DINING: Eastville Inn Adds Imagination to Tradition
By CLARICE MACGARVEY
Cape Charles Wave
February 3, 2014
If your palate enjoys surprises, put Chef Brent Schmidt and the Eastville Inn on your dining radar. The historic Inn, built in 1724, began life as a roadside Coach House in Colonial times, offering overnight accommodations as well as dining for travelers. Today, the sprawling hotel bedrooms located on the upper story of the Inn are closed. The primary floor, consisting of a large main dining room, a smaller, more private dining space, and a cozy lounge, is very much open—providing an upscale dining experience that is rare on the Eastern Shore.
Chef Schmidt, a native of Hampton Roads with strong family ties to the Shore, took over this landmark facility in June 2013, updating the décor and adding high-top tables, a bar, and bar seating to the rear lounge overlooking the Colonial herb garden. The lounge area previously served as a display room for artifacts found in or near Eastville, showcasing the Shore’s legacy as one of Virginia’s earliest shires. The artifacts can now be viewed in the spacious entry hall, making space in the lounge for a comfy sofa and chair for chatting or enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail. The Inn’s bar serves a full range of popular cocktails and specialty martinis (try the Flirtini or Spiced Pear) along with champagnes and some very nice wines from Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Argentina, California, and the Shore’s own local winery, Chatham Vineyards.
As an historic landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn must maintain authenticity in specific areas of décor and structural detail. This includes draperies and wall paint color tones. Schmidt has added counterpoint to the Inn’s soft yellow walls with rich burgundy table linens and a collection of nicely hung art by local artists. With the warm wood flooring and pristine white molding and support pillars, the dining room fully evokes Southern hospitality. And the friendly, well-trained staff delivers on that promise.
I have been to the Inn multiple times, and on each visit have discovered a new taste sensation. Schmidt is a talented and imaginative chef with a real knack for unexpected flavor pairings, including his soup and appetizer creations. On my last visit, a chilly Saturday night in mid-January, the soup du jour was “Loaded Potato,” a rich and hearty blend of potato, apple wood-smoked bacon, corn, and spinach. It was pleasantly seasoned, appropriately thick and creamy, and topped with Cheddar-Jack cheese and sour cream. Also popular is Schmidt’s “not so traditional” French Onion Soup, with a unique base that delivers a nice flavor twist.
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Schmidt prepares each menu item “on the spot” when a diner’s order is placed, using local ingredients whenever possible. Daily menus vary depending on market availability of the best selections of fish, meats, vegetables, cheeses, and spices. One of my most favored Inn appetizers, Oysters in a Buttery Chardonnay Sauce, was not available on this visit. The restaurant manager, Lisa, suggested the Creamy Mascarpone Laced Polenta, a dish she described as “surprising” in its blending of ingredients. She was right. The combination of sautéed tomatoes, roasted garlic, spinach, Asiago cheese, and a Balsamic Reduction with the polenta was very pleasing in texture and savor.
This was a weekend visit, and the evening’s special was a succulent-looking, all natural, grass fed hand-cut New Zealand Rib Eye. Schmidt was plating up these beauties—12 to 14 ounces each— on a bed of garlic mashers accompanied by sautéed spinach and herbed gorgonzola butter. As a seafood and pasta lover, I opted for the Pan Seared Prawns tossed with asparagus, Andouille sausage, linguini, and Cajun cream.
Schmidt worked under a Cajun chef for many years beginning at Strawberry Banks in Hampton, and that Cajun influence informs many of the Inn’s signature dishes. Selections such as his luscious Jambalaya consisting of prawns, Andouille, chicken, and crawfish tail meat or a spicy and delicious Crawfish Etoufee are menu standards.
Back to my prawn and linguini dish — it was perfect. The prawns, large and meaty specimens, were cooked to the correct point of tenderness. The linguini held the Cajun cream nicely, maintaining its al dente firmness throughout. The asparagus was crisp, the Andouille nuanced and subtle. The serving size, more than generous.
At the top of his game with every course, Chef Schmidt truly excels with desserts. When presented with the choices, including three crème brulees — vanilla bean, white chocolate, and super dark chocolate — I succumbed to the dark chocolate crème brulee with raspberry and mango puree drizzles. Sweetly crisp on top, and rich and velvety inside, this is a nice ending for any meal, and I heartily recommend.
Schmidt, a graduate of Johnson & Wales, comes to the Eastville Inn with two decades of professional experience under his toque, including stints at restaurants such as Bobby’s American and the Tap House. Before opening the Inn, he was the owner-operator of Brent’s Fine Foods in Hampton, a highly rated dining venue.
“I’ve always felt connected to the Eastern Shore,” says Schmidt. “My mother grew up in Onancock, and my grandfather was quite well known here. I had a strong vision for establishing at the Inn a quality dining experience that for too long has been elusive for Shore residents.”
Quality. Just the word I was looking for to define Chef Schmidt and the Inn. Top quality.
The Eastville Inn is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, beginning 5 p.m. Lunch is served Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. In addition, the Inn hosts three weekly specialty nights with special pricing: Tapas Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, and Martini Thursday. The Inn is also available for private parties and events.