Food always plays a major role for me in any trip, whether it is for work or pleasure. I try to research in advance to find some potentially rewarding restaurants at my destination. With only two weeks to plan, Ron & I decided to take a long weekend at Virginia Beach.
I attempted to do my usual, googling “Virginia Beach restaurants”, checking out google maps, google earth, trip advisor, etc. The restaurants that looked interesting were all too far away from the hotel for walking and we wanted to park the car and leave it for the entire stay. I had a difficult time finding very many choices near our hotel at the intersection of 21st Street and the Atlantic Ocean, interesting or not. Even the Twitterati did not arm me with any recommendations. A couple girlfriends suggested Rockafellers and a bar at Rudee Inlet and the restaurant in the Hilton. That’s all. I had to go in practically blind. And I was nervous about that.
We arrived on Thursday early evening with only a Subway sweet chicken teriyaki sandwich in my belly. We settled into our room, freshened up from spending 7 hours in the car, and headed out, on foot, to find food.
We walked north from our hotel about 10 blocks, and the Hilton glowed right in front of us. But my girlfriend said it was a place that you probably needed to “dress” for and when I gave Ron a visual inspection, decided he did not qualify. So we turned around and walked the 10 blocks back. Nothing on this journey even looked appealing. We saw a couple seafood buffets, a couple bars, a pizza joint and a couple ice cream stands. There were a cluster of eateries right across the street from our hotel (inlcuding a Wendy’s – hey, I was seriously considering it at this point) so we were going to choose one of them and go for it.
The winner: Luna Sea. It looked really nice from the street, had multiple outdoor patios and balconies and the hostess was wearing a nice black dress. If I owned a restaurant, I would make sure the hostess always wore a black dress. The servers should wear all black as well, but with crisp white aprons – the kind that look like a big rectangle with ties at the top. I digress.
We were seated in the outdoor balcony overlooking the beach volleyball court. It was a nice atmosphere and the menu had several choices with which I would be happy. And here’s where things go south. Service sucked. We waited for at least 15 minutes before we got our first beer. We waited on repeat beers, we waited, and waited. At least there were beach volleyball players below to provide some “live entertainment” during all this waiting. We learned throughout our weekend that bad service is an epidemic around Virginia Beach. Our food at Luna Sea was acceptable. The service was awful. Adding up to a subpar experience. I try not to expect too much from touristy locales because they don’t rely on repeat business – they need only attract you to their establishment once. The food doesn’t need to be spectacular and the service can be lackluster. You are on vacation and will be going home soon and a fresh batch of suckers will arrive in your stead. I wish more of the restaurant owners in tourist destinations would take more pride in their business, but I get the feeling most are just in it for a buck.
We walked down the Boardwalk after dinner to find an oceanside beach bar with live music. Not a problem – we found one just a few hotels away from ours. Everafter, a married couple playing covers from Journey, Bon Jovi and Tom Petty, interacted with the crowd like a bunch of friends. That was just what I was looking for.
Friday when we lounged on the beach, I tried to get my Rachel Ray on by asking a young man peddling pictures in those little plastic kaleidescope thingys where he would eat around the beach – he suggested Toutags, just a couple blocks away to the north. A man in the elevator heard us discussing our lunch plans and recommended Ammos, a Greek place about 5 blocks south. Having the 10 blocks north fresh in our minds from the night before and not remembering seeing anything that peaked our interest, we chose the route south and eventually came to the Greek place. It was right across the Boardwalk at the Fishing Pier where Ocean Eddie’s stood. Eddie’s looked like the typical beachy seafood place where people walk in wearing their bikinis with feet covered in sand. We had a tough choice to make. The man in the elevator looked Greek so I figured he knew what he was talking about, plus Greek food would be healthier and something new for us to try. Greek it is.
All the employees we came into contact with were obviously Greek and they took orders from several other customers in their language. I was excited by that – sure we would taste authentic Greek cuisine. The menu was extensive – a full page of appetizers, salads, pastas (such as moussaka), kebabs, gyros, and combinations. I chose the appetizer mini platter which turned out to be maxi and Ron chose a lamb kebab meal. We ordered up a couple Greek beers from Cyprus and we enjoyed watching the passersby on the Boardwalk from the Ammos oceanfront patio.
