Fertile farmland, an evolving wine and microbrewery industry, and a bounty of seafood drawn from the Chesapeake Bay are the initial focus of two Norfolk, Virginia food feasts. What takes the experience beyond enjoying locally-sourced meals at the Crab Feast or the Harvest Feast is the knowledge experts share about the region’s history, its relevance to the ingredients, and learning to eat like a native Virginian.
“Anyone can provide good food and drink, but what separates our feasts from others is the experiential factor,” says Mallory O’Connell, director of operations/sales for Coastal Food Tours. She says expert crab pickers provide an historical overview of crabs available in the Hampton Roads area during crab season, which runs from April through October. “Then our crab pickers are at guests’ side to explain which parts to eat and show how to remove the crab from the shell. If you’re not from the area, you won’t know how to do this.”
Newspaper-lined tables laden with typical southern sides such as mac n’ cheese and greens front the Chesapeake Bay outside of one of many large restaurants. In case of inclement weather, the 2-1/2 hour Crab Feast for up to 125 can be taken indoors.
White linen-covered tables in the middle of a green space surrounded by flowers and foliage provide a more upscale setting for the popular Harvest Feast, which can accommodate up to 125. Coastal Food Tours’ favorite venue for the Harvest Feast is the Norfolk Botanical Garden, home to 30 distinctly themed gardens. In case of bad weather, the 4,000-sf Rose Garden Hall is available.
“The advantage of the Gardens is that attendees can listen to the speakers, dine or stroll the gardens,” says O’Connell.
The Harvest Feast can run up to four hours, depending on options chosen. Virginia’s acclaim for wine and microbreweries is growing. There are 228 wineries, 24 wine trails and more than 40 craft breweries in Virginia, many within an hour of Norfolk. Having a wine or brewmaster speak and conduct a tasting is one option. Having local farmers discuss their seasonal produce or having a chef onsite to preside over an interactive cooking lesson is another.
Coastal’s knowledgeable onsite staff will readily answer questions about local history, from Native Americans to John Smith or Jamestown.
O’Connell says, “No two events are alike. They’re all customized.”