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Top 11 Chesapeake Bay Oyster Eateries - Maryland vs Virginia

Sip and Slurp Your Way Around the Bay

MID-ATLANTIC
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By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

Chesapeake summers ease you into such a laid-back state of mind that your big decision of the day can be choosing cold beer or crisp wine to accompany a dozen fresh oysters. That cool combo of bivalves washed down with a favorite drink is a beloved Bay ritual. The options were once simple: Natty Boh or Bud for brew fans; red or white for wine lovers. And oysters were only eaten in cold months. Today's Bay oyster scene has evolved dramatically. Now, 100-plus bivalve brands are harvested, and aquafarming makes them available year-round. The steady supply has sparked a raw bar renaissance with new oyster houses opening all over the region.

Could so many choices complicate a relaxing Chesapeake baycation? Not if we can help it. Marinalife teamed up with Chesapeake Oyster Lovers' Handbook to create a pair of oyster tours where Virginia wine and Maryland beer are coupled with local bivalves for a tantalizing bay-to-table event. Visit these 11 destinations and chart a flavorful course for sipping and slurping your way around the Bay.

Virginia Wine & Oysters

Pass the Bottle, but Hold the Bubbles Your Chesapeake oyster crawl starts in Virginia amid historic characters, rolling countryside and award-winning wines. Its vino tradition dates back to Thomas Jefferson, and centuries later, more than 250 wineries are curling their vines around 3,500-plus acres of land. The success is partly due to nurturing grapes that thrive here but fail in other places. Local vintners also defy the old adage that champagne and oysters are the ultimate couple. Instead, they pair fine wines with scrumptious bivalves that are cultivated in the same area and complement each other's flavors.

This bivalve quest also takes you to aquaculture sites that are bolstering a lucrative rebirth in the Chesapeake oyster biz and turning Virginia into the East Coast's top seafood producer. Its 2014 season jumped 31 percent by selling more than 40 million oysters, offering a wide range of flavors -- Rappahannocks to briny Chincoteagues. If you're ready for great grape and bivalve adventures, cruise to these five destinations.

Oyster Farm at Kings Creek - Cape Charles, Va.

When you lounge on the restaurant's deck soaking in a gorgeous view of the Bay, you might see workboats chugging by and gently dropping spats on shells (baby oysters) into the water. It's a pleasant reminder that oyster beds are right in front of the eatery, and you get to witness the infancy of the process that delivers fresh oysters to your table. Usually two or three local bivalve brands are presented with a smooth chardonnay grown about 15 minutes away at Chatham Vineyards. On Watermen Wednesdays, Eastern Shore aquafarmers give talks about their oysters and shuck them for tastings. (theoysterfarmatkingscreek.com)

Where to dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center (757-331-3100, ccyachtcenter.com)

Pleasure House Oyster Farm - Virginia Beach, Va.

Just a stone's throw from the Atlantic awaits an unforgettable experience where harvesting and eating oysters is not a spectator sport. At this aquafarm, guests tug on tall waterman's waders and step into the Lynnhaven River where briny bivalves lie beneath the waves. With the current swirling between your feet, the Chef 's Table Tour presents a feast of oysters and other local seafood served on tables in the water. Nearby vineyards, such as Boxwood, Williamsburg and Chatham wineries, make bringing your own wine easy. Two other guided tours offer oyster tastings, regional history sessions and hands-on activities with fishpots, oyster cages and aquaculture gear. (pleasurehouseoysters.com)

Where to dock:Long Bay Pointe Boating Resort (757-321-4550, longbaypointemarina.com)

Dog & Oyster Vineyard - Irvington, Va.

