After spending an evening at Burtons Grill dining with a friend, I was surprised to find we’d lingered nearly three hours there. To me, one of the main criteria for a perfect dinner out is being encouraged to take your time. Let’s face it: when you’re spending hard-earned cash, being rushed is the last thing you want. Eating out should be a cumulative experience that’s more than the sum of its parts (although every component of a great meal is important). There should also be a sense of magic to the evening, a feeling of leaving the real world behind for a while and living purely in the moment, so that when it’s over, it almost feels almost as if you’ve been in a dream.
That’s what my recent evening at Burtons Grill was like. In case you haven’t heard, Burtons Grill is one of Virginia Beach’s newest fine dining venues. But it’s not stuffy at all. As you enter the dining room, you experience a Zen-like transition from the world of parking lots and neon signs to a cozy cocoon-like space where earthy tones and a spa-like interior invite you to take a deep breath and relax. You’re in for a treat.
The Virginia Beach Burtons Grill is the fifth location, and the first in our area (the others are in Massachusetts and Connecticut). Kevin Rowell, one of the owners, greeted me soon after I arrived and told me how he and a few friends came up with the Burtons Grill concept some years back. “We envisioned a seasonally-inspired, ingredient-driven menu,” Kevin said. “We also wanted to price our menu somewhere between casual and fine dining so we could deliver an excellent value for our guests.”
Indeed the dinner menu offers an array of price points as low as $10-12 for sandwiches and salads. But my friend and I were seeking the complete dining experience and began with appetizers. Our waiter recommended the soup-of-the-day selection: she crab soup, which was a heavenly concoction of thick cream with loads of crab and a touch of spice. We also sampled the beet salad, gorgeously molded in layers with goat cheese, delicately sautéed pearl onions, micro greens, and candied walnuts. The beets, chopped finely, burst with flavor, and I ate every bite of this marvelous dish.
Several vegetarian selections were among the featured entrees, including a mushroom ravioli, which Kevin said has a number of loyal fans. “We have to keep it on the menu or they’ll get upset,” he said smiling. Other pasta dishes include vegetable linguini with a house-made tomato sauce highlighted with cream and reggiano and asagio cheeses and a lobster and shrimp pasta, featuring sugar snap peas and fresh tomatoes.
As a risotto fan, I was drawn to try the rockfish with shrimp and crab risotto, and as soon as I took my first bite, I knew I’d picked a winner. Golden bronze rockfish—locally caught, of course—perched on top of a nest of creamy risotto chock full of pieces of shrimp and lump crabmeat. Corn and sugar-snap peas added a sweet sparkle to the risotto, which was bathed in a lemony butter sauce.
My friend ordered the Land & Sea, which consisted of a certified Angus beef filet and a choice of either shrimp, scallops, or a pan-seared crab cake. The filet, cooked medium rare, pleased us with its flavor and tenderness, and the crab cake was also a delight, wonderfully rich in crabmeat with a zesty flavor. The baked potato had a salty, crunchy skin and was fluffy and light inside, so we asked Kevin what the secret was. You simply wet a russet potato, roll it in salt, and then let it sit overnight. “The salt draws the moisture out,” Kevin said, which explains the fluffy interior. Yum.
Fresh seafood selections offer diners the option of ordering a half- or full-sized portion of sea scallops, shrimp, and crab cakes. Fish entrees, served in hearty eight-ounce portions, included rockfish, salmon, and flounder. Seafood not caught in local waters is flown in daily, our waiter informed us.
An abundant palette of desserts will please diners with a sweet tooth. Our waiter recommended the key lime pie as well as the warmed chocolate torte. The former was a classic rendition of Florida’s signature pie, presented in a round crunchy crust, which appeared to be a graham cracker crust and not the granola crust indicated on the menu, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a mint leaf. It was a perfect balance of flavors—sweet and tart—and textures—creamy and crunchy.
The warmed chocolate torte, served in a wedge and topped with whipped cream, was also amazing. This rich, flourless dessert demanded we take our time and enjoy small bites, pausing often to savor its intense chocolate flavor. Kevin said the Sugar Plum Bakery down the street, which is staffed by people with disabilities, bakes the chocolate tortes for Burtons Grill based on a recipe from the chef. “It’s a way of connecting with the community,” Kevin said.
On another visit to Burtons Grill, I sat in the bar area, an inviting space with the same relaxing ambiance as the dining room, and sampled happy-hour offerings. From 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, you can enjoy $5 cocktails and special beer prices as well as $5 menu items. After my martini arrived, I requested an order of the buffalo chicken spring rolls, a surprisingly tasty combination of grilled chicken, blue cheese, and buffalo sauce served in a spring roll—practically a meal in itself. My more health-conscious friend selected the grilled stuffed zucchini appetizer, thinly sliced zucchini, cooked al dente and rolled into a spiral with an herb cheese filling. Served in a zesty tomato sauce, this appetizer was also satisfyingly filling.
Whether you choose to eat a quick bite in the bar or indulge in the full dining experience at Burtons Grill, you’ll find the food, the atmosphere, and the service deeply satisfying. The restaurant’s emphasis on fresh ingredients and creative preparations translates into a meal to remember.
Burtons Grill also offers vegan and gluten-free dishes and will be offering a gluten-free menu with wine pairings on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. For more information: Burtons Grill, 741 First Colonial Rd. in Virginia Beach; 757-422-8970 www.burtonsgrill.com