As the soulful sounds of a saxophone wafted from the Big Easy Grill and Oyster Bar downstairs, Peter and I relaxed in the upstairs dining room of what has recently been rebranded as the Norfolk Seafood Co. As part of the chain of restaurants in Norfolk that includes 456 Fish, Bodega, Byrd & Baldwin Bros. Steakhouse, and 219 American Bistro, Norfolk Seafood Co. has retained some of the New Orleans-inspired menu items from the Big Easy Grill and added new dishes.
As a devoted New Orleans fan, I’d been eyeing this restaurant on Tazewell Street in Norfolk for some time and finally managed to come for a meal, only to discover the restaurant had recently moved in a new direction. Downstairs where live music is regularly featured, the oyster bar continues to offer, what else, a variety of oysters in a casual speakeasy setting, where patrons can also opt to order from the Norfolk Seafood Co. menu.
In the upstairs dining room, tables follow a long curving banquette, behind which sits a sleek, attractive bar. Booths line the brick wall opposite the bar, in the middle of which sits a gas fireplace, providing cozy comfort during cooler times of the year. Peter described the restaurant as having a “New York vibe,” and I agreed. There was little to suggest New Orleans in the décor, however, so except for the menu items, it appears my fantasy of finding a NOLA home away from home has gone up in smoke. Now I wondered if the food would measure up.
After ordering a reasonably priced bottle of Russian River Merlot ($26), we selected Oysters Rockefeller ($9.99 for ½ doz.) and BBQ shrimp and grits ($7.99) for our starters. The latter, one of my favorite dishes in New Orleans, arrived on a bed of golden cheese grits. Four tails-on shrimp glistened in a BBQ sauce enhanced with smoked andouille sausage and carmelized onions. I was surprised to see and taste the tangy BBQ sauce because traditional New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp involves a lot of butter, lemon, and Cajun spices—even veal stock, a chef once shared with me—but nothing remotely tomato-based. However, we agreed the flavor of the dish was good, albeit tangy, and the cheese grits provided a nice creamy balance. Thick layers of Gruyere blanketed the Oysters Rockefeller, and underneath, bits of bacon, onion, and spinach mingled with small, but tasty oysters. I liked the Gruyere, but Peter thought its strong taste masked the other flavors.
When I asked our server what the house specialties were, he reeled off practically everything on the menu, noting mostly beef and pasta dishes. While he mentioned the salmon, he barely touched on the plethora of seafood on the menu. We found that odd considering the restaurant’s new emphasis as a seafood destination.
For my main course, I chose two starters: a bowl of gumbo du jour ($6.99) and fish tacos ($6.99). Peter decided to try the fish of the day, flounder, which came with salad, bread, and a side ($13.99). Choices of preparation for seafood menu items include “crock style” (baked with lemon, garlic, and butter or a cheese sauce) or fried, broiled, sautéed, grilled, or blackened. Peter requested sautéed.
My generous bowl of gumbo arrived at the same time Peter’s side salad came. A rich, dark roux served as the base of the gumbo, which was quite different from most gumbos I’ve had. I didn’t detect any seafood, and beef appeared to be the main ingredient along with a bit of andouille sausage. While different, the dish had a pleasing taste and the quantity of rice served with the gumbo was just the right amount.
The fish tacos were, however, disappointing. A few pieces of blackened fish accompanied by a creole sauce of bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions were served in a cool deep-fried taco shell that proved chewy and tough. Peter fared better with his flounder, a thick portion served in a lemony-butter sauce. For his side, he tried the succotash: limas, corn, and stewed tomatoes. The tomatoes overwhelmed the dish, unfortunately, and we had to dig around to find any lima beans. The promised bread, a savory cornbread, never arrived.
Desserts include a homemade bread pudding, but Peter and I opted for the flourless chocolate cake, a rich pie-sized desert drizzled in a raspberry sauce with a dollop of whipped cream. As we sipped the last of our bottle of Merlot, we talked about going to Louisiana soon for a taste of authentic Cajun cuisine. In the meantime, at Norfolk Seafood Co., you’ll find tasty variations of New Orleans cuisine along with seafood, beef, and pasta entrees in a hip, trendy setting.