Two 40-foot-tall corkscrews at the entrance welcome guests to an award winning vineyard that specifically cultivates wines to pair with Chesapeake oysters. Bottles of white, rosé and red are sampled in the Wine Stand, while the Oyster Stand dishes out Windmill Point and Kellum oysters, soft-shell crabs and other seasonal seafood. The canine component of the name honors the sweet rescue dogs that roam the grounds to protect grape vines from deer and other hungry critters. Docked nearby is the Faded Glory, a Chesapeake Deadrise workboat that gives tours of oyster beds along Carter's Creek. In early November, the vineyard hosts the Virginia Wine & Oyster Classic, which features 15 of the region's top wineries. (dogandoyster.com)

Where to dock: Tides Inn Marina (804-438-4418, tidesinn.com)

Merroir Tasting Room - Topping, Va.

This little hidden gem has played a big role in the Chesapeake oyster resurrection. Merroir is owned by Croxton family members, who were early pioneers in aquafarming and are now growing world-class oysters. Their 250 acres of oyster beds lie just a hundred yards away from the charming eatery. These oysters grow in cages on the Rappahannock River bottom, but when they're pulled from the water, you relish a spectacular farm-to-fork experience that pairs beautifully with Virginia wine. Three types of oysters appear on the menu Rappahannocks (sweet), Stingrays (mild) and Olde Salts (briny) and they're prepared on outdoor grills with a variety of seasonings or presented simply on the half shell. (rroysters.com/restaurants/merroir)

Where to dock:Regent Point Marina and Boatyard (804-758-4457, regentpointmarina.com)

Inn at Stratford Hall - Stratford, Va.

Built in 1730, the luxurious inn overlooks the Potomac River with 1,900 acres of exquisite gardens, fields andforests. Four outstanding wineries are located nearby, creating noteworthy wine and exceptional cuisine. The chef at this oyster haven serves only Chesapeake oysters, often shucked on the half shell, baked with local bacon and parmesan, crispy fried or roasted with wasabi butter. Tasting the paired wine before the oyster is his preference, because guests find it's hard to resist a chilled glass placed on their table. Stratford's September Wine & Oyster Festival is a must-go event. (innatstratfordhall.org)

Where to dock:Nearby at Colonial Beach Yacht Center (804-224-7230, cbycmarina.com)

Maryland Beer & Oysters

Let's Raise a Frosty Mug to Brews & Bivalves Migrating north on the second leg of the journey, your oyster quest meanders to Maryland's farmlands, urban pockets and quaint Eastern Shore towns. You'll savor the rewards of folks who blend hops and barley to brew beer that couples well with Bay oysters. The state's long tradition of raising frothy mugs dates back to 1703, when the first brewery opened in Annapolis. From the iconic Natty Boh to today's craft ales, Maryland digs suds with bivalves.

Steamed crabs garner the most notoriety in the Bay's current seafood scene, but oysters have been major players in Maryland's commerce and culture since colonial times. These bivalves grew so abundantly and were devoured so voraciously that towns such as Crisfield and Solomons were built upon discarded shells. By the 1800s, Chesapeake oysters were the delicacy that everyone wanted to bring to their lips. Now, Maryland aquafarmers are rekindling the global oyster mystique by branding Bay bivalves with alluring labels such as Skinny Dippers, Chesapeake Golds and Sweet Jesus oysters. If you want to discover the bliss of beer and bivalves, then head for these six destinations.

Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grill- Piney Point, Md.

Located on the narrow causeway to St. George Island and flanked by the Potomac River and St. George Creek, Ruddy Duck gracefully blends into Southern Maryland's serene landscape. Next to the deck, a solitary loblolly pine guards a secret that's hidden beneath the gorgeous waterfront view: Oysters are growing just beyond the shore under the waves. These sweet bivalves are harvested daily for the restaurant and are a perfect match for the beers made fresh in house. A collection of brews are offered year-round from pale ales to stouts and traditional German festival biers. (ruddyduckbrewery.com)

Where to dock:Haskell's Marina (301-994-1008)

Boatyard Bar & Grill - Annapolis, Md.

