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Quintessential Virginia

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I'll be in Virginia on vacation soon. I've already asked about good restaurants in the VA Bearch area and thanks for the tips.

This question is more about whether there are things that are unique to VA that I really should try? For example, I know if I go to Memphis, I've got to try the barbeque, and if I go to New Orleans, I should try the beignets. But other than peanuts, what should I try to find in VA that is a specialty or a local custom?

Reference can be made to specific restaurants but I'm really just looking for stuff I should try if I see on a menu that otherwise I might ignore.

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  1. Brunswick Stew is a local custom. It's a tomato-based soup with veggies & meat in it. Not saying it's awesome, but I guess if you see it on a menu it's worth a try.

    1. Peanut soup. I've only ever seen it on menus in Virginia. Not sure if you can find it in VA Beach but if you're willing to make a little road trip to Colonial Williamsburg the three taverns serve it.

      Colonial Williamsburg
      427 Franklin St, Williamsburg, VA 23185

      1. If you see fresh Virginia oysters on the menu, try some. The Virginia oyster industry was nearly wiped out, and is just starting to come back, so it's unlikely you'll get Virginia oysters outside the area.

        1. I'll second the Virginia oyster suggestion. While it's Maryland's fame-claim, add some crabs, too. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of the Virginia standards _ peanut soup, for instance _ but a real Virginia peanut can't be beat. Big, crunchy, salty. Virginia ham is also good, prepared correctly. I brought one up to New England and didn't soak it properly to rinse off the salt. Choke. It's really to be served up in thin slices, and on a biscuit

          2 Replies
          1. re: szkochop

            virginia ham biscuits are insanely good. country ham on an amazing biscuit. mmmm...
            i do love va peanut soup but also all virginia peanuts. and brunswick stew. i'm a transplant to richmond 5 years ago and those are things i've found and love. anything by edwards - a ham/bacon company. specialty stores there should have it. really great bacon and other products. don't love virginia wines but they are worth trying since people who love sweeter wines tend to like them. i had virginia oysters at catch - the restaurant at the hilton in virginia beach (which while perhaps a bit overrated and overpriced is lovely) and they were divine.

            1. re: AMFM

              The ham biscuits at the Smithfield Inn used to be amazing. Lived there before moving to Richmond for college, so It's been quite a few years since I've had them, and I've heard they've had several new chefs, but they used to be the best ham biscuits ever.

          2. I second (or third) Virginia peanuts and ham! Lots of places have peanut soup, peanut pie, etc. If you can find a mom and pop place with ham biscuits, those are another staple!

            1. As others have stated, Virginia is famous for ham and peanuts. Salty Smithfield country ham is good. Seafood is big along the Chesapeake Bay, and the beach areas. Oysters and fresh fish such as Flounder are my favorites.

              For an "Old Virginia" dining experience, try either the Virginia Diner in Wakefield, VA, or the Surry Diner in Surry, VA. They have both been around for many years, and should have the ham biscuits, peanut soup, and peanut pie. (like pecan pie, only with peanuts instead)

              There are many good seafood places from the eastern shore down through the bay and Va Beach.

              In sounthern Va, you will be able to find some good NC style BBQ. I like Cowlings in Waverly, VA off of Rt. 460. Very good.

              Virginia Diner
              Highway 460, Wakefield, VA 23888

              3 Replies
              1. re: foodjack

                I worked at Virginia Diner for an internship, and still eat there regularly as my parents live nearby. One thing that a lot of locals enjoy there is the Sunday morning breakfast buffet. They do have good ham biscuits, a couple of southern side dishes, and peanut pie.

                If you find yourself over on Rt. 460, it's worth stopping in the restaurant to buy some of their unusual peanut mixes!

                Virginia Diner
                Highway 460, Wakefield, VA 23888

                1. re: ForFoodsSake

                  We travel Rt. 460 regularly to avoid the tunnels and I-64 out of Tidewater. We usually stop at The VA Diner or at Cowlings BBQ a few miles up the road in Waverly. Both are very good! At the Diner, I almost always get the fried chicken. It isn't as saltly as most of the fried chicken elsewhere. However, I love the side dishes such as stewed tomatoes, collards, and spoon bread. Just don't get those much anywhere else. The BBQ at Cowlings is worth a try next time you visit the parents. I get the large chopped plate, and I love there own sauce.

                  1. re: foodjack

                    Cowlings is another one of our regulars when I'm at their house visiting -- I can't get good BBQ up here in the north! They live within a few miles of both VA Diner and Cowlings, so we pretty much rotate between there, Guiseppe's in Waverly (right off of 460 and Rt. 40) and the new Mexican restaurant in Waverly (can't think of the name, but off of the other side of 460 at the Rt. 40 intersection).

                    I'm not sure how far west you go on 460, but Prince George Family BBQ (just before you get to I-95, across from the new gas station/truck stop/Wendy's) is also good!

              2. I will second all the recs for Virginia pork products and Virginia peanuts. Both are first rate.

                There's a simple reason Virginia hogs taste so good -- they eat Virginia peanuts!

                Ham biscuits are a great VA breakfast treat.

                As for VA wines, there are just a couple of wineries down near VA Beach, but there are many good wineries in the state as a whole now. The VA wine industry has come a long way in a very short period. Where I live (Loudoun County) there are now around 24 wineries, some very good (others not so good). Cabernet Franc and Viognier and two varieties that are doing very well in VA. Some excellent dry fruit wines can also be had.