After 40 years traveling our state, I can report that even in today’s fast-paced world, many pleasant old-Virginia traditions are alive and well!
Take oysters and the town of Colonial Beach.
“Going back in history, oysters became a driving force in the lifestyle and economy of the region,” says Rocky Denson, owner and manager of Denson’s Grocery and R&B Oyster Bar in Colonial Beach.
Wait: an oyster bar in a gourmet grocery store; or, a grocery store in an oyster bar? Either way, it works. And one reason it works so well is that Denson’s is built around Virginia and Chesapeake Bay traditions, and some very good food to boot.
Rocky Denson is a native with deep roots in Colonial Beach. “My grandfather was a grocer in the ’40s here. When I decided to re-create his legacy, my wife and business partner, Blaire, encouraged me to add a ‘sit-down’ oyster bar and serve other traditional Chesapeake favorites.”
There are three items at Denson’s I want to highlight in this column: the oysters, the blue-crab dishes, and the cheeseburgers.
The grilled-oyster dishes are very popular and come in three varieties. Denson’s Style is topped with a blend of Parmesan cheese, garlic and butter. Then there’s the Oysters Rockefeller, topped with fresh spinach, garlic, bacon and a cream sauce. “Nothing comes out of a can in that selection or any other food selection here,” says Rocky. Finally, there’s Cackalacky Oysters, topped with Cackalacky Sauce (a Carolina taste experience) with diced celery and blue cheese. Blaire, a Carolinian, brought this combination to the menu.
I knew as soon as I looked at Denson’s menu I was in trouble. I counted at least five dishes with blue-crab meat. Rocky only serves crabs when they are in season, and fortunately for me, the season had just opened! I had fried green tomatoes topped with generous portions of blue-crab meat with remoulade sauce. Yum, yum! Next, I had a Chesapeake crab cake. Oh my … yum, yum, again!
The final “food group” I’ll highlight is the cheeseburgers. I didn’t sample the burgers, but I know the beef source is the best: grass-and-grain-fed black Angus from Monrovia Farms, a well-known operation near Colonial Beach. Rocky has specialized these burgers. Northern Neck Style is topped with Picante Provolone Cheese. Another is topped with Neuske Bacon and Swiss, and there’s the Black and Blue Cheeseburger. I am sure my favorite would be the Carolina
Cheeseburger, in honor of Blaire’s native state. For those who may not have had the pleasure of enjoying a Carolina Cheeseburger, it is topped with sharp cheese, slaw, and yellow mustard and homemade chili. Just thinking about this dish brings back memories of beach music and shag-dancing in the Carolina sand. Pleasurable memories and traditions last forever.
There are as many as 16 more specialty sandwiches, which are made with Boar’s Head products. You can also design your own with numerous meats, cheeses, toppings and breads. Rocky’s menu is like a gourmet novel with pages and pages of delights and is a testament to local-food sourcing. It would take more space than I have here to cover all the dishes, such as fish and shrimp tacos, homemade pimento cheese, clams, cod, rockfish, veal chops, shrimp and grits, halibut, oyster stew, and a rare local treat called Fried Chesapeake Bay Sugar Toads. Ever tried it? I had not until my visit to Denson’s. My visit to Denson’s and Colonial Beach was a most enjoyable and unique culinary adventure and reminds me that a culinary journey often doesn’t need a passport … thanks Rocky!
Readers, I’m waiting to hear about your favorite culinary journey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DENSON’S GROCERY AND R&B OYSTER BAR
117 Washington Ave. Colonial Beach, VA 22443
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.
Reservations are highly recommended for dinner.