Sailors, yacht owners, engine mechanics and anyone who loves the Chesapeake Bay gather at this lively Eastport pub. Tales of sea adventures and fishing conquests fill the air, while shuckers place fresh oysters on icy trays and bartenders drop the delicate meat into petite shooter glasses. Chilled mugs are filled with an impressive list of beers from across the country, including Maryland-made favorites such as Flying Dog, DuClaw, Fordham Copperhead Ale (from Annapolis) and the Boatyard Lager, specially crafted to highlight thesubtle flavors of oysters harvested in local waters. (boatyardbarandgrill.com)

Where to dock:Annapolis Yacht Basin (410-263-3544, yachtbasin.com)

BoatHouse Canton - Baltimore, Md.

Discover a destination that toasts Baltimore's industrial heritage while quenching Maryland's thirst for good beer and bivalves. This waterfront seafood house resides in the former facility of Tin Decorating Co., and its towering smokestack used to rise among scores of oyster processing plants that once lined the shore. Today, it hovers above the deck where guests nibble on oysters and watch ships zip around Inner Harbor. A glass case at the bar is filled with Bay bivalves such as Skinny Dippers, Choptank Sweets and Chincoteagues. Happy hour buck-ashuck oysters and Wednesday Craft Draft Night featuring Maryland brewsfit the bill without busting the wallet. Don't forget to check out the Dock Bar at the BoatHouse offering live music weekly. On-site free dockage is available while dining. (boathousecanton.com)

Where to dock: BMC at Lighthouse Point (410-675-8888, bmcmarinas.com)

Ryleigh's Oyster Federal Hill - Baltimore, Md.

Barstools around the shucking station at Ryleigh's are among the most coveted seats in the house. That's the best vantage point to gaze at oysters blanketed in ice with little wooden signs heralding local brands such as Shooting Points and Nassawadox Salts. This iconic oyster house offers 10 to 14 types of bivalves, but the favorite is Avery's Pearl. These oysters are custom grown in Hog Island, Va., through a unique restaurant-aquafarm partnership. Maryland brews such as Natty Boh, Evolution IPA and Loose Cannon flow freely, especially during buck-a-shuck Oyster Hour. (ryleighs.com)

Where to dock: Inner Harbor Marina (410-837-5339, baltimoreinnerharbormarina.com)

Ocean Odyssey - Cambridge, Md.

Across the Bay on the Eastern Shore lies a seafood house beloved by locals for its dedication to regional oysters and beer. Family owned since 1947, it began as a small crab factory and has evolved into the ideal place to sample an ever-changing list of local oysters such as Choptank Sweets, Barren Islands, Holy Grails and Sewansecotts. You can slurp them indoors or on the outdoor deck and beer garden that's decorated with a waterman's mural, tropical plants and colorful umbrellas. Maryland craft brews take center stage, especially bottles of Choptank designed by a Baltimore brewer to match the unique flavors of the Chesapeake. (toddseafood.com)

Where to dock:River Marsh Marina (410-901-6380, hyatt.com)

Awful Arthur's Seafood Co. - St. Michaels, Md.

On the main street of historic St. Michaels stands a lovely Victorian house that has become a prime destination for oyster and beer seekers. Beneath its gingerbread trim hangs an aquaculture cage where oysters once grew in Chesapeake waters. Every day, a raw bar list of a dozen or more types of oysters displays its unique flavors and brand names such as Chesapeake Gold, Sewansecott and Chincoteague. On tap are local ales that include Eastern Shore natives Real Ale Revival from Cambridge and Evolution from Salisbury. Extra bonus: The Eastern Shore Brewing Co. is located a few blocks away with a tasting room. (awfularthursusa.com)

Where to dock:St. Michaels Marina (410-745-2400, stmichaelsmarina.com)

Can Oysters Protect a Pearl of the Chesapeake's Past?

About 14 miles off Virginia's Eastern Shore, oyster aquaculture's cutting-edge science is helping to preserve a traditional way of life on Tangier Island. Richmond native Tim Hickey introduced to local watermen a new oyster farming method growing thousands of oysters in cages along the shore and shipping them to raw bars along the East Coast. That's a big economy boost from a tiny mollusk and a valiant effort to defend a unique part of Chesapeake heritage. For more, go to Tangier Island Oyster Co., tangieroysterco.com.

