Saturday, August 2, 2008

Adventures in Chincoteague - A Landlubber in a Seafood Town

What is there for me to not love in Chincoteague? There is the pristine beach of Assateague, the abundant and beautiful wildlife, the talented artists, and the friendly people. It's a paradise for me.

I have just one problem with Chincoteague - the food!

Chincoteague is hardly known for five-star cuisine even among the seafood lovers, but if you're not a seafood lover, eating can be tricky. Chincoteague is famous for its oysters and its proximity to Maryland means plenty of good crab as well. When I see big steaming pots of shellfish coming to someone's table, I really wish I did like the stuff, but I don't.

So I have to find ways to survive. I am thankful there is something in every restaurant to try, so I am covering every place I ate at during the week along with my family's impressions of the seafood.

(My husband has been a bit slow to post the non-food photos on our website. I will post a link to them once they are online, if anyone is interested. If you would like to read about my non-food adventures, go to my MySpace blog. You can read about drama at the Pony Swim and my heroic sea rescue.)

(I forgot my camera some of the time, so I don't have photos of every meal. Sorry about that.)

(You will note that I didn't cover certain lunches and that I never covered breakfast. That's because every morning I partook of the free breakfasts offered at the Hampton Inn where I stayed. If I didn't mention lunch, I went to Subway where I took a veggie sub to the beach.)

Sunday: I had my first dinner in Chincoteague with my whole family at Saigon Village. A one-horse town like Chincoteague seems like a strange place for a Vietnamese restaurant, but it's quite popular. It does a thriving takeout business with the NASA guys on Wallops Island. The owners are a typical Chincoteague story. They took a vacation there, fell in love with it, and decided to retire there and opened the restaurant. It's a family run business, which is cool.

The cuisine probably skirts the rules of authenticity a bit (I haven't eaten at many Vietnamese restaurants, I must confess) and tends to lean in the Chinese/Thai direction. I guess they don't want to scare people with anything too exotic or unfamiliar.

Decor is bland. My mother's boyfriend Don has settled into it nicely.

Kevin ordered these curry noodles, which he loved. One thing they do that people who are sensitive to spices really appreciate is they ask you on a scale of 1-10 just how spicy you want your food to be. The delicate widdle tum-tum generally requires a low number, while I always say SEVEN.

Mom had lemongrass tofu, which I neglected to photograph. I had a bowl of classic noodle soup with lettuce, pork, and little wontons.

I think it was pretty. Yes, it also tasted quite good.

Service at Saigon Village is quick and efficient, but not always friendly. I'm not saying it's unfriendly, but the family is not your typical sunshiny-happy "Tigger" population. By New York standards, they were positively bubbly.

No booze served here, but BYOB is allowed.

After dinner we wanted some ice cream. The nearest ice cream parlor to Saigon Village is Mullers. It is not my favorite ice cream place on Chincoteague. The decor is charming, as it is located in a historic building with a pretty Victorian motif. But one can't live on atmosphere alone. The ice cream is not homemade. It also hasn't always had the best service. I call it the Nazi Ice Cream Parlor. There are just too many rules for standing online and no one is particularly friendly.

We lucked out this year as it wasn't crowded and the guy serving us was super-nice. Maybe they heard some complaints and took them to heart.

I had an ice cream called Muddy Sneakers that consisted of white chocolate ice cream with peanut brittle and two kinds of chocolate chips. The ice cream had a weird taste and the bits were small and insignificant.

Here is the ice cream. As you can see, the setting is lovely. Nonetheless, there is much better ice cream on Chincoteague, so read on and you will soon learn about it.

Monday: There is a new restaurant in town. It is called the Sea Shell Cafe. It's Chincoteague's latest attempt at fine dining. Although the menu tries to be creative and they are all about being politically correct with the organics and the local produce, I'm afraid the effort falls a little flat. They try, but they miss the mark. At least I felt they did.

I was dining with my mother and her boyfriend Don along with my aunt, Su Mei who lives in Ocean City, and one of Su Mei's friends. Su Mei's friend Annette had a "crab martini" and a grilled ceaser salad. She was happy with both. Mom had a seafood pasta that she enjoyed. Kevin had a rockfish pasta with some kind of herb sauce on it. Don had chicken marsala and loved it.

I had chicken saltimbocca and was disappointed. The accompanying rice was flavorless, as were the vegetables on the side. For the first time in YEARS I found myself reaching for the salt shaker in a restaurant. The chicken seemed to have no flavor other than tomatoes and parsely. I couldn't taste the ham or the cheese.

Kevin did not enjoy his pasta at all. He enjoyed it even less later than evening when he began having stomach cramps. He was in the bathroom all night and was still queasy the next day. It's not a restaurant we will return to.

Service was very friendly and the bar was well-stocked. Drinks and desserts were good (Mom just looooved her baybreeze). I just wanted to give the sweet waitress an Italian lesson. It's pronounced "saltimBOHca, and not saltimBAHca.

Tuesday: We had to go to bed quite early that night as the Pony Swim was the next morning. That means being on our boat at 4:30 AM. We wanted to go somplace fast and casual. I suggested the very informal Mr. Baldy's Family Restaurant.

