by Samantha Grieder and Lauren DeSantis
Photos by Corey Then
After spending the afternoon at the seafood festival and having dinner at the Sea Shell Cafe, the crowd headed back to The Refuge Inn to rest up. It was quite the busy day.
The next morning, the fog had turned into sun, so many of the area's first-timers decided it would be a good time to visit the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It's just a short drive or bike ride away from The Refuge Inn.
Bikes can be rented in the area and entrance fees run $8 per vehicle, but if you've never seen the famous Chincoteague ponies, it's a must-do. Visitors can even be found fishing and crabbing in the local waters. Ride through the refuge and look at the gorgeous scenery, from the ponies to the birds to the beach! We loved our bike ride and spotted a group of ponies munching on the grass.
After the morning visit and snapping pictures of the ponies, it was time to make our way back to Onancock. Before heading out of town, be sure to stop by the Island Creamery for some homemade ice cream! A wide variety of flavors are available in cups or freshly made waffle cones. Portions are large enough to share, but if you're feeling extra indulgent, keep it all for yourself.
Once we returned back to Onancock, the group gathered together outside of Chef Johnny Mo's restaurant, Mallards. It was a familiar scene. On Sundays, not much is open on the Eastern Shore, but Johnny Mo makes an effort to offer his place as the local watering hole.
Enjoy one of his Orange Crush drinks, sit and enjoy the view for a while. Also, the Bloody Mary drinks are spot on with just the perfect amount of spice. Johnny Mo whipped us up some amazing snacks. His fresh crab salsa and crab dip are phenomenal!
That day, however, we were in for yet another special treat. While a seafood was boiling, the group headed out on farmer Lynn Gayle's 40-foot boat for a little ride. We poured drinks and got comfy, enjoying the sun and the breeze. Johnny Mo served as a tour guide, pointing out popular beaches and family hangouts as we headed from the Onancock Wharf towards the open waters of the Chesapeake. Enjoying the Eastern Shore from the water is a signature way to really experience the area. What a lovely ride!
Upon returning to Mallards, we settled in again. Johnny Mo had a spread set up with a wide variety of foods. Fried chicken, cucumber salad, bread, and a famous Smith Island cake for dessert! Johnny brought out a massive pot to the deck. The centerpiece of the meal, the seafood boil, was ready. He poured out the stunning combination for everyone to see. Rockfish, shrimp, shellfish, potatoes, onions, carrots and corn on the cob swam in a flavorful, deep red broth, spices floating on the surface. Everything was cooked beautifully. Potatoes were tender, corn was sweet, and the broth allowed all the seafood to retain all the natural moisture. It wasn't enough to just have one bowl. He certainly spoiled us.
While the group enjoyed the meal, Johnny grabbed his guitar and played music for everyone who came out to Mallards that afternoon. He took requests, improved and even sang the classic Margaritaville.
As the afternoon was winding down, we took our last moments to enjoy the specially-ordered Smith Island cake from Becca's, which many of the locals believe is the best around. Becca Smith makes her layered cakes in many flavors, but this version was classic chocolate. Each layer is baked individually. Thin, moist, and not overly sweet, the Smith Island cake was the perfect ending to the perfect trip. You have to try it when you visit ESVA this summer!
The Virginia Eastern Shore manages to seem like worlds away from the stress of the city, yet it's only a drive away. "We are America in a nutshell," said Chef Johnny Mo. They're hard working people trying to make an honest living, all the while preserving the natural state of the environment. With hospitality second to none, these small towns offer fresh seafood, a relaxing atmosphere, and fun activities to explore.
Not wanting to leave our fun-filled get-away, we slowly walked back to the GMC Terrain for a smooth ride back to DC.
It's certainly worth the trip. We hope to meet again soon, ESVA!