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Back to School Bucket List
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The days are growing shorter, and the final weeks of summer are upon us. So, before the school bell rings, Marinalife is wondering if you’ve checked off everything on your must-do list this season. If you’re looking for ways to wrap up summer, consider the following ideas for last-dash, fun activities.

- Learn how to do a back dive, canon ball or jump off the back of the boat into the water.  Rope swings are also an invigorating option.

- Have a tiki party on a boat and serve your guests tropical blender drinks. Bonus points for Hawaiian shirts and grilled pineapple or savory Polynesian snacks.

- Pick a dozen crabs on your boat or at a waterfront dock bar, along with all the classic fixins’ of corn on the cob, hushpuppies, coleslaw and a cold brew.  If crabs aren’t your preference, a lobster, clam or crawfish boil will do just fine.

- Ride down a giant slide, roller coaster or death-defying ride at a waterpark while letting out a mighty yell.

- Body surf in the Atlantic waves or build a sandcastle strong enough to withstand the tide.

- Explore a hidden cove or a dream destination that you’ve never visited before on your boat.

- Go fishing and catch something big enough for dinner.

- Get pulled on a raft or inflatable behind a boat or learn how to waterski.

- Catch lightening bugs in a jar to make a glowing lantern.  But be sure to poke holes in the lid and release them when the fun is done.

- Under the stars, go to an outdoor movie, music festival or seafood feast.

- Learn how to shuck an oyster, clean a fish or pick a crab, then invite friends over to taste dishes made from the fruits of your labor.

- Invent a nautical cocktail to commemorate the summer of 2022.

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Chesapeake Seafood Houses
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Meet newcomers to the Bay’s waterfront dock-and-dine scene

If the pandemic hampered your travels and you haven’t cruised into the Chesapeake Bay for a while, then welcome back to its sunny shores. While you were away, the oyster and striped bass populations blossomed, and blue crabs grew plump in the shallow marshlands. 

During the past few years, quite a few new restaurants have opened and tapped into the cornucopia of fine local seafood.  Some innovative chefs grace plates with creative flavors and ingredients, while others take a traditional path with family recipes handed down for generations by watermen’s wives. Many concoct ways to consume invasive species, such as the blue catfish and northern snakehead, but eateries that nail up a sign declaring “Steamed Maryland Crabs!” attract the most attention.

To help you rediscover the bounty of the Bay, Marinalife has handpicked 10 terrific crab shacks and seafood houses for you to explore.

Maryland

Bowleys on the Bay Bar & Restaurant
Middle River, MD

For a tropical getaway without long-distance travel, Bowleys on the Bay has created a resort destination groove on Frog Mortar Creek in Baltimore County. Push your toes into the sand on 300 feet of beach surrounded by palm trees while sipping a rummy cocktail and listening to a steel drum band. You can watch boats glide into Long Beach Marina or see planes take flight at Martin State Airport as you nibble on fresh local seafood, hearty sandwiches, and meat dishes.

Where to Dock:  Long Beach Marina

The Choptank
Baltimore, MD

In the heart of the historic Fells Point district, The Choptank has risen from the foundation of the 200-year-old Broadway Market. Its menu reads like a culinary voyage around the Chesapeake Bay with steamed crabs, just-shucked oysters, steamed mussels, crab soup and fried chicken. On the spacious outdoor deck, sample 20 draft beers while live bands play tunes, and the stars twinkle above the urban skyline.

