Step into Norfolk’s Saltine and you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a sophisticated fish market in New York’s Upper East Side. Multicolor subway tiles bolster expansive ice beds brimming with fresh catches from peel-and-eat shrimp, ahi tuna and crab claws to local varieties like James River and Chincoteague oysters. Despite its seafood-centric nature, Saltine has asserted itself as a hot spot for a locals’ favorite pastime—weekend brunch.
Saltine’s Saturday brunch kicked off late February and dishes out a mid-day, tapas-style spread unlike any other brunch joint in the city. Executive Chef Fabio Capparelli pulls from traditional American fare and infuses each dish with a plethora of global savors and techniques hailing from India, Asia, France and the Pacific.
The urban restaurant takes tableside service to new heights with not just one, but two trolleys designed for made-to-order cocktails and poke bowls. Chief Mixologist Mark Beyer anchors his cocktail cart with renderings of celebrated brunch classics such as the savory Bloody Mary and garnished mojito. Each boozy concoction is made your way with locally crafted vodka and gin from Virginia Beach distillery Tarnished Truth.
Equally as bright and creative is the poke cart. Twelve tin buckets teeming with ceviche, ahi, scallops, seaweed and a handful of other fresh toppings are perched on the ice trolley ready to be mixed and served. The hearty dollop of vibrant poke is served atop a bed of crispy golden wonton chips.
Saltine’s play on savory and sweet doesn’t stop there. The Saturday menu is ridden with spicy eats and saccharine treats that are sure to satisfy every type of bruncher. On the sweet side is the must-order giant cinnamon bun. The gooey pie-sized pastry is buried in a deep-dish skillet beneath a thick slathering of mouthwatering royal frosting. Adding yet another sweet bite is a dusting of powdered sugar and fresh mint sprig.
Smaller in size but equally delectable is the airy crème brulée pancake embellished with strawberries and a spoonful of creamy custard. The light dish is the perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of joe poured straight from your table’s own French press.
Sticking to its seafood roots, Chef Capparelli slips several terroir-inspired provisions to the menu. One of the most unique is the roasted PEI mussels. The onyx-hued shells are tossed in a flavorful yellow curry broth with halved cherry tomatoes, all served with a side of grilled naan bread. The marriage of brine, spice and char creates an explosion of flavor on the palate that keeps you going back for more.
Chef Capparelli also takes a seafood approach to the trending avocado toast by pairing the crisped French baguette and creamy green spread with hunks of fresh lobster, a folded poached egg and a drizzle of the housemade comeback sauce.
Last but not least, we dug into the unfamiliar congee. As one of Saltine’s signature dishes, congee showcases the restaurant’s expertise in international cuisine. Reminiscent of Italian risotto, congee is based on a soft rice tossed in a peppering of zesty togarashi spice. Added to the bowl are tender strips of duck, duck broth, scallions and a poached egg for a touch of breakfast nostalgia.
Needless to say, Saltine not only elevates your brunch beyond hangover plates and loaded French toasts, but engages your palate with some of the world’s most celebrated culinary combinations.
Saltine is located at 100 East Main St., Norfolk and is open for brunch every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.