Service at Ammos was great, until we were ready for the check. It seemed to take forever to wrap things up. But the food was fresh and good. I tasted a total of 6 Greek dishes: spanakopita, tzatziki sauce, meatballs flamed with ouzo, stuffed grape leaves (dolmathes), and a delicious feta/cottage cheese-filled phyllo from my sampler and the lamb kebab with green beans. I really enjoyed it!
The other restaurant near Luna Sea, right across from our hotel, was a natural choice for a nighttime snack and several beers. I had checked them out online after seeing it Thursday night. Abbey Road Pub & Restaurant stocks an extensive selection of beers from around the world and the Bud Light was ONLY $3.00 each. (I have been shelling out $4 a beer so far and Ron can put quite a few away.) We lucked into not only pitchers of draft beer for $9.75, but another live band. The Part Time Saints resembled full-time grandpas, but they were loud and rockin’ and rallied a group of customers to get up and dance. We shared an appetizer basket of fish and chips (all frozen and deep-fried, I’m sure) but it was tasty and hot.
A word about Heather, our server at Abbey Road: she was fantastic. The best service we received at the beach, and we told her so. Even after setting us up with a pitcher, she still checked on us regularly to see if we needed water or anything. She should do some training for all the other waitstaff in the area.
At breakfast Saturday morning at our hotel, we found a perfect candidate for Heather’s Waitstaff Academy. My food was great – bacon with whole wheat toast. What could be great about that, you ask? The toast was so perfetly toasty, that’s what. It was toasty/crispy from tip to tip on the four perfect triangles of wheat bread. It wasn’t burnt, although I don’t mind a little charring, it was just really, really toasty. I slathered those babies with real butter and enjoyed every bite. But I had to wait for EVERY SINGLE refill on my Diet Coke. Ron tried to order his skillet with jalapenos, but our waitress, whose first language is obviously NOT English, didn’t understand, we suppose, because he got extra bacon and no japapenos. And of course she tried to charge us for extra bacon. When I go to an American restaurant in America, I expect the staff to speak freakin’ ENGLISH. Is that a ridiculous expectation? The gals at the Greek place spoke better English, but I walk into ethnic restaurants with the hope that the staff are of that particular culture and accepting the language barrier which comes with it. But I was at a Holiday Inn, ordering bacon for cryin’ out loud.
We went back to our room for a while so Ron could rest up for the 1 1/2 mile walk down the Boardwalk to Rudee Inlet – we were going to check out the bar my girlfriend told me about with gliders for seats. Thank goodness for free wifi – we worked on some of our beach photographs, tweaking them in Lightroom. We emailed and tweeted and checked out Google Earth to get a better idea of where we were headed on our impending hike. It was a pleasant, long walk…but long enough to require a respite. We stopped at Waterman’s near Fifth for some liquid refreshment and a potty break. Interestingly, the power was out for a couple blocks due to a trolley accident. But we were able to get our drinks and had to endure even more crappy service. I had a devil of a time getting a refill on my Diet Coke and then couldn’t find the guy to get my check. There’s no way he was getting an $8 tip…so I had to keep on waiting for him to finally bring my change which was wadded up in his pocket. Geez!
We continued walking into a residential area near the Inlet, hoping this would mean service at Rudee’s would be an improvement – and it was. The whole table and both bench seats were on a platform that glides and were covered with awnings. This was a sweet set-up. Ron relived his childhood by rocking his entire body back and forth to move the glider. I told him he looked ridiculous. It took very little effort to move it with your feet. We drank some cold beer and ordered lunch: cajun scallops for Ron and a blackened tuna burrito for me. I thought the food was great and our server never left us empty handed. I could have sat there much longer, gliding away…but the sun was starting to set and my right arm was feeling the UV rays not shielded anymore by the green awning.
The long walk back was broken up by a few minutes of viewing the beach volleyball tournament taking place on the beach and a stop off for more liquid refreshment at Ocean Eddie’s at the fishing pier. What can I say? We are a couple of thirsty people.
We had some hits and some misses with our dining choices, but overall we were happy with the food. Service was definitely lacking in most establishments. Value? Actual food prices weren’t too bad for a vacation spot…I am afraid to tally up the alcohol total. At $4/beer, it adds up pretty fast!