Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pick the Right Accommodation to Get Close to the Fun on Virginia's Eastern Shore

In the third part of his series about Virginia's Eastern Shore, David Latt describes the accommodations he discovered on a summer road trip.

With cooling off-shore breezes, the Eastern Shore offers relief from the sticky heat of summer.


In close proximity to densely populated cities, the majority of the towns on the peninsula average fewer than seven hundred year-round residents. People are friendly and life is unhurried. Coming here is a good way to take a break from the demands of work and home. 
That's just what my wife and I wanted when we visited the Eastern Shore. We had suggestions for restaurants and reservations for winery tours, kayaking and clamming. All we needed was a pleasant place to stay each night and we were set.
Cape Charles

Before the seventeen mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was completed in 1964, the ferry terminal in Cape Charles was the busy access point to the peninsula.

After the Bridge-Tunnel opened, the economy of the town declined rapidly. Only since the development of Bay Creek Resort & Club with its residential villages, small craft marina and golf courses has the sleepy town begun to recover. 


With new investments, the classic Victorian houses that were the hallmark of the town are slowly being renovated.
Taking advantage of that unique housing stock, many have been converted into bed and breakfast inns. 


There are always plus and minuses about staying in B&B's, most importantly that you are giving up privacy. The trade off is your travel experience will be enhanced by meeting new people when you have your complimentary breakfast in the dining room and come down for afternoon tea or six o'clock wine and cheese on the wrap around porch.
The advantages are clearly seen at the Cape Charles House Bed and Breakfast, tucked away on a quiet suburban street a few blocks from the retail stores and restaurants on Mason Avenue.


Sitting on the deck in a comfortable white-washed wicker chair, a glass of merlot in one hand and a paperback novel in the other, there is a moment when the realization strikes home: it is so quiet.


That quiet is punctuated by an occasional bird call, a red pickup that drives by and, five minutes later, drives back the other way, a self-propelled lawn mower criss-crosses a lawn until, finished, it glides off the lawn onto the driveway and disappears into the back of the house.


Carol and Bruce Evans, husband and wife owners of the Cape Charles House Bed and Breakfast, make travelers feel at home with their friendly invitations to join them in the kitchen for beverages and snacks. Carol proudly serves a country breakfast of biscuits and dill cream sauce with a hardboiled egg, decorated with an edible flower.


Over breakfast, our fellow travelers traded information and recommendations. Carol told us about the meteorite that devastated the Chesapeake Bay area millions of years ago. A young couple from Michigan talked about Brook's Tavern in Chesterton, Maryland. The dish they remembered most fondly was the asparagus and homemade mozzarella salad. Paul, another guest staying several nights, recommended The Norris House, a B&B in Leesburg, Virginia. 


If, on the other hand, you crave privacy, the Bay Creek Marina in Cape Charles is another way to go.
While the B&Bs look to the past, the one and two-bedroom suites in the Bay Creek Marina are efficient and modern with full kitchens, spacious living areas and HD TVs. 
Because of the conveniences, families with kids stay at the Marina as much as adults on a romantic vacation. The detached units sit along the water, just feet from the marina's hundreds of small craft slips. 


In the early morning, while my wife enjoyed an extra hour of sleep, I took a walk along the water, a cup of coffee and a Danish in hand, and enjoyed the quiet. As the sun rose over the water, water fowl took flight as a lone yacht glided to its safe harbor.

Onancock

Mid-way up the Eastern Shore, the charming village of Onancock is a jumping off spot to explore Chesapeake Bay. A ferry from the small harbor takes visitors on a four-mile journey to picturesque Tangier Island in the middle of the Bay.
On the Atlantic Ocean side of the peninsula, ten minutes drive from Onancock, access to the barrier islands is mostly restricted, but some, like Cedar Island, are open to visitors. 


