Fortunately, hanging around in the food scene for years has allowed me to become familiar with a lot of talented people that work all aspects of the food/drink service industry. I'm not just interested in the plate in front of me, but I love knowing the people back of the house to the front who make it happen.
I love sitting at the bar too; finding a new beer or wine to enjoy and once in a while a fancy drink. You probably guessed from a quick glance of this post this is going to be about cocktails and you would be correct. I'm going to tell you how I got to drink a bunch of them one night and show you what they were.
My journey into an evening of cocktail sampling began one warm evening in Norfolk, VA. I drove Shelby down to a new Italian restaurant called Leone's so she could meet up with "The Ladies." After I creeped on them a little bit, taking photos, chatting, etc... I thought they should have their girl time so I left for the car. I needed to run some stuff to a chef I know down the way and I had time to burn. While I was walking down Granby St. I was spotted by another guy I know named Josh Seaburg. I wrote about him a couple of years ago when he was at another shop.
After spying me he messaged me and asked if I would be interested in trying out his new drink menu he created for Saltine, one of three new hot spots in the Hilton Norfolk The Main. Saltine, a seafood restaurant, has a beautiful bar on the ground level of the hotel that allows you to do some serious people watching - everyone coming into the large hotel lobby and people on the street.
Shelby told me, that her mother (Hi Nana!) told her, it is rude to turn down a drink so I accepted happily. After I ran my errand I made my way to Saltine, ready to be wow'ed. Josh has put in his dues and is serious about his drinks. He pays attention to detail and it's the small things that make the whole.
The menu, at the time, had not been tested by a layman as myself and I was ordered to give him feedback. Lucky me!
Attention! I'm just going to say right off the bat that the presentation of all the drinks was beautiful. Figured I'd add that caveat at the beginning so I didn't have to keep saying it throughout the post.
We started out with a White Julep - Wasmund’s peach-smoke bourbon mash, mint, simple syrup. This one packed a punch but was refreshing, loved all the ice.
Kuh-Shah-Suh (Josh explains the name is the phonetic spelling of the main ingredient Cachaça) This is made from pineapple infused Cachaça, lime, simple syrup, winter melon bitters, and garnished with dragon fruit. This was a neat, it even had a little heat on the end. While he was making it he gave the glass a spritz of green Chartreuse.
Western Medicine - Belle Isle Honey Habanero, lemon, and ginger syrup. It's garnished with candied ginger - when available. Shelby will love this one!
The Rosetta Toned was served in nice stemware and had a pleasant, sweet finish. It's made with Flor de Cana extra dry rum, lime, house strawberry cordial, Absinthe, and coriander. I'm a fan of rum!
The classic Piña Coloda, not much to say other than it was damn tasty and he didn't put it in his shirt pocket. Maybe next time!
(Shirt pocket reference here.)
The Vida Bandida - Vida Mezcal, dry Curacao, lime, Ignition Tincture, bitters. This was different, neat. Mezcal drinkers would like this, even if you don't like mezcal, try it anyway. Thug Life.
Cleaver Club is fun to watch being made. It is a mixture of Beefeater Gin, lemon, and nitro-raspberries. Josh busts out the nitro to prep the glass and it looks highly technical. The name of the drink, and the drink itself, pay homage to the classic cocktail The Clover Club.
The Audible Sigh was fancy and was garnished with fresh Passionfruit - Ketel One, passionfruit, lime, sparkling rosé, hibiscus/acai bitters. All the cool, trendy stuff in one drink, you might hear Josh give an audible sigh if you ask for him to make you one. It's worth the side-eye though, it's pretty tasty.
Bet you thought I would drink each one to the finish? Maybe I did...
I just wanted to give Josh a shout out for letting me try all these delicious cocktails and give him feedback on them. I think I'll be swinging by again tonight to revisit one or two of these. "The Ladies" are meeting there and I always crash a party.
I met up with my buddy Chase (check out his bottle shop - Bottlecraft Virginia Beach!) for a drink yesterday at Esoteric and were lucky to have Devin behind the bar, always a good time when he's there. After our first round Chase was looking for a suggestion and Devin mentioned the Piña Colada. It was in a nice tall glass garnished with a pineapple leaf, I took pics of Devin with the drink because it seemed like the natural thing to do...please enjoy.
This will actually fit into his shirt pocket.
After Chase drank some he insisted that I have some too, I took a little sip then I was told to drink more. It was pretty good.
I like to talk to the people I meet when I'm out and about. One of these people is Joshua Seaburg, who at the time was running the bar at Twist at Town Center Virginia Beach. Josh, I know you're off doing your thing but I wanted to make sure everyone knew what you're about. Here is a little Q&A I had with him earlier this year.
