Open Air Eats: Best Places for Outdoor Dining
A most magical thing happened last month: the earth’s axis shifted to its maximum tilt on June 20, making the northern hemisphere the closest to ol’ Sol as we’ve been in a year. This move, the June solstice, officially ushered in summer, or what I like to call, the Al Fresco Season.
Folks are flocking outdoors for a myriad of activities—lazy afternoons by the pool, strolling through parks under canopies of shading trees or attending a baseball game rooting for the home team.
The days—and evenings—are long now, our closest star high in the sky for upwards of 15 hours. It’s a darn good time to participate in another outdoor activity—enjoying a meal.
Across Coastal Virginia, there are many great restaurants offering courtyards, decks and patios to grab a seat and a bite to eat. The phrase al fresco is borrowed from the Italians and roughly means “in the cool [air].”
Dining outside—like summer—is usually casual and has celebratory undertones, even if the celebration is simply life itself. It can be done in the morning at breakfast and throughout the day, well after the sun sets and the sky fades to a deep purple studded with twinkling stars.
Ready to head outside? Here are some of my favorite places:
The Bier Garden
The feel: Tucked away off High Street in charming Olde Towne Portsmouth, this place could also be called The Secret Garden. A brick walkway through vine-wound trellises lead you into a delightful restaurant that’s something right out of Germany.
The food, the beer, the atmosphere: it’s fabelhaft (that’s fabulous in German. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad; I had to look it up.) The patio seats 31 outside, and a covered space seats 34.
The features: Umbrellas shade seating in one space, and another space is under cover.
The food: From owner Kevin Osfolk’s family recipes, Southern German cuisine abounds. We get an assortment of wursts and sides of spätzle and red cabbage. We also grab a beer—or two—since there are 23 taps and more than 400 brews.
Bier Garden is at 438 High St., Portsmouth. Call 757-393-6022, or visit BierGarden.com.
Esoteric Craft Beer & Curated Provisions
The feel: This eatery, located in and around a 1920s-era building, has an urban chic feel that is simultaneously upscale and down home. From Executive Chef Ian Hock’s kitchen comes a creative menu that is serious about supporting local foods and foodways. The patio seats 30.
The features: The outdoor seating is in a central courtyard area, shaded by the surrounding building.
The food: The wings here are seriously among the best I’ve had and a great way to start the meal. On the current, seasonally changing menu, the noodles are a winner: fresh fettucini, kale, morels, peas, radish, shaved black truffles, parmesan and a poached egg on top.
Esoteric is at 501 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach. Call 757-822-6008, or visit EsotericVB.com.
The feel: Bustling, energetic and fun, Lager Heads serves up charm in a contemporary setting that takes advantage of its location right on the Boardwalk with soaring windows and a fabulous patio that showcases the sand and surf. The menu focuses on expertly executed burgers and carefully curated craft beers. The patio seats 100.
The features: Umbrellas shade seating, and the space features firepits.
The food: There are many great gourmet burgers at Lager Heads, including the Green Chili Burger and Crab Benedict Burger, but I am seriously drooling on my keyboard right now thinking about the Cowboy Burger. This big boy, served on Texas toast, features a thick 80/20 beef patty, pickles, crispy onion straws, cheddar cheese, sweet barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato.
Lager Heads is in the Hilton Garden Inn at 3315 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach. Call 757-995-1400, or visit LagerHeads.com
The feel: Mermaid Winery is Virginia’s first urban winery and Coastal Virginia’s only winery right in the heart of the region. Located in Norfolk/Ghent, Mermaid is charming with a decidedly wine country feel. The patio seats 34.
The features: Umbrellas shade seating, and the area has a firepit. The outdoor space is for beverages only; food and beverage service is available indoors.
The food: Inside, brunch, lunch and dinner are served. Sunday becomes fun day at brunch with the Peaches & Crème Waffles, with fresh peach syrup and peanut brittle atop Belgian waffles with whipped cream and Virginia maple syrup. Live a little and toss on some house-made chicken tenders. And, of course, enjoy some vino.
Mermaid Winery is at 330 W. 22nd St., Norfolk. Call 757-233-4155, or visit MermaidWinery.com.
Supper Southern Morsels
The feel: Executive Chef Edward Storey delivers big flavors inspired by his Southern upbringing in this gorgeous, shabby chic, Martha Stewart/Paula Deen love child eatery. This time of year, the party moves outside on the rooftop deck. The patio seats 50.
The features: Seats are partially covered.
The food: I love brunch and dinner at Supper, but lunch is great too, especially while out running errands in Norfolk/Ghent. Deviled eggs make a great starter, and the Southern Fried Chicken is a must. The plate comes with one wickedly golden, brown and delicious breast and leg with collards, mashed potatoes and black pepper gravy.
Supper is at 319 W. 21st St., Norfolk. Call 757-383-6800, or visit SupperEats.com.
The Trellis Restaurant
The feel: One of Virginia’s best known restaurants still charms after more than three decades of service. Contemporary and comfortable inside, the patio, adjacent to the namesake trellis entrance, is adorable with views of the comings-and-goings at the edge of the historic district. A delightful menu from chef/owner David Everett is spot on. The patio seats 50.
The features: Umbrellas shade seating.
The food: The whole rainbow trout never disappoints: crispy on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside, the dish comes with crab and cornbread stuffing, veggies alongside and oyster cream. And yes, you should share the Death by Chocolate with your dining partner.
The Trellis is in Merchants Square at 403 W. Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg. Call 757-229-8610, or visit TheTrellis.com.
The feel: This building is nothing short of breathtaking. Built in the Arts and Crafts style, details, details, details abound. The feel is clubby and comfortable; the seasonally Southern menu from Executive Chef Kenny Reynolds is always a treat. The patio seats 30.
The features: Umbrellas shade seating, and the area has two firepits.
The food: The menu is highly seasonal and showcases fresh, local offerings while honoring Southern foodways. From our experiences at the annual Pork & Pinot special event, we salivate for Reynolds’ barbecue. Try the house-smoked baby back ribs, slathered with molasses barbecue sauce and served with smoked potato salad and house-made pickles.
Vintage Tavern is at 1900 Governors Pointe Dr., Suffolk. Call 757-238-8808, or visit VintageTavernVirginia.com.
And while it technically does not have a patio (hence the “half” in our title), we love that the whole front of this Norfolk/Ghent eatery (sans entryway) opens up like a big garage door, allowing summer breezes to waft in and make you feel fine.
The feel: An homage to the type of street food you’d find served up from food trucks around the world (the name Streats is a play on that,) the atmosphere is very straightforward and inviting. The menu has some eclectic offerings, and we love that.
The food: Three words. Duck. Confit. Tacos. OK, some more words. Asian pear slaw. On either flour or corn tortillas. Perfectly simple, perfectly executed, perfectly satisfying.
Streats is at 915 W. 21st. St., Norfolk. Call 757-233-8933, or visit StreatsNorfolk.com.