Monday, December 5, 2011

Seafood Worth Bragging About



Horn Harbor
836 Horn Harbor Rd.
Burgess, VA



The middle of nowhere.

It’s the best of places and the worst of places to find great places to eat and drink.

Some of this country’s most legendary seafood shacks, fish camps, BBQ joints and redneck bars are located down dirt roads and on backwater inlets far from anywhere.

The middle of nowhere. That’s where you’ll find them.

And that’s exactly where you will find the Horn Harbor House Seafood Restaurant, a middle of nowhere restaurant, on a middle of nowhere body of water down at the end of the middle of nowhere Northern Neck in the most middle of nowhere section of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

No body just “passes through” the Northern Neck on his way to somewhere else.

There is no somewhere else to go. The Northern Neck is a dead end.

Keep going until you can’t go any further and you’ll run into Horn Harbor -- at the dead end of a back woods farm road at the dead end of this peninsula by the Chesapeake Bay.

But as I’ve discovered the hard way over the years, just because most legendary eating and drinking joints are located in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t mean that every middle of nowhere joint is legendary.

Far from it.
The Horn Harbor House is a perfect example.

On previous visits to Horn Harbor, I’d get all giddy with excitement about the possibilities of this place.

Horn Harbor LOOKS like it should be legendary.

Sitting hard against the Great Wicomico River smack dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay’s seafood bounty, patronized by farmers, watermen and other assorted salty rough necks, this should be the kind of place that serves the very best the surrounding waters have to offer at bargain basement prices.

The kind of place you brag about to your friends when they commit a crime like ordering the “Seafood Trio” at your neighborhood Applebee’s.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

Suit757 can be somewhat obnoxious about these sorts of things.

“I need to take you to this place I know right on the Chesapeake Bay where the oysters are the size of your flip-flop and they pluck the crabs fresh out of the water. All you can eat for ten bucks. And one dollar drafts too!”

Well, okay, those kind of places are getting harder to find. But you know what I’m talking about.

For centuries, oysters were the primary industry of the Northern Neck. The rivers and inlets of this remote section of the bay produce some of the best oysters you can find.

And you can’t drop a chicken neck into the water in these parts without attracting an assembly of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

I mean, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for good Chesapeake Bay seafood like that at a restaurant in New York City.

But right here on the banks of the bay, where they just have to reach over and pluck it out of the water? It should be dirt cheap, right?

Not exactly.

My prior visits to Horn Harbor (maybe a decade ago) left me with nothing but soul crushing disappointment.

Memories of a half dozen tiny rubbery fried oysters thrown on a paper plate for twenty bucks produced great resistance to any repeat patronage.

But the promise of new management prodded me to give the place another try.

That, and the fact that there is absolutely nowhere else to eat in the entirety of Northumberland County.

When I come to a waterfront seafood restaurant like this there is no question where I’m going to sit.
Outside. Right on the water.

As the Great Wicomico lapped against the pilings and deck boards under my feet, I breathed in the thick salt air and took a big swig of my 22 ounce Sierra Nevada draft.

Nice.

Sierra Nevada? In the Northern Neck?

Maybe this place has turned around.

Any lingering doubts were erased by the time the appetizers arrived.

A generous plate of crispy calamari was accompanied by delicious chunky homemade marinara.

My oyster stew, a Northern Neck tradition for centuries, was even better.

Butter. Cream. Oysters. Parsley. That’s it.

Simple and uncluttered, this oyster stew allowed the star of the show to shine – big plump Rappahannock River oysters. A perfect dish on a cool, dark autumn evening sitting on the water.

Just when I thought life can’t get any better, it did.

My fried oysters and crab cake dinner presented themselves tableside.

Those tiny oysters on a paper plate? Just a distant bad memory.

For about the same price, these reincarnated Horn Harbor oysters were presented on a bright cobalt blue fish-shaped plate accompanied by cole slaw and decent hush puppies.

The fried oysters were hefty, juicy and salty, encased in a crunchy batter. Fried seafood perfection.

As good as those oysters were, nothing could prepare me for my first forkful of crab cake as I punctured the fried crispy exterior to get to the soft succulence within.

Big clumps of fresh crab meat, perfectly seasoned with Old Bay and held together by just the scantest trace of bread crumbs, these are the crab cakes I dream about when I am far from the shores of the Chesapeake.

By the time I polished off my seafood feast, downed my last swig of Sierra Nevada and paid my tab, I was excited.

Real excited.

I have a new place to brag about. And a new reason to be obnoxious.

“Dude. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

“I know this little place right on the Chesapeake Bay where you can get the best oysters and crab cakes you’ll ever eat. You can sit right outside on the water. With Sierra Nevada on tap!

“But don’t worry. Keep living in your timid little Red Lobster/Golden Coral world. You’d never find it any way.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Rating: Bought the Shirt!



Horn Harbor House Seafood on Urbanspoon

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