(GC): You said you spent time down in the Caribbean? Where and how you ended up there? What did you do?
I moved to St. Thomas in December of 2012. I have some family down there who own a pretty large fine jewelry store, who I met when I visited on a cruise in August of that year. They invited me to learn the jewelry industry, and at the time I was dissatisfied with what I had going on in my life, and figured it would be a good experience. I ended up bringing my then-girlfriend down shortly after I moved there, and we worked together for my family's business, got engaged in June of 2013 and moved back for her to continue her education, and me to pursue craft bartending in my hometown.
(GC): How many years in the business do you have?
I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 16, tending bar since 21. My first bartending gig was at an Oceanfront tequila bar, where I started to learn about spirits (Tequila, in this case), and really came to understand how much there was to know.
(GC): What do you do? Where you want to go with it?
I am responsible for the spirits and cocktails..., as well as all the design and training that surrounds that. In practical terms, I develop recipes, educate staff and guests on what we have to offer, and train and supervise the bar staff. My goal...is to develop a nationally competitive cocktail program, and bring this area into the sort of craft cocktail renaissance that's been happening worldwide.
(GC): Can you tell me about the Fernet-Branca coin again? That story about the drink and a little bit about your experience in Richmond with it?
Fernet Branca is this really complex, bracing amaro that rose to prominence on the west coast as an insider shot among bar industry folk. It's much more well-known now than it was before, but it retains status as a wildly popular drink with bartenders. They give out very small amounts of these military-inspired challenge coins to deserving Fernet enthusiasts. As far as I know, I'm the only person in the area who has one, although I wouldn't be surprised if some folks in Charlottesville and Richmond had some too, especially John Maher at The Rogue Gentlemen. He was gracious enough to share some of his Fernet Branca from the 1960s the first time my buddy Stephan Stockwell (Chow, Norfolk, VA) and I stopped in right around their opening day. I had been put in touch with John by the east coast director for Fernet's distribution company, because he'd noted both of us for our love for Fernet Branca. John's from California, and definitely has more Fernet street cred than me.
(GC): Is there anything else you want people to know about you and your work.
I guess the main point that I want to embellish is that, just because I and my staff take drinking and cocktails very seriously, we don't expect that from our guests. The word mixologist carries kind of a bad reputation, because it conjures the image of a guy who feels like he's doing you a favor by serving this drink, and what kind of idiot are you if you don't know what Cynar is? I try to be very much the opposite - the first priority is to serve the guest's needs, not my own ego. One of my favorite quotes is from a book called Beta Cocktails: Bars exist to serve customers, not cocktails. I'm big into the idea that everyone who's at my bar has a need, and it's my job as a bartender to meet it. Sometimes that need is just a beer and some hospitality, not a 20-minute diatribe on obscure French Liqueurs.
Tupelo Honey Cafe has opened in Virginia Beach Town Center. What is Tupelo Honey Cafe? I'll be honest and say I've never heard of it before I received an email from someone representing them in the area. She asked if I would be interested in learning more about the Cafe and attend a soft opening and then a media session later that week. Of course I said “Yes!” because who doesn't like a free meal and I love soft openings; there is always a level of energy and excitement in the air at these things. Tupelo Honey Cafe officially opens 13 July 2015, today!
I did a little research and saw that Tupelo Honey started out in Asheville, NC and has expanded into 11 locations in operation. There are two more spots opening soon in Atlanta, GA and Franklin, TN. Tupelo Honey Cafe prepares its menu using classic Southern and/or Southern influenced style. So of course you're thinking okra, grits, fried chicken, greens, etc... They do have those on the menu, but there is a lot more.
First what is Tupelo Honey? Tupelo Honey comes from the White Tupelo is harvested in Florida and Georgia. It's said to be the purist honey you can buy and to harvest it takes a lot of work, read more about it in this great article at Garden & Gun.
The Virginia Beach Town Center location is pretty sweet. It's on the corner of Main St. and Constitution Dr. Lots of windows and a covered, outdoor seating area. The inside of the restaurant is spacious with walls dotted with local and regionally significant art. There is even a WW II era navy uniform on display.
The bar is large and currently has 20 taps setup. They will eventually be serving kegged cocktails and have an exclusive Virginia mead they'll help get shipped to the restaurant. During the soft opening there was a good selection of local brews on tap in the craft beer line-up; while waited for our seats I grabbed a Tupelo Honey Rye Ale made for Tupelo Honey Cafe by RJ Rockers Brewing Co. Not a bad beer, I enjoyed it. Shelby wanted to try a fancy drink and ordered the “Violet Beauregarde” Champange Cocktail. She loved it. I was able to get a little sip of it too and it was pretty tasty.
