Even though I was in Norfolk for most of the week, that doesn’t mean I didn’t continue to eat. I was so impressed with some of the restaurants there, that I want to pass along some of my finds. While I’ve been around and through Norfolk over the past few years, I really hadn’t spent any time in the city for probably more than a decade.
When I lived in the Hampton Roads area about 11 or 12 years ago, I’d drive into Norfolk from time to time and, to be perfectly honest, except for the MacArthur Center, there wasn’t much to see downtown. Wow, that has changed. I wont’ go into all that Norfolk has to offer now because we’ll be doing an article in the May/June issue of West End’s Best and Chesterfield Living magazines.
But, I do want to share a few foodie finds. My first stop was at the new (about a year old) Hilton Hotel – The Main, located at 100 E. Main Street, smack dab in the heart of downtown Norfolk.
MY NORFOLK DISCOVERIES: I met a few travel writers in Saltine, the beautiful seafood restaurant and raw bar on the first level of the hotel. The fresh seafood/shellfish on display at the raw bar was so inviting. Because I was late meeting the group, I only had the she crab soup and a crab cake. Both were delicious. The soup was thick, which is how I like it, with plenty of crab meat layered on top. The crab cake tasted like crab, not bread, which is also the way I like it. I went back Wednesday night and checked out the hotel’s Grain Roof Top Beer Garden. The outdoor patio, which overlooks the Elizabeth River, was closed. Thirty-two degree weather and twenty mile per hour winds tend to do that. But, I can only imagine how much that joint is jumping in the summertime. There was a sizeable crowd last night. There are plenty of adult beverages from which to choose, with more than 100 beer taps, plus the full service bar offers a good selection of wines and craft cocktails. If you’re a real wine lover, you’ll probably opt for Varia, an upscale Italian restaurant in the hotel.The “wine studio,” offers more than 100 hand-selected
wines (more than 50 by the glass).
The hotel, itself, is a marvel, showcasing more than $2 million worth of art, including a faux stairwell designed to simulate M.C. Escher’s stairwell.
A few other places to tell you about: The cusine at Nouvelle in Nofolk’s Arts district is phenomenol. Seriously. I had the fresh flounder with saffron
rice and butternut squash. The flavors melded perfectly. The neighborhood, known as NEON, or New Energy Of Norfolk, draws from its history with the automobile industry. The Chrysler Museum of Art and Harrison Opera House anchor the District while new art venues like Glass Wheel Studio and Work|Release provide artists a place to create and display their craft.
Another dining spot in NEON is Commune (759 Granby St.). It’s a cool, little bakery, café, farmers market and event space. You might not ever know just what’s on the menu until you get there. They use only in-season ingredients that can be sourced locally. The creative dishes change day-to-day to stay in sync with the best tasting in- season ingredients.
Todd Jurich’s Bistro at 150 W. Main is another great restaurant. Todd has been cooking in his downtown Norfolk restaurant for more than 25 years – long before the area became the cool, trendy neighborhood it is today. I also had a bowl of his version of she-crab soup. His is not as thick, as was Saltine’s but with the sherry, it provides a very special sweetness, which is also just the way I love it. Of course, the sherry would mean nothing if you couldn’t taste the crab. You can. It’s great. I ordered the Salad Mediterranean. I don’t see it on his online menu, but if it’s available and if you love seafood with your salad, this is an amazing dish. It’s more like huge shrimp, broiled calamari and anchovies with some fresh greens mixed in. I cleaned my huge bowl.
I thoroughly enjoyed Fruitive, a “plant based 100% organic” restaurant in Norfolk’s uber cool Ghent neighborhood, despite the fact that it’s all so healthy. We started our breakfast with a refreshing beet juice cocktail. Now, to be honest, I hate beets. I loved the cocktail. Next came a sampling of the charcoal lemonade. The jury’s still out as to whether charcoal is good for you. But regardless, the drink was rather pleasant. Totally unique. For breakfast, I had perhaps the most delicious breakfast dish I’ve had since my mother used to make me flaked fish on toast. It was the avocado herb toast, featuring flax and spelt bread topped with avocado, basil pesto mayo, oregano , sea salt and black pepper. Simple and simply amazing.
One more spot, I want to mention is Kevin Erskine’s Coelacanth Brewing Company. Kevin is not only a very knowledgeable guy and great beer maker (along with Matt Topping, director of breweing operations) but one of the most hospitable and personable guys you’d ever want to meet. I reckon we spent over an hour tasting and drinking beer. I enjoyed several of his brews, some of which are available locally. I’d say my top three favorites were:
The Passion Fruit Gose – This gold medal winner is a German sour brewed with passion fruit and Hawaiian sea salt. The passion fruit doesn’t dominate, but does add a nice flavor.
Coelia (pronounced Celia) is an American wheat with a difference – A touch of rosemary really sets this beer apart. It’s very drinkable.
My top pick was the 757 Amber Ale. Maybe it’s the hint of tamarind. Or maybe it’s something else, but this beer finishes so pleasantly. I can’t really describe it. Maybe you can.
That’s going to do it for my special Norfolk report, except, let me tell you that from now through mid-May, the Norfolk Botanical Garden is exhibiting Lantern Asia. Some 34 Asian artists have put together over 40 lighted artworks that are dazzling. I’d definitely recommend a trip with the kids. See the lights and visit some of the city’s great restaurants.
FRUGAL FOODIE: This may not sound so frugal, but if you love Texas De Brazil, which I do, but just don’t want to pay $40 or so for all the exceptional meat you can handle, right now they have a special deal for a limited time. You can buy a VIP Dining Card for $62.99, which allows you to enjoy 12 dinners for half price. That’s a tremendous savings. There are some stipulations (only good Sunday through Thursday), but if you just want to go, enjoy their huge salad bar (don’t fill up on it, though) and great meats, including lamb chop lollipops, this is the way to do it.
MUSICALLY INCLINED: Here are our live entertainment picks for the weekend:
Friday March 16
Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream – 9:00 a.m. – Breakfast Cabaret Orchestra – a unique way to start your day in a unique little coffee house near Forest Hill.
Steam Bell Beer Works – 7 p.m. – One of my favorite bands, The Tin Can Fish Band performs
Saturday March 17
The Broadberry – 9 p.m. – The Big Payback: A Tribute to James Brown
The County Seat – 7:30 p.m. – Don’t worry. We didn’t forget ‘em. The Taters are in Powhatan this week. I think we should make The Taters the official TasteBudz band.
Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream – 7:30 p.m. Paulo Franco is a very talented musician and somewhat a regular at Crossroads.
Nuevo Mexico – 8 p.m. – Long time favorite, Pat O’Brien entertains
Okay, that’s going to do it. I’m done for today. Don’t forget to enter our “My favorite hot dog” contest for a chance to win some fabulous prizes. Go to RichmondNavigator.com/contests.
And send your restaurant news to Tastebudz@RichmondNavigator.com