Dive In at Dredge

This new seafood restaurant brings a little Key West to the Northern Neck.

Fried local oysters, fried yellowtail snapper,sake-steamed clams, fried oyster tacos, and raw oysters on the half shell.

Photography by Fred + Elliott

The server puts both a basket of fried oysters and bowl of steamed clams on the table. Facing this delectable choice, I decide to spear a fried oyster. In my mouth, light, crunchy breading gives way to a bright burst of mild oyster meat. Next, I try the clams, dunked in a Japanese sake-based broth, and again the bite is fresh and briny, pairing nicely with my glass of rosé. Both dishes are empty far too quickly. 

Chef Bryan Byrd

Oysters and clams are just a few of the specialties at Dredge, a new restaurant and bar owned by chef Bryan Byrd in the small town of Irvington on the Northern Neck. Here, water is both inspiration and livelihood. Tucked along the Rappahannock River just before it meets the Chesapeake Bay, the town was already known for the coastal Tides Inn Resort, but now Dredge is making it a foodie destination, too. 

Byrd grew up in Irvington with seafood and restaurants in his bloodstream. As a young boy, he helped his mother with odd jobs at the restaurant she managed, and later, as a teenager, he bussed tables in the very restaurant Dredge would one day replace. After several years in Key West working in the restaurant industry, Byrd came back home and opened Byrd’s Seafood Co., a successful food truck. He then jumped at an opportunity to take over the now-vacant restaurant space, opening Dredge in February of this year. 

On the menu, oysters are the main attraction. Dredge offers three kinds—Windmill Point Oysters of Little Bay, Old Salts out of Chincoteague, and wild-caught Rappahannocks harvested by Kellum’s Seafood in Weems—served raw or roasted on the half-shell or fried alongside a tangy remoulade. Oysters, fish, and shrimp also show up as filling choices for Dredge’s taco menu (along with Cuban pork). Entrees include unusual offerings such as Byrd’s pho, the chef’s take on the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with a choice of steak, shrimp, or oysters, and a house-made pasta with beef short rib. Island flavor is injected into a few staples, such as Caribbean jerk chicken, pallomilla steak, and whole fried fish, served alongside black beans, white rice, and plantains. 

Customers dine at Dredge.

“I knew I wanted to bring a bit of Key West back to my hometown,” Byrd says. “Our ‘fresh out of the water’ slogan is what we highlight, but things like the jerk chicken also show my dedication to the islands.” 

This is underscored by a mural on one wall that holds special significance for Byrd. Painted by Tommy Fox, the lush underwater scene shows a diver swimming amid some of the marine life found on the Dredge menu. On another wall is a painting of the boat once piloted by Byrd’s stepfather, who taught him a love of the sea—and “to try everything once,” he adds. 

Byrd points to his 28-person staff, which includes members of his family, as a key to his success, along with his close relationship with his suppliers. He plans to change up the menu seasonally and isn’t ruling out opening an additional restaurant someday. Whatever it might be, he says, “I try to keep myself on my toes.” DredgeIrvingtonVa.com

This article originally appeared in our Smoke + Salt 2019 issue.

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