popular Bay Local Eatery is where to go for it. Sporting a fragrant and savory sprig of rosemary, the well-seasoned and crisp breast sits regally atop a tall and mildly sweet waffle. Marrying the two with a sweet glaze of syrup is up to you (but of course you’ll want to). In a gesture of classic Southern hospitality (and flair for abundance), this dish also comes with eggs and potatoes -- which makes it great to share or bring home for midday snacking.
The messy pleasures of cracking open a crab and picking out sweet crab meat (ideally with a very cold beer on hand) are pure beach vacation joy, particularly in parts of the country where these beauties reside just offshore. In Virginia Beach, the waters of the Chesapeake certainly provide, and the choice is yours: Patronize the small crab shacks that dot the backroads on the bay side of town and pick out your own in-season blue crabs for cooking up at home, or head to a local restaurant like famed Margie & Ray’s in Sandbridge and have it all done for you (except the picking, that is). With a down-home, comfortable atmosphere and a huge variety of crab dishes -- including steamed and seasoned, she-crab soup, and more -- there’s the promise here of packing multiple plates of delicious crustacean into a single meal. And if crab isn’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with the other house specialities, like fried clams, grilled flounder, or land-bound options including barbecue ribs and good old chicken tenders.
Once you’re at the beach, you don’t want to leave the silky sand for lunch, so packing a sandwich is key. And since nothing is more satisfying than biting into a crisp, fresh sando under the hot summer sun, it’s important to do it right. Enter Sawdust Road: Set in a charming vintage home in Virginia Beach’s farm-rich Pungo district, this small coffeehouse and eatery makes gorgeous takeaways built from vegetables, meats, and condiments grown breathtakingly nearby. For carnivores, The Sam Hamwich features Virginia ham; for vegetable lovers, The Heirloom features Cullipher Farm heirloom tomatoes along with arugula; and for kids, the PB&J stars Dee’s Nuts Roasted (Virginia) Peanut Butter and a coulis made from Pungo-grown berries. (Add another beach pleasure by grabbing a honey lavender latte over ice.)
Okay, ice cream is good wherever you are, 365 days a year, but it acquires a transcendence on summer days, under the hot oceanside sun. Virginia Beach is replete with creameries of every stripe (including old-time soft-serve spots along Oceanfront’s main drag), and one can make a vacation of just checking out a new spot every day. But make sure you begin with Lolly’s Creamery & Soup Co., a new entrant on the scene that emphasizes local, farm-fresh ingredients in regular and seasonal flavors like Cookie Monster, Apple Pie, Hot Chocolate, and Cotton Candy. Catch their bike-fueled cart on the boardwalk (you can even have ice cream delivered to you), or stop by their cute little shop to pick up pints for later.