After we were seated our server, Tiffany, she went over the limited menu for the soft opening. We had a choice of one appetizer to share, individual entrees and then a shared dessert. From the “Southern Small Plates” section we had a few choices, wrestling with the decision between the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake and the Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese. We settled on the crab cake. For entrees (with two sides) Shelby chose the broiled Jumbo Shrimp, there was a fried option too, Sauteed Greens and Goat Cheese Grits. I ordered Beef & Bacon Meatloaf with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Mac-n-Cheese. We sipped our drinks waiting for our food to be brought out.
While we waited I looked around – there were plenty of servers and floor supervisors making sure things were running smoothly. We were at a window table which I requested, I need light for the photos. I didn't like that we sat directly beneath an air vent, I was being blasted by cold air and this proved troublesome for our hot food too.
Tiffany brought out a couple of hot biscuits with a blueberry preserve and some Tupelo honey! Mixing the preserve and honey on the biscuit the way to go. The honey wasn't too sweet and was floral, it was a perfect paired with the blueberry. The biscuit had a lightly crunchy exterior and a moist, light consistency on the inside. We were enjoying our biscuits still when the crab cake came out. The crab cake was good, but living in Virginia Beach where seafood is king, we've had a lot of crab cakes. I would say it's definitely worth a try. Flavor was good and there was a good amount of lump crab inside a breaded coat.
Our “supper plates” as they called them, were decent portions the shrimp were cooked nicely and the cherry pepper buerre blanc sauce was good. Shelby's goat cheese grits were very tasty and I would like to have them again next time we visit. The greens were sauteed perfect and served in a broth – lots of flavor! My meatloaf was covered in a chunky rosemary shallot gravy, it complimented the meatloaf that was flecked with bits of bacon throughout. Shelby and I both loved the Mac-n-Cheese. Some people might think you can mess that stuff up, but you can. Their Mac-n-Cheese had browned bits on the corners and you could taste the cheese consistently with every bite. Serious stuff. My shaved Brussels Sprout salad was good too. It was a cold, raw salad and would be perfect out of the cooler and put out on the picnic table.
After chatting with Tiffany about the food I mentioned that I was taking photos for the blog she had another server named Matt come to the table. He happened to be in town to help get the Virginia Beach store off to a running start. Matt was a wealth of information about Tupelo Honey Cafe, the people, food and future plans for the site. As he was explaining how things worked around there a sous chef named Caleb came to the table with a restaurant favorite NC Country Ham Wontons. The light, crispy wrappers held a delicious, creamy mixture of ham and cheese. They might have been my favorite bite of the night!
We finished our drinks and ordered another round. I got a Young Veterans Brewing Co. Jet Noise and Shelby tried another cocktail, the tart Honeysuckle & Lavender Flip. She loved this drink too and said they're perfect Summertime drinks.
After trying the wontons we got to meet the Chef du Cuisine, Chris McLeod. I spied him earlier running the line and getting the plates out in order. They brought out more food for us to try, this time some tacos! One plate had a spice encrusted chicken and other had crumbled meatloaf, similar to what I had in my entree. Thin slices of jalapeno, some cilantro and slaw topped the meat and fresh squeezed lime on top finished them off. There were good too, but I would have liked a thinner tortilla. The apple salsa on the chicken tacos was very nice and different.
While trying to work our way through the mountain of food we were accumulating, they brought out more! I'll give a quick run down:
Shrimp and Grits – A lot of flavor, loved how the grits were creamy and had goat cheese in them. There was a roasted red pepper sauce in the center of the bowl that was surrounded by some plump shrimp. We let a friend try some and he said he's had better, but I do think they're worth a try. Eat it hot!
Pan-Seared Scallops with Brown Butter French Green Beans and Spring Green Pea Risotto – The scallops were cooked nicely with great texture. My favorite part of this dish was the risotto. Creamy and seasoned perfectly.
Herbed Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Curry with Feta – Shelby loved this one. She loves lamb and meatballs, so this was the best of both worlds. Great sauce, very good over all.
You could probably guess that we didn't eat all of this. Luckily we bumped into some friends who were there and we were able to share a good bit of our food with them. Sharing was highly encouraged by Matt early on. We did want to try dessert and ordered a slice of Brown Butter Pecan Pie with Dark Chocolate Sauce and the Heavenly Banana Pudding.
The pecan pie was warm and gooey, the chocolate sauce was delicious, it was put together really well and I'd like to try it again when I wasn't so full. The banana pudding was good too, but the thought of eating another bite seemed like an impossible task. We boxed up what was left over and headed home.
After getting in the house I almost passed out on the couch from a food coma.
