Love Song Starting on a High Note
Love Song doesn’t want to be labeled. “We have Spanish influences, but we’re not a Spanish restaurant. We have French brasserie influences, but we’re not strictly French,” says chef-owner Mike Hill. “American influences, too.” Dodging pigeonholes “…gives us the freedom to do whatever we want.”
But the Oceanfront hotspot is decidedly farm-forward—its unconventional menu predicated on local growers’ and fishermen’s hauls, nudging diners to share smallish plates like charcoal-roasted turnips, kohlrabi, grapefruit and crème fraȋche or grilled mackerel with saffron aioli, braised allium and pickled ramps at the terrazzo bar and bright hygge tables.
Now in its first full summer, offerings change three to four times a week. Hill, former chef de cuisine at Heritage, recruited two other alums of that perennially acclaimed Richmond restaurant, second-in-command Jake Keller and Brittany Herlig, a sommelier championing biodynamic wines. With a passionate staff, they’re poised to help hoist VA Beach onto the national foodie stage. LoveSongVA.com
Hidden Spot for Hot Buttered Lobster
In the world of lobster rolls, Connecticut (AKA New England) vs. Maine is as fierce as any BBQ brawl. At See Food and Eat It, a buried treasure inside Portsmouth’s Farm Fresh on Victory Boulevard, Michele Lawrence, originally from New Haven, touts Connecticut (hot with butter).
“That’s where they were invented, you know.” Upon request she’ll do Maine (cold with mayo), but she doesn’t think they’re as exciting as her home state’s namesake, which she hooks up with celery, onions and “secret ingredients.”
Before March, she was a lab tech brown-bagging lobster rolls for lunch. Soon doctors and nurses were placing orders. The pandemic—losing an uncle and brother (a jazz guitarist for major acts like Marion Meadows)—may have accelerated her career switch. When the former five-table Starbucks became available, she and sons Ryan McClain and Damion Minor set up shop.
The menu board, in Lawrence’s immaculate handwriting (“You can tell I went to Catholic school!”) includes Nathan’s hot dogs, shrimp rolls and smoothies. Still, lobster rolls reign: buttered, griddled buns crammed with the prescribed 3.5 to 4 ounces of claw and knuckle meat. “My signature is the lobster claw on top of each roll,” she says. “So it’s probably even more than that.” Facebook: See Food and Eat It
Books, Booze and Beyond in Ghent
Nosh News doesn’t typically spotlight bookstores, but when they double as bottle shops, well, hello! Eleanor’s Feminist Bookstore & Bottle Shop, at Texture’s original Ghent location, promotes sustainable, ethically made, women-produced wine, beer and specialty foods amidst a tranquil, inclusive setting (and BIPOC and LGBTQ literature). Hand-lettered cards elaborating the provenance of each small-batch jam, chocolate confection and bottle of mead evince the curatorial care of Erin Dougherty, who named her business after her grandmother and niece to celebrate intergenerational female strength. Pair your Chardonnay with Mona Chollet! EleanorsNFK.com
Joe & Mimma’s is Golden
An immigrant success story twice over, Joe & Mimma’s is turning 50. Sicilian-born Rosaria and Girolamo Buffa founded it in 1972 and Vietnamese refugee “Harold” Hung Quan Bui, working there practically since day one (dubbed their fifth—“and favorite”—child), bought the beloved Peninsula neighborhood restaurant (located in Grafton Shopping Center) over a decade ago. A time capsule of Italian-American cuisine—pizza, subs, penne alla vodka—it’s as popular as ever helmed by Bui, with his children (each named for the original owners) lovingly embracing their legacy. JoeandMimmas.com
Rockafeller’s Rocks New Look
Rockafeller’s, the family-owned fish house perched for over three decades on Rudee Inlet, recently hit refresh. Booths are out, banquettes are in, granting all tables a water view. Studio 73 Design’s Ginny Borja, working with owner BJ Baumann, enlisted a muted seafoam palette, scallop-tiled bar and frond-flecked wallpaper to establish a breezy mien with less clang by enclosing the kitchen.
Carved out near the entrance, The Landing, a convivial lounge with comfy couches, makes happy hours happier, and Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Brent Edenfield’s new from-scratch, cooked-to-order menu features she-crab soup (2022 East Coast She-Crab Soup Classic’s “People’s Choice” Award winner), double decker tacos, seared grouper and Brussels sprouts with hemp seeds. Oysters Rockafeller remain an irresistible draw. The more things change… Rockafellers.com
1608 Crafthouse: Resiliency Plus
As COVID restrictions loosened last year, 1608 Crafthouse chef-owner Kevin Sharkey and his crew breathed a sigh of relief. But during dinner prep one Friday in April 2021, they realized they were breathing in smoke, too. Although the blaze hit adjacent Sal’s Pizzeria, their Thoroughgood gastropub sustained substantial smoke and water damage, forcing a closure totaling one month.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” recalls Sharkey. “But now we have new LED lighting, new ceiling, new HVAC.” And they just had their best spring. Ever. Dinners showcasing local craft brewers are rolling again and 1608’s laidback, unassuming looks still belie the five-star culinary command of Sharkey’s daily changing locavore menu, exceeding diners’ expectations with the likes of hand-cut ribeye, truffle fries and roasted bone marrow and poached mahi with fermented chili broth.
“Still, the bacon cheeseburger pays the bills,” he says. Given everything 1608 has been through, maybe he should rename it “the phoenix burger.” Facebook: @1608Crafthouse
More from the “Nosh Pit”
We dig the Thai market food and locally grown Asian produce at Chili Hills Foods & Farm (Downtown Smithfield)…Turkish, Greek and Mediterranean fare plus belly dancing at Meyhane Kitchen and Bar (Williamsburg Crossing, Williamsburg)…fresh-squeezed orange juice and flaky palmiers at Barcelona-launched franchise Granier European Bakery & Café (Hilltop, Virginia Beach)…Sunday jazz brunch at Soulivia’s Art + Soul (Edinburgh, Chesapeake)…Shirley Temple floats and s’mores sundaes at The Hilton Creamery (Hilton Village, Newport News)…Foodies The Local’s Market’s chef-themed cooking classes (Lynnhaven, Virginia Beach)…additional locations for Cure Coffeehouse (Olde Towne, Portsmouth), Three Ships Coffee (Downtown Norfolk) and May’s Parlor (Ghent, Norfolk)…Shorebreak, TASTE, Mermaid Winery and The Butcher’s Son’s Southern Gent planning Pungo outposts. (Hmm…is Pungo the next “it” spot for eats?)