Where to Dock:  The Sagamore Pendry Hotel & Dock

Watershed

Baltimore, MD

It’s hard to say what Baltimore loves more — seafood or sports. But if you’d like to indulge in both, head over to Watershed in the Federal Hill neighborhood, which is in easy walking distance from Orioles Park and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. A menu laced with classic dishes harvested from the Chesapeake waters entices you to pick a dozen steamed crabs or slurp fresh local oysters while watching games on big-screen TVs. Located in the newly remodeled Cross Street Market, you can belly up to the long wooden bar on the main floor and wash down a platter of Old Bay wings with a cold Natty Boh. Or step up to the roof deck to watch the bustle below on South Charles Street with an orange crush in hand. A casual vibe and live music create an upbeat place to hang out with friends.

Where to Dock: Inner Harbor Marina

Latitude 38 Waterfront Dining
Annapolis, MD

Where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, you can order local seafood with a view of boats cruising into Ego Alley, the showplace for vessels visiting Maryland’s state capital. With the new Upper Deck Bar and plenty of event space, this waterfront eatery accommodates groups of all sizes. Take your pick of regional favorites from crab cakes and peel-and-eat shrimp to herb-crusted rockfish and oysters Rockefeller. Chicken, beef and bourbon meat loaf ensure carnivores won’t go hungry.

Where to Dock:  Annapolis Town Dock

Marker Five
Tilghman, MD

Every visit to the Bay’s Eastern Shore holds the promise of exceptional seafood along unforgettable waterfronts. From Marker Five’s outdoor patio, you can watch watermen chug along Knapp’s Narrows and marvel as the Tilghman Island Drawbridge rises to let boats pass through. Eagles soar overhead while you peruse the menu of classic Chesapeake fare.  It’s almost impossible to resist starters such as Maryland crab soup or smoked corn and crab fritters, and your first bite of pulled pork, buttermilk fried chicken biscuit or pan-fried monkfish will delight your tastebuds.

Where to Dock:  Knapp’s Narrows Marina & Inn

Virginia

Portside Grill on Urbanna Creek
Urbanna, VA

Located in the heart of Virginia’s oyster-growing region, this family-owned and pet-friendly restaurant specializes in taking local seafood from the water to the table. At Urbanna’s only waterfront eatery, you can tie up along the bulkhead and kick back on the patio for casual dining with a spectacular view.  Crab tots and fresh oysters will whet your appetite for a Southern style meal of crab cakes, shrimp and grits, and chicken stuffed with Smithfield ham and goat cheese.

Where to Dock:  Regatta Point Yachting Center

Deltaville Tap & Raw Bar
Deltaville, VA

In a charming cove along Jackson Creek where the Piankatank River flows into the Bay, you’ll find a seafood eatery with an energetic vibe, live music and a nice sampling of craft brews and cocktails. The expansive view from the back deck matches the extensive list of dishes on the menu.  Highlights include hush puppies packed with crab and corn, Jonah crab claws, shucked oysters, and Lowcountry boils with crawfish, shrimp and other local catch. Try to leave room for dessert favorites: deluxe peanut butter pie or raspberry cheesecake.

Where to Dock:  Deltaville Yachting Center

The Surry Seafood Company
Surry, VA

A leisurely cruise up the James River to Gray’s Creek will deliver you to a seafood-centric destination where you can dock, dine and decompress.  Surry’s chefs present delicacies from the local waters such as golden fried oysters, bacon-wrapped salmon and flounder stuffed with crab imperial. If the serene view of the grassy marshlands makes you want to linger longer, spacious hotel suites are available above the restaurant. Boater bonuses: 45 new floating docks, fuel, ship store and bathhouse.

Where to Dock:  The Marina at Smithfield Station

Longboards at East Beach

Norfolk, VA

The green bamboo shoots on the menu’s border give a clue that this restaurant is blessed with a touch of tiki.  While seafood standards remain popular — she-crab soup, cod fish and chips, and Old Bay wings — Longboards also takes you on a culinary journey to Polynesia to taste Hawaiian-inspired dishes such as Singapore shrimp with veggies and Waikiki wings. Enjoy the restaurant’s upbeat atmosphere and stellar sunsets at the marina.

