Dining Down by the Water

Unexpected, boat-accessible places to eat.

Following Virginia’s rivers—or the roads that run beside them—can lead you to lesser-known places for a waterside meal long before you reach the beach. There may not be a bustling boardwalk running the length of the James or Rappahannock rivers, but these menus riff on the seafood favorites you’d expect to eat beneath tiki torches. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re on vacation, if only for the afternoon.

The Boathouse at City Point

The Boathouse at City Point, Hopewell

There’s perhaps no more surprising place to find a swanky waterfront eatery than on the banks of the Appomattox River in Hopewell. Tucked away from Randolph Road behind a dilapidated motel, The Boathouse at City Point saves its best side for the water, where high-up patio seating offers sweeping views of the Appomattox’s confluence with the James River. With an opulent indoor-outdoor granite bar, a giant copper-clad keg refrigerator, and oysters custom-raised for the raw bar, the restaurant has become a flagship of revitalization in Hopewell, an industrial enclave once called “the Chemical Capital of the South.”

A lunch of dynamite shrimp tacos and black cherry mojitos on the porch could come with sightings of the eagles that nest in nearby trees, not to mention the impossibly wide merging of two rivers below. “The view is surprisingly nice,” says Kevin Healy, owner of the HOUSEpitality Family of a half-dozen Richmond-area restaurants, including The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing along the James, where the menu is similar. 

Offerings at City Point range from a $12 Virginia blue catfish sandwich to a $30 crab cake-stuffed shrimp entrée with béarnaise sauce. 

Weekend traffic at the City Point location ramps up when notable artists play at Hopewell’s revived Beacon Theatre, a nearly century-old establishment that was renovated in 2012. Tickets for shows range from $35 to $100. “The people buying them are looking for a dining experience nearby,” Healy says.

A new boardwalk that begins at Hopewell City Park will eventually make its way along the riverbank past the restaurant to the Hopewell City Marina, where an outdoor summer concert series runs from May to September. For now, the marina is a five-minute walk from the restaurant, which also has plenty of parking. BoathouseVa.com

The Surry Seafood Co.

The Surry Seafood Co., Surry

A summer visit to Williamsburg or Jamestown can be stiflingly hot and crowded—which makes the thought of a ferry ride across the James River for lunch in Surry that much more appealing. Perched on the shore of Grays Creek, The Surry Seafood Co. is five minutes by car from the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry depot, or a little over an hour from Richmond on Highway 10.

The family behind the waterfront hotel-and-eatery Smithfield Station bought The Surry Seafood Co. in the summer of 2018 and began making changes. The restaurant recently opened four roomy hotel suites above with views of the sleepy creek and marshes below. New floating docks offer 45 bookable boat slips with amenities such as water and electricity hookups—not to mention the restaurant bar and 45 patio seats a stone’s throw away. 

Restaurant manager Brittany Stephens says crab cakes—on their own or stacked onto a Hereford burger for $15—are the pièce de résistance on an expansive surf-and-turf-focused menu. Drinks like the Grays Creek Streak, with crème de banana, pineapple juice, and Myers’s Rum, make the meal feel a little more vacation-like. SurrySeafoodCo.com

Merroir

Merroir, Topping

The Croxton cousins have a Midas touch when it comes to oyster-based businesses, and the quaint food shack next to their Rappahannock Oyster Co. farm in Topping is no exception. 

A nod to the wide range of flavors an oyster can glean from its surroundings, the tasting room’s name (pronounced mer-WAH) is a riff on the French word terroir, used to describe the environment that produces a particular wine. The “tasting room” title is a fitting reminder that, despite the humble environs and short-and-sweet menu, the food here is serious business.

Merroir

“We’re totally opposite of our other restaurants,” says Terri Riggs, Merroir’s general manager. Scott, Travis, and Ryan Croxton also own oyster bar restaurants in Richmond, Washington, D.C., Charleston, and Los Angeles. “Our others are more composed of high-end dishes.” Here, she says, “If you order a piece of fish, that’s what you get.”

Oysters from the company’s farms on the Rappahannock and York rivers, and on the sea side of Chincoteague, range from sweet Rappahannocks® to briny Olde Salts® (yes, their oyster names are trademarked). They are served several ways on the menu, which changes seasonally. On a recent version, Angels on Horseback oysters were baked in herb butter with Edwards Virginia Smokehouse ham, and Chesapeake Bay skate swam in a lemon-caper butter sauce. 

All but a dozen or so of Merroir’s seats are located on a gravel porch along the Rappahannock, so bring a wide-brimmed hat and expect crowds on a temperate day. Those coming by boat can take advantage of 10 free dock-and-dine slips, but should steer clear of the Creekside slips used by the working oyster farm. RROysters.com


This article originally appeared in our WaterLife 2019 issue.

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