How did I know that? Lisa LaMontagne, who owns the Inn at Onancock with her husband Kris told me. That's another advantage of a locally owned bed and breakfast inn: insider tips about the area.  
As Lisa explained as we enjoyed an afternoon glass of wine and her bacon wrapped date appetizers, “Locals don’t go to public beaches. You'd think you have to go to a Caribbean island for privacy, but we get onto the water and spend the day on Cedar Island having a picnic and collecting shells.”

Accommodations in Onancock are in bed and breakfast innsone of which is the LaMontagne’s Inn at Onancock, an elegantly restored Victorian that avoids the mustiness often associated with B&B’s. 


Each room is individualized with quality decorations accumulated during Lisa and Kris' travels around the world. 
As with most B&B’s, breakfast is included along with an afternoon wine tasting and snack. Lisa is a good cook, so the food is restaurant quality. On the morning we visited, our breakfast included crab strata, orange sections with lemongrass, apple crumb tartlet, coffee, tea, and freshly squeezed orange juice.
At breakfast we learned from Lisa that the best source of fresh crab was Libby Edwards, who bought her catch from the crabbers who work the Bay. She cooks the live crabs in big steam pots outside her trailer, picks the meat out of the shells and sells to locals and restaurants who value her crab meat because "she does such a good job of picking it clean." 


Lisa also told us about the white corn meal she used to make her indian pudding and polenta. The meal comes from Bill Savage's Pongo Creek Mill. By day Bill is an electrical engineer. He found an heirloom corn hundreds of years old. Light in color, the corn is nutty tasting and moist. Lisa gave us a bag of the corn meal with a promise to email the recipes.

Fortified with a good breakfast and Lisa's stories about the area we took a leisurely stroll into town a block away to explore the local art galleries and small shops.
A few blocks more and we reached Onancock’s small wharf, where if you want to get out on the water and explore the shoreline, kayaks can be rented by the hour, day or week.

CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND

At the northern end of Virginia's Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island has the largest year-round population which swells in summer when tourists arrive to enjoy the natural beauty of the parks and shore.
To learn about the area, visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island (formerly called the Oyster and Maritime Museum) and the Refuge Waterfowl Museum.

Finding a place to stay in Chincoteague is easy. There are a great many motels, B&Bs, inns and hotels. Check on line for pricing and availability. There are also rentals units in apartments and homes with kitchens. Because the summer season is busy, booking early is advised.
We chose to stay at the Refuge Inn, just across the bridge leading to the Assateague and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which we wanted to explore on foot and riding bicycles. 


Sheltered in a grove of pine trees on busy Maddox Boulevard, the two-story, rustic, cozy Inn is  surprisingly quiet even though it sits along the main drag.


With bicycles to rent next door to the Inn, we dropped our bags in the room and peddled into the Refuge. So undisturbed is the area that wild horses wander the open areas, sharing the paths with hikers and bicyclists. 
We took a break when we reached the wide, expansive beach facing the Atlantic. We found a sheltered spot and stretched out on the sand, watching the waves and young kids building sand castles. We could have stayed hours but there was more exploring to do.
In town we discovered Island Creamery with some of the best homemade ice cream we had ever eaten. 


We were bicycling back to the Inn when we noticed a mountain of oyster shells in front of Little Bay Seafood Market on Chicken City Road just off Maddox Boulevard. 


So many shells outside the shucking hut was definitely proof that fresh oysters aplenty are to be found in the waters off the island. Inside the market, there were displays of fish, clams, oysters and shrimp, freshly caught that morning.  


Staring at the refrigerated case like kids in a candy store, we talked about how great it be to shuck a dozen oysters, steam a few pounds of clams and saute a flounder filet with a fine dice of Italian parsley and garlic, a bit of sweet butter and a touch of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and served with a tossed green salad and ripe summer tomatoes. Open a bottle of chardonnay from Holly Grove Vineyards in nearby Franktown and bring out a pint of Island Creamery's rocky road--what a great meal that would be. 


For our next visit, we would definitely stay in a place that had a kitchen so we could cook up some of the Eastern Shore's great seafood. 

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