Blue Ridge SeafoodDate of Visit: Tuesday, June 10, 2008
15704 Lee Highway
Gainesville, VA 20155
Time: Dinner - 8:30 PM
Number of Diners: 5
Food Quality: 7
I decided to join my fellow-traveling co-workers this evening, and they were on a mission - a mission for BLUE CRABS! The ringleaders suggested there was only one place - Blue Ridge Seafood in Gainesville. This town is well to the southwest of the DC area, a few miles beyond Manassas. We made the sojourn late, to avoid the infamous rush hour. The restaurant is a sprawling shack with an enormous gravel parking lot that was nearly full. We stepped inside to the decor of "crab shack 60's" and waited a bit for the young hostess to seat us. She found a place for us in the back, at a pair of picnic tables covered with brown butcher paper on an unifinished concrete floor. The neighboring tables had a group of 15 or so, most of whom were 2.5 sheets to the wind already, and very noisy.
What we had with menu descriptions...
The menu had a large selection of seafood items, about half of which were fried. Featured on the menu and a table card were several soups and chowders. I noticed the lobster bisque was the same price as the New England clam chowder. I asked the waitress about it, and she didn't quite wrinkle her nose. "I'd go with the clam chowder," she advised. "It's made here and that lobster stuff is frozen." Good enough for me, and most of us ordered a cup or bowl of chowder. While several other things looked good, we were there for a crab adventure. Shirlee advised starting with a dozen medium crabs and going from there. We again followed her advice, and added a pitcher of Red Hook ESB (Extra Special Bitter, aka English Style Bitter) Ale. She had each of us specify if we wanted butter or malt vinegar. Four chose butter and one vinegar.
The beer arrived first, with a large stick of frozen stuff to keep it cold stuck into the pitcher. It's a bitter style, but does not have a strong bitter flavor, so the name is deceptive. It worked well with all the seafood. The clam chowder was dense with a generous amount of clams, a heavy cream base, and large chunks of skin-on potatoes. A few minutes after the soup was cleared a plastic dining tray arrived with our dozen medium crabs, covered in a bath of dry spices. These were about a hand's width across. Our veteran showed us how to use the plastic prybar and wooden mallet to get to the crabmeat, advising us what to eat and what to avoid. There was quite a bit of work involved, but it got easy once I got the hang of it. The peeling, prying, and cracking process left enough spice residue on my fingers to flavor the tiny morsels of meat - enough so I completely forgot the tiny cup of drawn butter. My take - it was good, but not quite worth the effort. A dozen crabs later we were all still hungry. Shirlee ducked into the kitchen to reserve our second dozen - apparently our late arrival made availability doubtful. She came back to announce that all that were left were "Jumbos," significantly more expensive. Being on expense account - nobody cared, and we charged on, adding a second pitcher of beer.
I asked our group if the crabs were local, presuming they were from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Apparently it had been fished out years ago, so all restaurant crabs were imported, presumably from Mexico or somewhere. So I asked Shirlee, and she verified that they were not from the Chesapeake - hadn't been for years. I asked where they came from now, and she replied, "I think they come from Alabama." Most of us had been to Alabama several times, and all of us were surprised to hear it. Shirlee ducked into the back and returned with the day's invoice. Sure enough, all from LA (Lower Alabama) now! This supplier was based in Bayou La Batre.
The next round of crabs was easily three times bigger than the first. Having warmed up on the small ones, the Jumbos were easy to crack and eat, causing unintentional yet amusing sprays of crab juice in all directions. The meat was bountiful and delicious, perhaps not as tasty as the smaller lot, but far less work to get to. This second platter filled us up and left all satiated. Total with tip was about $38 apiece - very reasonable. The guys who had been before avowed that all of the seafood dinners were likewise excellent and affordable. Definitely worth a return visit. Just be sure to ask what's prepared in house!
Blue Ridge Seafood - RECOMMENDED
Highs: Good, fresh seafood, informal atmosphere, reasonable prices
Lows: Noisy and Messy!
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego