When Jesse asked me if I was interested in reviewing Shiptown, I responded with a number of expletives in excitement. As someone who identifies as a food connoisseur, especially when it involves tasty treats from waters near and far, I was IN.
If you haven’t heard of Shiptown, it is North Colley’s newest establishment, championed by the owner of LeGrand Kitchen. According to their website, they are an “old school oyster bar and seafood restaurant with an emphasis on cooking ‘clean,’” meaning that none of their food touches a fryer. They don’t even have one in house, which is all too prevalent in 99% of American restaurants.
Their name was inspired by a 1960’s Norfolk record label that released albums from local legends Ida Sands and Barbara Stan, among others, which I find to be a neat tie-in. (As someone who works in the music industry locally it was a fact that I did not know). The décor was clean and simple; steel oyster bushels hung from the ceiling and the vintage photographs on the wall were all collected from local oyster farms. The lighting was dim and romantic, and despite every seat being full it was not too loud.
The menu comprises of dishes created with ingredients obtained by local oysterman, fisherman, etc.; and we had the pleasure of trying a number of the dishes on and off the menu. Their wine list is short and sweet, the draft beers local, and the cocktail menu creative.
Our first course was a sampler of oysters on the half shell. We were provided with a taste of each of the four varieties they offered, with the Pleasure House oysters being my favorite. There is really nothing like being able to taste the area in an oyster! Accompaniments came in the form of freshly grated horseradish, a cucumber yuzu mignonette, as well as a house made hot sauce with the perfect amount of heat.
Second course was off menu, a tuna tartare with pickled watermelon rind topped with candied shrimp. When I first heard candied shrimp I was a little afraid, but it balanced perfectly with the texture of the raw tuna and the crispness of the pickled watermelon rind.
Third course was the Darden’s Country Ham appetizer. I would definitely recommend this if you are coming to the restaurant with a group. The plate was a considerable size and a great value for the price. The Parker House rolls are baked daily by Artisan’s Bakery, and they came out soft and hot. The home-made Sorghum butter balanced perfectly with the saltiness of the country ham, and the pickled mustard seed offering a totally different experience with the seeds popping flavor into your mouth with every bite.
Fourth course was the Deviled Crab. Being a Virginia Beach native, I’ve eaten and sold many a deviled crab in my lifetime. Although it may seem like an easier, less expensive version of a crabcake, it isn’t hard to screw this dish up. Ours came out piping hot in a vintage ceramic crab shell-shaped dish. It was a lot larger than I expected and the dish held plenty of meat for the two of us. The dish was tender and the crab melt in your mouth. I would definitely order this again.
Before the main course we noticed that there was a dish containing Bleu Cheese butter, so we had to try it. It came out with two hot Parker House rolls and all I have to say is DAMN. If I owned this restaurant, I would sell this retail. It was so good that I would have taken a block home to spread on ev-er-y-thing I possibly could.
Before the main course we decided to try two of the cocktails, the Fib on the Sly, or as the bartender called it a glorified daiquiri (it was not even close to what I know as the grossness that is a daiquiri!) and the Anti-Anti Hero, which was the closest thing to a margarita I could find on the menu. We sat at the bar so we got the full experience of what goes into these cocktails; the bartender even set my orange peel on fire before dropping it into my drink. The cocktails were a little expensive but were a good size for the price. Don’t fret — they do offer PBR if you aren’t into being fancy.
Onto the main course. We were given two off the menu to sample, the Whole Grilled Fish and Linguini and Clams. The fish was a whole Branzino covered in calamari, roasted cauliflower, beets and finished with a Cider Nuoc Cham. The cider made the whole dish; it brought the zing into an otherwise bland whitefish. The fish was tender though bony. The linguini with clams was good, but left something to be desired texture-wise. The subtly spicy sauce saved the day for me, but I was left wanting something more from the dish.
Last but not least, dessert. All I have to say is that I will pray to jah for a piece of Atlantic Beach Pie on the daily. I would compare this to a key-lime pie, but with lemon and the crust made from buttery crushed saltine crackers. Homemade vanilla whip brought the dish together.
All in all, I enjoyed the time we spent at Shiptown. The bar staff was friendly and made for excellent conversation. The menu is a little on the expensive side, but of top quality and value for the price. This is a perfect date restaurant, or the perfect place to dine before going to an event or a special occasion. I would recommend Shiptown to my friends and will be going back in the near future.
If you want to visit Shiptown, they are open Tuesday-Saturday with service starting at 5 pm. Parking is free on the side of the restaurant. For more, here they are on Facebook.