Virginia is the largest producer of fresh-wild catch and farm-raised oysters in the country, providing seven regions of distinctive flavor. The Virginia Oyster Trail invites you to enjoy a delicious journey of statewide discovery and shows you how conquering one of the world’s best oysters goes beyond just ‘good eats’ and encompasses a whole array of one-of-a-kind adventures.
Editor’s note: Very special thanks to the sponsor of this article, Blue Crab Bay Co.
An old teacher, friend, and Eastern Shoreman, Arthur King Fisher, once described the culture of the Eastern Shore in a way that will always stick with me:
Our differentness is not born of exclusiveness nor sustained by snobbery. Our differentness is a kind of hobby. A collectible. We bring it out and burnish it periodically and derive satisfaction from it. For we have roots and most of America does not…
This is an excerpt from his “Eastern Shore Wordbook.” I was very excited to stumble upon this treasure of a publication in a small local bookshop, because even though I’ve been fortunate enough to live on the Eastern Shore most of my life, I never really identified the massive amount of unique culture associated with my upbringing. I just assumed every kid’s days were governed by the speed of their bike and the time of the sunset, and that all across America, people had a deep personal connection with the waters from which their seafood was derived.
Once I moved away from the Shore, I quickly realized that was actually not the case. But here in Virginia, we still have the amazing opportunity to really connect with what we eat. Not just knowing where it comes from, but really experiencing the process; the history of the region, connecting with the people who grow it, or catch it, or are inspired by it, learning more about their culture, even joining them as they harvest. The Virginia Oyster Trail is a great connection to this adventure. An adventure where every X on the map will leave you with an unforgettable experience, an exceptional product, or a truly world-class feast.
From Coast to Coast, Tip to Top, The Eastern Shore Oyster Trail has Something for Everyone
Just north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, (and at four other coastal sites along the Shore) the adventure experts at SouthEast Expeditions have the experience and knowledge to help you create the ultimate outdoor adventure for your friends, your family, or just yourself. As perpetual innovators on and off the water, SouthEast Expeditions guides and their trips have been nationally recognized for providing unparalleled experiences like the “Paddle Your Glass Off” trip to Chatham Vineyards and their Aqua-Culture Clamming Expedition.
So, whether you are just getting out on the water for the first time and looking for a great paddling trip out to see the Wild Chincoteague Ponies, or a Two Hour Tour of the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, or maybe you’re a more experienced paddler looking for a Full Day Kayak Expedition, or a bit of Adventure Travel, a SouthEast Expeditions experience is the kind that will create memories you’ll cherish forever, and stories you’ll tell for years to come.
If you find yourself hungry from a southern Shore paddle, or just from thinking about the adventures that await you, The Oyster Farm at King’s Creek (above), located in Cape Charles, specializes in serving the freshest and finest cuisine available. Plus, every seat in the house is front row to the amazing view of the Chesapeake Bay. Whether you are looking for a leisurely lunch on the beachfront deck, a relaxing cocktail with friends at the beautiful bar, or a candlelit dinner with that special someone, The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery at Kings Creek’s unforgettable ambiance, savory dishes and an attentive staff will deliver an experience that will keep you coming back.
If your interest was piqued by the SouthEast Expeditions “Paddle Your Glass off Tour”–or if you’re just a lover of exquisite wines and picturesque views–then be sure to visit Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek. Chatham is a second generation vineyard and winery operation at the historic Chatham Farm, which has been a working farm for four centuries in the small Eastern Shore town of Machipongo. Chatham’s high-density, European-style vineyards contain 32,000 Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot vines, which benefit from well-drained sandy loam soils, a maritime climate allowing for a long growing season, and a nearly constant breeze and favorable temperatures during the grape harvest season. An American Viticultural Area Growing site, it’s expressive wines boast a regionally-unique and nationally-recognized flavor which complements the Shore’s coastal foodways. Chatham offers a variety of fun events on site and regular tours of their operation and grounds.
Also in Machipongo, The Barrier Islands Center is a museum that wears many hats. It shelters yesterday’s culture of local islanders and watermen, as well as an art gallery, and a great gift shop full of local treasures. Yet it is, most of all, a storyteller, safeguarding the wisdom of our past for the sake of the Eastern Shore’s future.
At the Barrier Islands Center history is in its heyday, from century-old photos and artifacts donated by Barrier Island’s natives, to story-filled tours conducted by an island family descendants; I promise a visit to the BIC (local slang) is sure to deliver an “OH WOW!” moment to visitors of all ages. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Barrier Islands Center is housed at the Historic Almshouse Farm and comprises three noteworthy buildings. The oldest dates all the way back to 1725. Two almshouses, one from the 1890s and the other built in 1910, showcase architecture and construction techniques from those eras. The Center offers a variety of community enrichment events and tours which offer a glimpse into the inimitable and distinctive past which was life on Virginia’s Barrier Islands.
