When in full self-sufficient and destination-driven cruising mode, just two words thwart forward momentum: weather and breakdown. But while approaching the mouth of the Bay this spring from points south, a legal document among my emails demanded attention. Trip-stopping words this time were “notary” and “fax,” not normally in our vocabulary.
I called friends Jim and Page Hall, recent transplants to Bluewater Yachting Center in Hampton, Va., who understood and offered their car. We’d stopped at Bluewater’s floating docks before, but only for fuel on the fly. This time Strider sidled into a slip, and immediately Jim dropped keys into Randy’s palm and Page put a map in mine.
That afternoon we copied, signed, notarized and faxed. Then, when returning the car, I noticed Surf Rider’s neon sign on the big gray building near the fuel dock and asked Jim about it. His expressive nod spoke volumes. We agreed to meet there at five and put our names in the queue (they don’t take reservations).
The bar, with a poolside view and barely separated from the dining room, had just enough open spots at the end. No on-tap beers here, so Randy ordered a Pacifico Clara from a long list of bottled brews. (The bartender said these change every few months.) Sipping a pinot grigio, I watched all the nearby tall tables fill and the dining area bustle with couples, young families and mixed groups of all ages.
Quite busy for a weekday, I thought, especially since Surf Rider’s not a place you stumble upon. If not already on a boat at the marina, I certainly wouldn’t have found it. Clearly everyone knew something I didn’t.
The bartender explained that this is one of seven Surf Riders, all family-owned and operated, well known around Norfolk. Three others, like this one, are on the waterfront. All share the same menu and a family tradition that began 30-plus years ago at the Bennett family’s first restaurant in Virginia Beach: simple Chesapeake-style seafood dishes. Tradition is undeniably on the menu, but with a new-age garnish.
The Hampton Surf Rider’s decor is contemporary with pale-blue walls, white trim, high ceiling, copious natural light and a few tasteful, ocean-oriented wall embellishments. The open kitchen allows all to see the steamy doings, but just a few water-view tables on the restaurant side overlook the docks. The narrow deck offers no outside dining.
Our “happy hour” lasted just minutes. Soon after Page and Jim arrived we were seated on the other side of the bar partition and sampling appetizers: blackened mahi tuna bites and crab dip surrounded by lightly fried pita rounds. Every nibble was sumptuous.
The menu’s good news is that it’s packed with diversity and options. The bad news: all those options. It was tough to stay focused. Randy’s solution was combining steak with the “award-winning” crabcake, which turned out to be delectably succulent and pure. My indecisiveness was solved by the Seafood Surf Rider: a mouth-watering medley of steamed shrimp, scallops and huge lumps of the sweetest and juiciest crab I’ve ever tasted. All crabmeat, I discovered, is from the seafood company of Graham & Rollins, based right here on the Hampton River.
Jim’s blackened scallops were luscious, and Page’s fish taco came with crisp, freshly made potato chips. Our salads had in-house dressings accompanied by crunchy hushpuppies. And to top it off, we ordered some of Surf Rider’s irresistible pie—a slice each of coconut custard and an unusual key lime chiffon. We were not disappointed.
As we said goodnights outside, folks were still milling about, waiting for tables to open up. And I totally get it. I just found out what they already knew: it’s worth it.
Surf Rider in Hampton Va., is located at Bluewater Yachting Center, which offers dockage for diners for $5.00. Surf Rider is open daily for lunch and dinner; lunch entrees $6.99–$9.99; dinner entrees $16.99–$20.99. 757-723-9366.