Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chesapeake Seafood

Greg and I went to Virginia's Northern Neck today.  Our goal: to see the Chesapeake Bay and eat some seafood ... and, basically, to see what there is to see in the area.

We began by turning east out of our campground.  The first 18 or so miles of our route took us through some spectacularly out-of-the-way places, past acres and miles of knee-high corn and some other grains that I could not identify.  Every so often we'd pass by an early 20th century version of a convenience store, but otherwise pretty much all we saw were the family farms of yesteryear: a farmhouse and a few outbuildings surrounded by acres of some crop or a freshly-tilled field waiting for planting.  Oh, and there was the occasional church -- most often Baptist -- with its adjacent cemetery, all the headstones like silent sentries, and all carefully and obviously arranged to face due east.

It seemed like such a long and lonely 18 miles!  Eventually we came to US Highway 17, the very same road which runs through my childhood hometown in Florida.  Turning south on US 17 we began paralleling the Rappahannock River, which we would eventually cross at Tappahannock.  Tappahannock seemed a quaint, bustling little place, but we did not explore it, as we had a ways to drive to our intended destination, Reedville.  

After crossing the Rappahannock onto the Northern Neck, we continued to see a number of farms but also started to see more and more evidence of a still-thriving seafood industry.  And, interestingly, more of the churches were Episcopal.  We passed through the charming village of Heathsville, which began as the Episcopal Parish of St. Stephen's back in the 1650's.  Wow.

We finally came to Reedville, selected as our destination because of its description as "a small waterfront town with a history in the seafood industry."  Beautiful and meticulously maintained Victorian-era homes line the Main Street leading down to the waterfront.  And though it's quite evident that the place had developed around commercial fishing and crabbing ... we saw no restaurants, seafood or otherwise, that were open for lunch.  Luckily, the proprietor of one waterfront eatery, already at work in preparation for the evening, sensed our situation, and was kind enough to direct us to Cockrells' Creek Seafood Deli, which was literally "across the creek" though we had to travel a somewhat circuitous route to get back in there.  It was definitely a locals' place; we'd never have found it without help.  And even if we had somehow managed to stumble upon the place, we probably wouldn't have gone in, because from the outside it looks a more likely warehouse or packing house than dining establishment.  Once inside, though, we discovered a spotlessly clean fish market with counter service and a tiny, neat-as-a-pin "dine-in" area.  We arrived shortly before noon, and good thing we did, because within a half-hour, it was jammed and the line at the counter was almost out the door.  Our lunch was everything we'd hoped for, and more: a seafood "sampler," everything delicately fried, with flounder, shrimp, scallops, oysters, and of course a crab cake.  I will tell you right now, I do not particularly enjoy oysters fried, preferring them instead raw and fresh-shucked, but these were absolutely the best fried oysters I have ever eaten.  Enough servings of Cockrell's oysters might make me consider the fried variety to be a favorite!  The crab cake was so fresh and perfectly seasoned, the scallops so sweet and juicy, the shrimp, the flounder -- ah!  Well worth the trip.

So worthwhile was that lunch that I'm not even disappointed that we never actually got to see the Chesapeake Bay.  Our road atlas indicated that Reedville was right on the bay, but it isn't.  And without a proper map of the area, we feared spending countless frustrating hours trying to navigate those winding centuries-old paths.  (How have we come to be the only "road-warriors" who do not own a GPS?)  

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