Farmasea Restaurant is Low Country Inspired Seafood

William Mitchell grew up on the water, hunting for mud toads and horseshoe crabs and spotting minnows and snails among the eelgrass in Back Creek. He fished and crabbed on the North River in Gloucester with his best friend Patrick, and they’d haul their fresh catch into the kitchen, where various cooks—all family and friends—would rustle up crab cakes or fry croaker seasoned with herbs from the garden.

As they sautéed and roasted and seared and stirred, Mitchell absorbed every teaspoon of their culinary secrets, where fresh ingredients and homespun recipes ruled, and the kitchen was the epicenter of family life. “My childhood was often spent in the kitchen,” he recalls. “Even when we would have large Thanksgiving gatherings with all of the extended family, everyone would end up in the kitchen. With a house full of rooms, we’d all be crowded into the smallest one in the house.”

After earning a degree in furniture design from SCAD—Savannah College of Art & Design—Mitchell headed north to study cooking at the Art Institute of New York City. This was the early aughts, a time when the age of celebrity chefs was dawning, and big names like Anthony Bourdain were changing the flavor of food. Bourdain became one of Mitchell’s biggest influences—both were drawn to international cuisine, much of it hyper-local street food, and both had similar backgrounds. “We were New York chefs and had to go through a lot of grunt work just to make it,” says Mitchell. 

Photo credit: Fred + Elliot Photography.

Yet, as he paid his dues in kitchens all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, the South beckoned. Mitchell landed in Charleston, cooking at High Cotton, one of the city’s most iconic restaurants, and became chef de cuisine at Cru Catering. Stints in Richmond and Duck, North Carolina, followed. Through the years, he continued to hone his skills, developing a serious cache of recipes, with soulful, ethnic flavors dominating his palate preference.

But Gloucester kept calling. With that childhood friend Patrick White, the two had long dreamed of opening a restaurant in their hometown. Growing up, there hadn’t been much choice, but as the years ticked by, the area was enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. Gloucester was emerging as a destination, with a revitalized downtown and a healthy population who’d relocated in favor of idyllic country life that certain pockets of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula offered. “We always wanted to give the community a place to be proud of, founded by locals, showcasing local ingredients, and supporting local farms,” says White.

Mitchell’s dreams turned into reality in 2021 when he and several backers, including White, launched Farmasea, a dock-to-dish and farm-to-table restaurant in Gloucester’s old Morgan’s Drugstore. Mitchell explains that the name is a play on “pharmacy”—Morgan’s—where he and his buddies remember noshing on grilled cheeses and sipping old-fashioned milkshakes at the lunch counter when they were kids. The name also tips its hat to the rich farmland and rivers that Gloucester is known for. “Morgan’s was the de facto town center,” Mitchell says. “At Farmasea, we want to recreate that welcoming, community-driven vibe that Morgan’s Drugstore was known for.”

Photo credit: Fred + Elliot Photography.

Farmasea brings full-body Southern flavor profiles to its menu. The food is heavily influenced by Carolina Lowcountry cuisine refined by big city chefs and served using Coastal Virginia’s local ingredients—from oysters and blue crab to peanuts and butter beans. “We do it to represent Gloucester so the people in our community don’t have to travel for a good meal, and other people can make it a dining destination,” Mitchell says. 

Fan favorites at Farmasea include Mitchell’s famous shrimp and pimento grits; if you catch it right, his petite filet might come with a seafood tower—a twice-baked potato packed with shrimp, scallops, and lobster. At brunch, his Coca-Cola-brined fried chicken and waffles always sells out,  along with an out-of-this-world lobster Benedict.

Mitchell writes his own recipes, and they’re often influenced by others. Some are riffs from those handed down from his mom, Channing; from Nelly, a family friend, known for her magic touch with seafood; and his godmother Carole White, his friend Patrick’s mother, whom he credits with introducing him to steamed 
artichokes and making delicious popovers and strawberry pie. Mitchell not only learned from the world’s top chefs, but also from these exceptional home cooks. From both, he’s learned to expertly balance flavor profiles and highlight what’s in season.

Today, Mitchell lives in the house he grew up in, off the Mobjack Bay, just a few miles from Farmasea. He still crabs and fishes, but now it’s with his eight-year-old son, Liam. “I feel like I’ve come full circle,” the 40-something Mitchell says, standing in his front yard, with its gentle slope down to the river. In his chef’s coat, he gestures from the house, to the river, to the treetops, ready for another day at Farmasea—ready to meld the flavors of the seasons and the bounty of the farms and fishermen as he soaks in the views, the garden, and the river that surround him. 

Madeline Mayhood is editor-in-chief of Virginia Living. She loves anything on Chef Will’s menu. 

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