The Food Issue: 350 Grace

Chef Willie Moats and the Team at 350 Grace
Husband and wife team Wille and Michelle Moats. Photos By Will Hawkins

Where Glorious Southern Staples Are Sans Gluten

Grace is defined as divine favor. At 350 Grace, make that divine flavor. 

Willie Moats named his restaurant after its Ghent address and the biblical grace he believes infuses all he is and does, especially the loving preparation and impeccable plating of 100% gluten-free modern southern cuisine. Here at his and wife Michelle’s fine dining spot, stylishly tucked into The Palace Shops and Station in Norfolk, cross-contamination need not cross your mind.

Learning the alchemy of baking as a kid in his mother’s Park Place kitchen—and hoping never to have to bake another cake or pie in this lifetime—Norfolk native Chef Willie returned to his Southern roots with Grace, though he built his outsized reputation on global fusion cuisine with creativity as a key ingredient.  Some longtime locals may remember his global glory days at his restaurant Timbuktu, located in the Days Inn at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, or Moats on Mondays at the original oceanfront Coyote Café.  

Fresh Southern fare at 350 Grace (Photos by Will Hawkins)

Between then and now, eschewing culinary school in favor of honing his chops in some of the best boutique kitchens in Coastal Virginia, Chef Willie continued to earn accolades and build his knowledge of innovative recipe- and menu-development. As his 40-year career developed, he became increasingly seasoned in the business of running a kitchen, contributing his team building and leadership finesse to upmarket fish and steakhouse restaurants like 456 Fish and Byrd and Baldwin, as well as at The Princess Anne Country Club.

More recently, he was promoted from executive chef to vice president of food operations and dining at Harbor’s Edge, a high-end retirement community where he learned that dietary restrictions need not impact the quality of upscale fare.

But in 2019, Chef Willie and Michelle, a healthcare professional and “foodie” from Chicago, opened their own shop with 30 employees firing on all burners, fueled in part by the goal of earning a James Beard Award. How? By consistently serving up refined-but-unfussy plates of unexpected, hand-crafted and gluten-free perfection.

Think perfectly plump local oysters perfectly paired with regional wine, Norfolk beer, or a Southern-style cocktail served by a friendly, knowledgeable staff in a setting sleek enough for date-night but inviting enough for family-night. However, an unwanted guest in the form of the global pandemic had something to say about that. With survival front of mind, the chef contracted his operation but not his devotion to exquisite plates of down-home food gone uptown.  

Now with a lean staff and an intimate-but-varied menu of unpretentious, but inspired, fan favorites that rival haute cuisine anywhere—gluten-free or not—350 Grace is open three prime dining-out nights per week.

Closed days offer Chef Willie the grace of time: time to prepare the likes of stocks, sauces and compound butters from scratch for his changing menu of fresh, hand-crafted offerings of southern staples with a gastronomic twist. In other words, don’t expect cocktail and tartar sauce with those oysters. No, more like shaved fennel, lobster salad, pickled peppers and grilled mustard greens aioli.  

The pandemic changed much about the world, perhaps the culinary world especially, but at 350 W. 22nd Street, there is still much to say grace over.

Learn more at 350grace.com.
See us in the pages of the 2024 Food Issue.

BD
Betsy DiJulio
+ posts and articles

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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