On Gwynn’s Island, the Seabreeze Restaurant is the place for local news, familiar faces and flounder to die for.
In every happy home, the kitchen is always the focal point. Whether you’re sitting around a big table or leaning against a cook’s island, you’ll have your best conversations, hear your juiciest gossip, mend your most worn fences in a well-worked kitchen. And if you think of Gwynn’s Island, at the mouth of Virginia’s Piankatank River, as one big happy home, the Seabreeze Restaurant is without a doubt that warm, comfortable kitchen. Johnny and I came here in late September 2002 and enjoyed breakfast and dinner (they serve lunch too, but we grabbed a bite on the boat instead).
Owner Ralph Valdrighi in 1979 took over the existing hamburger take-out joint, enclosed its screened porch built out over the waters at the head of Milford Haven, and reopened the Seabreeze as a year-round establishment. Stop here for any meal, and in the front room (where the kitchen is located) you’ll find islanders gathered around a long, wooden table, looking for all the world like a family come home for dinner. It’s called the locals table, but anyone can sit here, and if you want to meet people and learn about island life, this is a great way to do it.
Step through a door and you’re in the dining room, with water and windows on three sides. To the northwest is the narrows and the bridge to the mainland, straight across sits the Coast Guard station, and looking east, the long blue horizon of Milford Haven stretches uninterrupted to the Bay. Beneath the windows, wood planks topped with long braids of rope serve as a kind of wainscoting. Above the windows, artist Pam Brummel has painted a continuous, colorful mural depicting island scenes - among them dolphins and workboats, children playing in the sand, a waterman netting soft crabs, a sea nettle and a cardinal perched on a purple lilac blossom. With about eight tables, this is an unpretentious, comfortable place.
For breakfast we ordered eggs over easy, bacon, hash browns, toast and orange juice. Everything was delicious, and best of all, the OJ came in huge glasses, not those wimpy little sippy cups that just leave you thirsty for more.
For dinner, we were wishing we’d been here the night before - Valdrighi said he had a surprise early autumn delivery of local soft crabs. “We sell many a soft crab,” he said. He assured me the flounder was just as good, though, so I took his word and ordered the flounder special, fried with a choice of two veggies. (This is the kind of place where “veggies” is a rather broad term, applied to everything from actual green vegetables to applesauce and French fries.) What arrived on my plate must have been a mutant. It was the biggest, thickest, flakiest flounder I’d ever seen, its tail lapping over the edge of the plate - which was a platter, too, not a regular round plate. It was, in a word, fabulous. Not a big fan of breading, I easily shaved the thin coating off the fish and dredged the pure white chunks of meat in cocktail sauce. This one set such a benchmark, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat flounder anywhere again. The cole slaw was crisp with a touch of sweetness, thanks to a dab of sweet relish mixed in.
Johnny had ordered the crabcake and scallop special, preceded by a small green salad. The crabcake vanished before I could ask how it was (so I guess I didn’t need to ask), but he left some scallops - he’s not a scallop guy anyway, so I wasn’t surprised. I was longing for some of the homemade bread pudding I had seen advertised on the board out front, but by the time our turn came it was gone with the sunset. So I had to settle for pecan pie a la mode - not homemade, but not bad, either. No worries. I’ll be back for the bread pudding - and those soft crabs, too.
The Seabreeze Restaurant, located just over the Route 633 bridge on Gwynn’s Island, Va., is open year-round, Tuesday through Thursday 8:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8:30–8:30; Sunday 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Breakfast 35'–$3.50; lunch $2.25–$5.75; dinner $7.25–$10.95. Cash or check; no credit cards. Reservations not needed. Limited free dockage (depth four feet) is available, first-come-first-served. 804-725-4000.