Further North, Blue Crab Bay Co. is a nationally-recognized gourmet enterprise near Melfa, Virginia, which perfectly embodies the American dream. In 1985, Pamela Barefoot was the woman who had that dream: to move to Virginia’s isolated Eastern Shore and survive with her creativity. The rural coastal peninsula, bounded by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, offered a blank canvas for entrepreneurial opportunity, inspiring Pam to start her own business. She envisioned items such as spice blends for clam and crab, two seafood species prevalent in the Chesapeake.
Setting up shop on the table in her farmhouse kitchen, she mixed seasonings and dreamed of other specialties that would embrace the flavors of the region. The “blank canvas” began filling in with all sorts of possibilities and new dreams, including the creation of local jobs, raising awareness of the region’s natural resources, and getting her new homeland on the map (literally, sometimes we are not.) Two newer products that particularly tie them to the Oyster Trail are their Oysters Rockefeller Mix and their brand-new stoneware oyster plate.
In addition to all of Blue Crab Bay Co.’s products, their gift shop also offers works by numerous local artisans, as well as locally made wines and other Virginia’s Finest food items for you to take home to all of your jealous friends who wish that they had made the trip with you.
Looking for another glimpse into the Shore’s past and how it intersects with Shore life today? The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society at Ker Place is a cultural center located in the Bayside village of Onancock, Virginia. The Society resides in and maintains Ker Place, a stately 18th century Federal style mansion, not only as a museum and research facility, but as a venue for the community to enjoy. The museum represents the early 19th century lifestyle of the upperclass shoremen, offers riveting tours, and has rotating and permanent exhibits that include: the log canoe the Annie C., the life of General John Cropper, and his grandson, Governor Henry Wise, and a 19th century herb garden maintained by the Master Gardeners. The Society also holds a variety of events throughout the year, including History Camps for Students, Music on the Lawn, art shows and weekend festivals for the public to enjoy.
While in Onancock, be sure to stop by the studio of local jewelry designer and metalsmith, Karen Tweedie. Karen both lives and works at the water’s edge, just far enough away to keep her feet dry. “The palette of colors of water and sky play an important part in my jewelry. The resulting body of work is a reflection of these sources of inspiration” says Karen. Her oyster-inspired pieces are especially reminiscent of the culture and vistas experienced on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and would make a stunning commemorative souvenir of all of the delicious times you’ve had experiencing Virginia’s Oyster Trail. Karen is also a member of Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisan Trail, which seeks to engulf visitors in the immersive experience of exploring a wide-array of the creative bounty showcased on this special place between the Chesapeake and Atlantic.
At the (nearly) northernmost part of the Eastern Shore, you’ll find yourself in Chincoteague, and you’ll be glad you made the trip. Chincoteague has just been nominated in USA TODAY’s latest 10 Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest for Best Coastal Small Town 2016, and after visiting the Island, you won’t be surprised why. Chincoteague Island, Virginia’s only resort island, is world famous for its oyster beds and clam shoals. Chincoteague is the gateway to the Assateague Island National Seashore and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Adventure awaits everywhere as history and legend blend with the wild loveliness of the seasonal shore. This serene fishing village, seven miles long and one and one-half miles wide and abounding with history and natural charm, and is perfect for boating, surfing, sunbathing, shell collecting, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, shopping and dining. It’s a birder’s paradise and a fisherman’s dream, boasting sunsets like you have never imagined and welcoming you to explore its unique Eastern Shore island heritage.
Since the oyster experience here on The Shore goes beyond the dinner table, but isn’t the same on an empty stomach, be sure to Check out the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission’s site, where you can sort your dining experience by such categories as where you are on The Shore – upper, middle, or lower peninsula – and even by atmosphere. Is it a beautiful day where the icing on the cake would be a waterfront dining experience? Sort by that. Want to see the look on your kid’s faces as they slurp down their first raw Oyster? (Yessssss.) Sort by raw bar options. Or perhaps you’ve planned an action packed agenda, where the only thing you can count on being with you is your cooler and a smile? You can even sort our best take-out options.
The VISIT the Eastern Shore page does a great job at highlighting places both on and off the beaten track, so no matter where you find yourself, the local’s secret won’t be a secret.
Blue Crab Bay Co.’s third annual Oysters a la Carte event, which features oysters served a variety of ways, Chatham Vineyard wines, and live music, will be Saturday, Nov. 12. For more info on all things Blue Crab Bay, here is their website, and here is their Facebook page.