Mr. Baldy's looks ugly on the outside and the view inside doesn't improve much. It has yellow cinderblock walls, ugly wall-to-wall carpeting, and vinyl booths with green tablecloths. Fortunately, we didn't allow ourselves to judge the proverbial book by its cover.

Their specialty lemonades rock! This raspberry one was delicious. I could have drunk a gallon of it. (I apologize to Mom for getting her making that weird face in the photo.)

Kevin and Mom both enjoyed some broiled flounder.

Don had crab cakes (I am so bad at photographing food that I forget to wait until people move their hands). Crab cakes are a big theme for the week.

I went for fried pork chops with applesauce. They were simple, but quite well prepared and not the least bit dry.

Don't they look "shwell"?

Our server was friendly and we were served very quickly and efficiently. I guess it was one night they had to be quick. Every tourist in town was likely going to bed early.

Wednesday: Pony Swim Day! The highlight of my year. I viewed it from the deck of Captain Barry's boat, which I have done almost every year since 1995. He likes to get out to the swim site before most other people, hence the 4:30 AM sailing. Captain Barry serves a rather strange combination for breakfast. We get egg sandwiches on white bread and mimosas to drink.

The Pony Swim was over with quickly and left us with plenty of time to nap before lunch. For my lunch this day, I tried another new place in town, Woody's Beach BBQ (Since 1946-Just Kidding). I could kick myself for forgetting my camera for this one. Woody's is on the road to the beach, and is run out of a trailer with the big smoker behind it. It is decorated with clotheslines that have tropical-print clothing hanging from them.

Woody's serves chicken, ribs, and pulled pork with the traditional accompaniments such as baked beans and colse slaw. They claim they interviewed three grandmothers for the bean recipe. They have a few different types of pulled pork sandwiches. They have their signature one, which has the "almost famous" red barbecue sauce and onion rings. They have the Memphis one, which is red sauce and cole slaw. They also have a Carolina style one with a vinegar-based sauce. I had the Memphis one and some of their AWESOME homemade fries on the side. The sandwich was really delicious and I am determined to have dinner at Woody's (carry-out only) the next time I go to Chincoteague.

Wednesday night Kevin and I went off on our own and had dinner at the Fireman's Carnival. This is a place almost untouched by time. If you ever rent the 1961 movie Misty of Chincoteague, you will see how little the place has changed over the years.

I would like to take a moment to tell everyone just how wonderful the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company is. They are some of the hardest working men I know. These guys are responsible for so many ways for the good citizens of Chincoteague, and on top of that, they are responsible for that beautiful herd of wild ponies who have made the island famous.

These are people who have full-time jobs as it is, but give their time and energy to being firemen, as well as running this famous event. They have to conduct the roundup, the swim, the parade, and run the booths at the carnival as well. Thank you, CVFC. You have my utmost respect and admiration.

Enter the carnival and the distinctive smell of Chincoteague Fireman's Carnival Grease hits your nose. There is nothing like it in the world. Where does the smell come from? I think it's owed mostly to this booth.

The oyster and clam sandwiches are the most popular food at the carnival. Our volunteers are hard at work making them.

Kevin and I opted to get our dinner from this booth.

I went for a classic cheeseburger, but Kevin went for his all-time favorite food.

Kevin believes the carnival crabcakes are the best ever. No crab cake compares. Not only are the carnival crabcakes his favorite crabcakes, but they are his favorite food, period (except for the things I cook for him of course).

The carnival sells homemade cakes and pies (CVFC Ladies Auxiliary) and funnel cakes, but we opted once more for ice cream. This time, we headed for the Island Creamery which is the best ice cream on the island. It's really one of my top ice cream places anywhere, second only to the Bellvale Creamery.

The crowds know best. This is everyone's favorite ice cream place. What's not to like? The ice cream is fresh and homemade (a claim Muller's can't make) and the service is friendly and efficient (usually Muller's can't claim that either).

It's not fancy or gimmicky, but all of the ice cream flavors are on clear display and there are plenty of counter people ready to take your order quickly.

One of my favorite things about the Creamery is their hot fudge. It's really delicious hot fudge. It's the best hot fudge anywhere. It's even better than (dare I say it?) the hot fudge at the Bellvale Creamery. Because we love their fudge so much, Kevin and I had sundaes. He had his with butter pecan, while I had mine with cookie dough.

Would you believe this was the small size?

Thursday: In the early morning Kevin and I watched the pony auction. If you need proof of how bad the economy is, look no further than this year's auction. Ponies, which normally sell in the $1500-$2500 range, sold for less than $1000 this year. For the rest of the day Kevin and I headed to the charming nearby town of Onancock. (Doesn't that name sound slightly naughty? It makes me think of schmenkes and masturbation.) Kevin collects wildfowl decoys (He doesn't hunt. He just loves the art form.) and he wanted to meet with a carver in Onancock. After spending a couple of hours with the guy, we had lunch at a very charming restaurant in town called Bizotto's. It's a much hipper restaurant than any place in Chincoteague.

I really liked the feel of this place. Had it not been 45 minutes away from Chincoteague, I would have returned for dinner.