Tupelo Honey Cafe opens 13 July, 2015. Virginia Beach Town Center on the corner of Main St. and Constitution Dr.
Check it out, it's a nice little addition to our area and the food is good! We definitely plan on visiting again and trying out more of the menu. Here's the little blurb they sent me originally:
Originally opened in 2000 in downtown Asheville, Tupelo Honey Cafe has grown to become a beloved Southern staple serving fresh, made-from-scratch dishes. The Virginia Beach location of Tupelo Honey Cafe is located at 4501 Main St. in Town Center. Upon opening this July, lunch and dinner will be available Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch will also be served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Known for its incredible Southerncuisine and locally inspired décor, ten Tupelo Honey Cafe locations are currently open in the Southeast with three future openings planned for Virginia Beach, Virginia; Franklin, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. Two nationally distributed Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbooks are available for purchase on the website and in stores. For more information, reservations and menus, visit tupelohoneycafe.com.
See all the photos from our visit HERE.
Shelby noticed a friend of hers, Angelique, hit a new restaurant in Virginia Beach called Metropolitan Oyster Exchange and she asked if I knew anything about it. I had no idea it was opening up; not that I know everything but I do try to keep up with the ins-and-outs of local food scene. I did a quick search and didn't find a whole lot about them. I did see that Patrick Evans-Hylton wrote a good article them in December on HamptonRoads.com.
I decided I'd shoot them a message and see if I could visit and check them out, maybe take some photos. Jason Etheredge, the General Manager, responded with an invite for me and Shelby to come by and participate in their soft opening the next day. Of course we accepted.
We headed out after work, parked and appeared to be the first ones in for the night. 6:00 PM sharp, I'm serious about food. We were greeted inside by our hostess Loralen and then Jason came over to introduce himself. He had Loralen work us into their seating system even though we were the first to arrive. They were trying to work out kinks in the process. We were asked to visit the bar while a table was set for us. I could see everyone in the restaurant running around, prepping for the evening, Jerry Bryan also came over to say “Hi.”
Jerry is the owner of the Metro and Coastal Grill off Great Neck Rd. He was very excited about getting people in the place and told us to make ourselves at home. Nice guy. Looking about the place I spied a Lab puppy named Connor being cute, super soft and fluffy. Who doesn't love puppies? We met Lou Lou behind the bar, she is the mixologist who was training the other bartenders, Matt and Matt (same names, that's great), how to make the house's signature drinks.
There was a raw bar and a guy named Mike was back there shucking oysters for the half-shell trays. The oysters for that night all came from the waters off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Jerry told us earlier he'll be importing oysters from the West Coast too, sounds like they'll have a good variety available.
While we were looking around, more people started to show up. Since it was a soft opening, most of the these were friends and acquaintances. The day before it was family night. The food being served was going to be the chefs going through a special menu and putting it out for the wait staff to serve. So whatever they made in the kitchen is what we would be eating. Sounded exciting!
The interior design was very nice, great lighting and signage throughout. The atmosphere was very relaxed, as intended by Jerry, he wanted a place that people could walk into and grab a great bite to eat. No reservations and sharing is encouraged. Casual. The floor was open and it was nice seeing the staff and patrons interact.
About the drinks. Lou Lou started us off with a classic cocktail "The Last Word". Her ambition for the Metro—the area in fact—includes making Chartreuse a staple in local drinks. Her Prohibition era drinks and modern concoctions are impressive; she makes her own syrups and mixers. Check out what she put together for us:
As for the food, amazing. Jason said the menu was being tweaked but if what we had foreshadows the regular offerings, then there are going to be a lot of happy diners in our town. Here's what we had:
During our dinner someone walked up to our table and asked if we were George and Shelby; turns out it was Tricia Bryan. Jerry and Tricia Bryan are neighbors with Angelique, who called the restaurant to tell Tricia we would be in that night (thanks Angelique!) We chatted a bit and I asked about the name of the Metro. Tricia told us that Jerry has been working with his executive chef Maureen “Mo” Cucchiaro for 24 years and when Metro was ramped up, Jerry wanted to tribute all of Mo's hard work over the years, so when he was figuring out a name he came up with M.O.E—Metropolitan Oyster Exchange. Of course it sounds swanky too.
We loved the food, feel, and service (Jefri took care of us) at Metro. A must try if you're ever in the area.
Metropolitan Oyster Exchange
972 Laskin Rd
It was National Taco Day and National Vodka Day so we went out to the Yard House and got tacos and vodka mixed drinks :) My favorite was the Grilled Korean Pork Belly but the vegetarian Hongo Y Rajas was good too. The drinks are the Citrus Crush and Cherry Limeade.