Where to Dock:  Morningstar Marinas at Little Creek

Stripers Waterside
Norfolk, VA

The bustle of Norfolk’s recently renovated Waterside District is attracting newcomers from along the Atlantic seaboard. Among the new eateries is Stripers, a seafood haven from the Outer Banks that features 30 beers on tap and a panoramic view of the Elizabeth River. Take a seat on the patio and savor dishes made from scratch, from clams and cod to mussels and shrimp.  After a hearty meal, explore the area’s attractions and nightlife.

Where to Dock: Ocean Yacht Marina or Tidewater Yacht Marina

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Cappy’s Crabs & the Chesapeake Feast
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My grandfather Cappy’s love of the water started with visits to his cousins’ house on the Potomac River. He was 14 when he built his first boat from a mail-order kit. Some of his fondest early memories on the water were the fishing charters his uncle would take him on and the bucket of fried chicken he’d bring along. Later in life, this motivated him to buy property on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay where I spent my summers as a child.  

Life on the Bay with a gaggle of cousins (18 of us) was a highlight of my childhood. We had free reign over the cul-de-sac populated by beach houses owned by my grandparents and their six adult children. When I was young, I would wake up with the sun and race to the window to assess the water conditions. The soft waves of early morning and glass surface made the best conditions for crabbing. 

All the cousins would meet at our grandparent’s house to grab chicken necks from the freezer and nets from the closet before rushing down to the dock. There weren’t enough nets to go around, but that hardly stopped us from crowding the dock in the cool dawn air in various states of dress, between pajamas and bathing suits. Each crab we caught was celebrated, sexed, sized and placed in our crab pot in the shallows under the dock until lunch. 

When my grandma Molly got out the crab pot and tongs, it was show time. My grandmother with a pair of tongs and feisty crustaceans are more evenly matched than you might expect. A few crabs near the top of the big pot always manage to hurl themselves over the edge, only to land in the boiling mac ‘n cheese water pot nearby. 

We would dress the picnic table in the front yard with newspaper, mallets and dishes of vinegar and Old Bay. Seated at an exclusive table away from the adults, we smashed, picked and dipped to our heart’s content.

“Pass the vinegar!” “Is there a mallet I can use?” “Can you help me get the meat out?” “May I have another crab, please?” 

This relaxed and fun-loving atmosphere inspired my grandparents to start their own crab shack in nearby Deale, MD. Eponymously named for my grandfather, Cappy’s Crabs sits over Rockhold Creek near Harbour Cove Marina. Every weekend in the summer, you can find Grandma in the kitchen and Poppy behind the bar, with kids and grandkids helping in the kitchen or waiting tables. The restaurant has an expansive deck with five slips, some large enough for a 40-foot vessel. 

Like most of Cappy’s float-up guests, the seafood on the menu comes from the Chesapeake. The menu changes according to the seafood seasons and pricing, but also to the whim of my grandmother and each diner. Catering to generations of dietary restrictions and picky eaters has made her a versatile and creative chef. Guests can always expect seafood and fried chicken in an array of forms from cakes and sandwiches to the star ingredient in one of the multiple salads available. 

Side dishes feature macaroni and cheese and an array of veggies such as beet salad or broccoli salad. More traditional summer treats such as corn and coleslaw make a heralded appearance on the menu. Family favorites such as French fries and cornbread round out any meal. 

Some say it’s best to have wings with your crabs, picnic style at one of the outdoor tables covered in paper. Watching marina traffic and listening to the waves underneath you is the perfect way to break up a day on the water. Order an orange crush from the bar, and your Maryland summer crab feast is complete!  

Cappy’s Coleslaw

A fresh, lighter take on the traditional creamy coleslaw recipe.

Ingredients

½ medium cabbage

3 scallions

2 carrots 

¾ cup of peanuts

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbsp rice vinegar 

1 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp canola oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Grate carrots
  • Chop cabbage and scallions into thin slices
  • Add ingredients to a large bowl; dress and toss well

Makes about 6 servings.

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