When Kevin Jamison, 37, moved back to Virginia Beach from New York six years ago to work on an organic farm, the local food scene was “kind of a black hole,” he says. Few restaurants took advantage of the many nearby farms for produce, dairy or meat and few farmers recognized the business potential in supplying restaurants with their products. By 2015, he had opened Commune (communevb.com; 757-963-8985; 501 Virginia Beach Blvd.), offering a breakfast and lunch menu of sustainable, seasonal food from area farms. It was slow going at first, he admits, with some people not quite understanding the concept. “For instance, they were upset there was no lemon for their water, even though we tried to explain that there are no farms growing lemons in this area. We got some one-star Yelp reviews over our lack of lemons,” Jamison recalls. But three years out, there are now lines out the door for weekend brunch. Although some of the menu offerings change with the seasons, “there are a few dishes that customers won’t let me take off the menu,” he says. At the top are the crunchy cornmeal waffles, made from ground heirloom cornmeal from the Eastern Shore and topped with either the housemade pork breakfast sausage or a brined and fried Joyce Farms chicken thigh, plus western Virginia hickory syrup and a sunny side up egg. Also on the menu since the beginning is the Southern rice bowl of Carolina gold rice, barley, cheese, breakfast sausage, egg and seasonal veggies. Don’t miss the bakery counter before you leave. The sourdough croissants are superb.
Summer tourism is big business in Virginia Beach, but chef-owner Anne Galante, 33, says she and other young chefs are opening restaurants aimed at a sustained year-round local business. After many years cooking at other well-known Virginia Beach restaurants, Galante opened the Stockpot (stockpotsoups.com, 757-995-7197, 700 19th St., Suite 106), three years ago in a Vibe district strip shopping center flanked by a gym and a Pilates studio. “My dream has always been to own a small cafe with healthy food that would be a favorite with locals — not for a special occasion, but as a comfortable daily stop.” The draw here is meticulous from-scratch cooking for even the smallest touches, such as the six days of preparing the broths for the weekly ramen night. Four kinds of ramen, three traditional — classic shoyu and spicy miso with pork belly and Stockpot shio with shredded chicken — and one vegan option with mushroom black garlic broth and whipped tofu, are served from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays for $16.50 a bowl. “The response to ramen night just blew up,” Galante says. Despite this, soups are only a part of what the cafe offers. The popular chifrijo bowl brings together black beans, crispy pork, puffed wild rice with avocado, mango, pico de gallo and cotija cheese over greens. The blend of spicy and sweet, crunchy and soft is addictive. If you need something to grab and go, consider the $5 toastie of the day —filled with something savory such as taco beef, white cheddar, mustard and tomato.
When Esoteric (esotericvb.com, 757-822-6008, 501 Virginia Beach Blvd.) opened three years ago, the idea was to provide something other than what executive chef and Virginia Beach native Brian Wegener, 31, calls “the typical beachfront hotel stuffed flounder menu.” The result is a gastropub with the requisite craft beers and custom cocktails, but with an American-with-a-twist menu that includes octopus tacos with kimchi and seared duck breast on French lentils with honey-roasted turnips. It’s all housed in a 1940s-era building, sparingly designed inside with street art murals, reclaimed wood and steel furnishings and an exposed ceiling. “We know we’re off the beaten path for many tourists, but we wanted something for local residents as well that reflected our concern for local products and offered a different take on many favorites and classics,” the chef says. Wegener likes to take humble-sounding dishes and add something unexpected. His small plate of pan-seared scallop is served with chunks of sorghum-glazed pork belly and confit tomatoes on Parmesan risotto. The elusive spice in the fried “Hot Chicken” tower is the Ethiopian seasoning mix berbere. And then there’s dessert. The duo of cinnamon sugar and sweet potato doughnuts with brown sugar ice cream shouldn’t be missed, but if you’re open to experimenting, you might consider Wegener’s chocolate black garlic or kohlrabi ice creams. You won’t be convinced . . . until you take a taste.