Thursday, May 10, 2012

Virginia Eastern Shore Tour Guide: Part I

by Samantha Grieder and Lauren DeSantis
Photos by Corey Then

With an opportunity for a weekend getaway to explore Virginia's Eastern Shore, who wouldn't take it? On a Friday afternoon, a group of media members made their way to Onancock, VA, about four hours away from Washington, D.C. and 35 miles south of Chincoteague. The small town, the name translating to mean "Foggy Town," is home to about 1,500 people.

The town holds a variety of Bed and Breakfasts to stay, some of which accept pets. Innkeepers are lovely, welcoming, and make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Linda Nicola and her mother own and run the Colonial Manor Inn, a charming home where everything has a story. Historic pieces of furniture adorn the home. All the oil paintings in the house were completed by her mother, the woman who also happens to cook up wonderful breakfasts from scratch. The home sits on two acres of land and at one point housed wild bees. After discovering the bees, Nicola began a personal crusade to save the ailing population; guests even find bee-friendly bath products in their rooms.  If Nicola is any reflection of what Onancock is, it would be hospitality at its finest. Whether the people are natives or "come-here" transplants, the personalized attention is apparent. 

From the Charlotte Hotel to the Nolan family hosts at the Spinning Wheel, your stay is sure to be made comfortable.  At the Charlotte Hotel, you'll find 8 rooms with the most comfortable White Dove mattresses.  I liked them so much that I talked with Charlotte about purchasing one.  Charlotte and her husband, Gary, offer a delicious breakfast including fresh brewed coffee and cheese omelets.  I loved the homemade orange marmalade for the toast.

Take a stroll from one of the many Bed and Breakfasts down the main corridor of Market Street. At the very end of the road lies a local watering hole, open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. It's called Mallards at the Wharf, and it's owned by a the musical chef, Johnny Mo. He enjoys playing his guitar and singing as much as he likes to run the kitchen, so he combined the two forms of art, and does them both well, at the same time no less.  He really is a Jack of All Trades!

Johnny Mo the Musical Chef hosts monthly cooking demos in Mallard's dining space. Just like a cooking demo at a trade show, he has a small counter set up at the front of the room, a mirror above the burners to reflect what's on the stove and a camera set up to a television for those in the back of the room.

We had a blast checking out his Treasures of the Eastern Shore Dinner. He welcomed the crowd, many of whom were locals enjoying a nice Friday evening out. The meal for the night's special dinner was 5 courses for only $35.

Chef Johnny Mo entertained the room by walking us through the cooking process for the 5 course dinner menu that we were about to eat. For the Guinness braised pork with chipotle and cinnamon he used a locally made sweet potato biscuit as a base for the pork. It's a way to use the best product available and support his neighbors in the process. The biscuit was soft, buttery, and naturally sweet, all wrapped up in a gorgeous golden color.

The first dish was served while Johnny Mo put down his cooking utensils and picked up his guitar. The Johnson and; Wales alum performed his latest favorite, Jason Mraz's newest single.  He also played some original pieces and took  requests. Once we wrapped up eating the first course, Johnny Mo traded the guitar for the stove, back and forth, back and forth, throughout the night.

The second course seemed to be the most anticipated. Town chatter of, "Make sure you try his crabcake!" reflected it to be the singularly most recommended item. The kitchen served a crab trio of jumbo lump crab ceviche, an absolutely stellar "all crab" cake and a flash fried soft shell. Sriracha, wasabi and lemon aioli rounded out the plate. "I know it doesn't sound that great," Johnny says, "but the crab comes from a guy who has an operation out of his garage." Little did we know that we'd get to meet the maker the next day and get an inside look at the whole operation of Eastern Shore Seafood.  The large crab lumps tasted incredibly fresh.  Lots of care went into the product. The local purveyor was  another example of the community helping one another.

Course number three was spring asparagus, served with blood orange sections, Parmesan and walnuts for a nutty flavor. 
 Just when we thought we know what was coming next, Johnny Mo called out for his special surprise of the night: a 30 pound freshly caught fish, wheeled out on a cart. Johnny Mo cut into the fish, talking through the process of fileting. Served over a white cheddar polenta with a roasted red pepper coulis, the rockfish was light and tender.

The night ended with a coffee infused crème brûlée. "It's the only dessert that I do," Johnny Mo said. And, in signature style, the coffee he used is locally-roasted by the Coastal Roasting Company. "It's called 'Fog Cutter,'" he said, "to cut through those foggy mornings you have. You can go to the store and pick it up for tomorrow morning before kayaking." Not a bad suggestion.  We saw the Cafe Patron on the shelf and ordered some on the rocks.  It paired perfectly with the creamy creme brulee.
After a super fun dinner with blood orange margaritas, local Norfolk Canyon Pale Ales and orange crush cocktails, we were beat.  We made our way back to the B and Bs for the action-packed day ahead.  Find out all about it in Part 2!


Laura said...

We don't have much on the Eastern Shore, but we do have good eats and good people. Love Johnny Mo!

Mary Burnham said...

Thanks for coming to Onancock, Lauren! We enjoyed taking the group kayaking on Onancock Creek! And tell folks they can buy that ES coffee by the pound inside our little kayak shop next to Mallards! SouthEast Expeditions at the Wharf,