Hampton Roads encompasses multiple cities—from country and rural Suffolk to bustling downtown Norfolk with shipyards along the waterfront. The City of Virginia Beach encompasses the Atlantic oceanfront, the Chesapeake Bay, as well as farmland and sprawling suburban communities. All of the cities combined amount to over a million and a half of people, most of whom love to dine near the multiple waterfront options.
With all that water surrounding Hampton Roads, we have plenty of blue crabs that are a staple for most of us in the region. I am a crab-picking addict—and there is a rather large contingency of us in Hampton Roads. We will pick crab for hours on end. I know that Baltimore is thought to be the crab mecca, but Hampton Roads is known for putting down butcher paper or newspapers and dumping out a bushel of crabs in the center of the table.
We have crab cake and she-crab cook-off contests. We like to debate the merits of one establishment’s crab soup or cake against anothers. We locals can’t wait for the full moon when crabs molt their shells, and we order soft shells wherever they are being offered. You have to get them when you can! One who is not familiar with the soft shell is often taken aback when they see the structure of a crab body with swimmers and claws in tact. Locals must turn on visitors to all that our local blue crab has to offer.
For the faint of heart who don’t want battle wounds from picking through the hard and sometimes slashing steamed red shells, many of our traditional Virginia Beach & Norfolk restaurants will often have “crab Norfolk” on the menu, which consists of fresh crab meat in a ramekin dish with butter and a bit of fresh parsley.
Another season that we anxiously await is that of Rockfish. In my younger years, I loved to see my boyfriend’s roommate come out of his bedroom dressed in his bad weather wear with the waterproof fishing pants, beanie cap and gloves. This meant the next day there would be Rockfish to enjoy, assuming that he didn’t get knocked out of his small fishing boat during the foulest of weather conditions. He claimed that stormy weather was the best time for rock-fishing. Fortunately for us, who slept in our cozy beds while he and a buddy would drink from a whiskey bottle to keep warm. He always returned with beautiful rockfish.
We have our share of festivals with live music, and a carnival-like atmosphere; one of which is all for the sake of the strawberry. The Pungo Strawberry Festival is one of the largest festivals that continues to be family friendly without the sale of alcohol. Pungo is the rural farmland that has been left in Virginia Beach. In Pungo, one can pick strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, corn, may peas, and a host of other fresh vegetables.
Hampton Roads has embraced the Farm-to-Table trend, though some are more honest about it than others with their own gardens on the property. Hampton Roads is a transient area with multiple military installations throughout our many cities. With that said, we are a melting pot of people with vast travel experiences. If you want Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, we have it. We have several Latin American eateries as well.
Hampton Roads folks are not typically trendsetters; we are southern and a little bit northern. Most of my friends moved to Virginia from New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Connecticut. I am a military brat; we moved to Virginia Beach from Iceland when I was 11 years old. So, although I am not a Virginian by birth, I was born in Washington, D.C. and my mother’s name is Virginia. Lastly, like Los Angeles, we have also embraced the food truck frenzy. Our food truck fleets include cupcakes, tacos, lobster rolls, Thai and everything in between. On top of all that, we have that “Sweet Virginia Breeze!”
By Guest Blogger Tammy Jaxtheimer, C-CAP Hampton Roads Program Director