I took a few bites of this yummy smoked turkey, bacon and cheese sandwich before I realized I needed to take a photo of it. It tasted freshly made and the honey mustard on top was great. The accompanying orzo salad was nothing extraordinary, but it was tasty and it's not often that I see tricolor orzo.

Kevin had a (surprise!) crab cake sandwich, which he liked very much (although not as much as the one he had at the carnival).

It wasn't so much that I forgot to take a photo of this delicious creme brulee` as much as I just couldn't wait to dig into it. Kevin felt the same way about the restaurant's signature key lime pie because it was reduced to a few crumbs on the plate before I whipped out my camera.

It was a late lunch and I got the impression that the waitstaff wasn't thrilled to be serving people at that hour, but they covered it up well and were nice to them so they warmed up to us.

We had dinner that night at AJ's on the Creek in Chincoteague. This is Chincoteague's most established attempt at fine dining. The food is about as upscale as Chincoteague gets, although the decor is a bit tired both inside and out. It needs some sprucing. It does have a very nice screened-in porch overlooking a creek.

AJ's has great cocktails. Too bad I can't remember what this one was. I know it was good. Maybe it was too good if I can't remember it.

My appetizer was nice fried duck breast strips with chili dipping sauce. They were crispy and not overly greasy and I was secretly grateful no one wanted to share them with me.

Mom and Kevin both had broiled flounder again. They both agreed that Mr. Baldy's was better, although AJ's wasn't bad at all. It goes to show you that cost doesn't mean a thing when it comes to taste.

Whenever I go to AJ's, I usually get the lamb chops for my entree. They are tender and perfectly cooked there. I also can get the option of a smaller portion. That allows me to get an appetizer, because I think AJ's has some of the best appetizers on the island (read: "non-seafood" appetizers).

Friday: My final dinner in Chincoteague was at Bill's Seafood Restaurant. This place is my entire family's favorite Chincoteague restaurant. Considering how crowded the place always is, I'd say it's everyone's favorite restaurant. At 9 PM (which is a very late dinner hour considering Chincoteague is a real family destination) I still had to wait a few minutes even with a reservation.

Bills looks very ugly from the outside, but over they years they have really improved the interior. Back in the early days they only had a couple of different wines (we're talking 3 varieties of Sutter Home). Now they have a full bar and a full wine list. Even though they're always busy, the waitstaff never loses that friendly Chincoteague smile and attitude one comes to expect on the island.

I forgot my camera again. I ordered the fried chicken, which is the best on the island. Kevin had stuffed shrimp. Mom had soft shell crabs. Don had crab cakes yet again. Don said the best crab cakes were the one's a AJ's (he never tried the ones at the carnival), but found Bill's to be more than acceptable. Dinner is always preceeded by their delicious honey-covered wholewheat bread and the salads are best served with their famous honey mustard dressing.

I had a delicious lemon-blueberry cake with mascarpone filling for dessert.

Saturday: Head home and stop on the road at the Waffle House for lunch. Mourn the fact that vacation is over.

I highly recommend Chincoteague as a vacation destination. Don't just go for the food. Go for the beautiful wildlife, the famous wild ponies, the stunning art galleries, and most of all, the warm and friendly people. Spend a day in Chincoteague and you will forget what stress is.


Lo said...

Wow. That's a lot of food! Sounds like you enjoyed your vacation. We'll have to give Chincoteaugue a try if we're ever in the area. :)

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Sounds like you had an action packed week! I'm cracking up over the"ice cream nazi". Who has rules for standing in line? Sheesh!

Lore said...

Sounds like a good idea to ask for a desired spiciness level. Oh, and that broiled flounder makes me move to Chincoteague!
Sounds like a nice place to take a break from stress-packed days.

noble pig said...

Okay first I have never heard of that town, "Chincoteague". I'm not sure why but it cracks me up. However, i would have to say that one horse town has a lot of food going for it!

Looks like you had a great time!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Lo - I recommend Chincoteague as a vacation destination for anyone. Check it out if you ever feel like heading down the east coast.

SGCC - You would not believe the women I used to see in this ice cream place. She was so nasty. If you stepped out of line or left the door open for more than a second she would get on your case. I'm glas she wasn't there last week.

Lore - I think I would enjoy eating more in Chincoteague if I liked the broiled flounder.

Noble - Google "Misty of Chincoteague" sometime and you'll learn everything you need to know. Better yet, pick up a copy of the children's book or rent the movie. Every horsey little girl has read it three times.

Emiline said...

You're so funny. I loved your roundup!

I've never had a crab cake sandwich, but you know, it doesn't sound half bad. I don't blame him for ordering a lot of them.

I've always wanted to visit Chincoteague. I read all of the books when I was a kid, so I definitely want to visit. Actually, I LOVED those books. They were so magical. I feel like reading them again.

I need help with liking oysters though.

Anonymous said...

try famous Pizza next time u go there. They are under new ownership and doing a hell of a job. i also recomend the village and seahell cafe.

Laura said...

Next time try Sea Star! And, for good seafood - Ray's Shanty on Rte 175 coming in.