As the third major snowstorm of the season rages outside, I'm safely cocooned in a small shack in eastern Goochland County, a mile west of Route 288 and a mere 114 miles from the ocean. With reggae filling the air, a cold Red Stripe in my hand and some tasty seafood on my plate, the miles and seasons melt away. I'm as close to a summer escape on the Outer Banks as I can get — not bad for a Richmond winter.
This oasis, open just a few months, is the partnership of Bobby Dervishian, former co-owner of Patina Grill, and Stefan Crawford, formerly with the Border Chop House and chef at Mickey's Crabhouse in Bethany Beach, Del., for 15 seasons. Summer Shack has the feel of a neighborhood dive, outfitted with picnic tables, surfboards, nets, buoys, an indoor porch swing and other nooks for playing cards and wiling the time away. Service is friendly and paced more like the relaxing summer vacation where watches are taken off without worries. When I call to inquire about hours of operation, times are given in approximates, not definite, and on my first visit the gregarious Dervishian is triple-booked as chef, bartender and waiter.
The menu is divided into campy sections like “Dude, I'm kinda Hungry,” “Dude I'm Hungry,” and the “Full On Session.” As one might expect from a seafood shack, the menu leans toward fried food, but there are also some more refined choices.
We start with oysters Goochland ($12), a half-dozen oysters topped with bread crumbs, smoked bacon and crab imperial. The dish works. It's a great textural combination of creamy, crunchy and unctuous, with smoky, sweet and salty flavors all at once. The Rappahannock oysters are particularly good. A crab cake sandwich ($10.50) lives up to its “mongo” billing — large and mostly pure sweet crab held together with just enough binding to call it a cake. Served simply on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato, it's exceptional. A side of boardwalk fries and malt vinegar completes the picture.
The yellowfin tuna tacos ($9) are the best I've had in town. Spicy blackened chunks of moist tuna are bathed in an unusually rich cucumber and sour cream sauce with shredded cabbage adding a nice balance. The accompanying slaw is a simple, slightly sweet combination of cabbage, carrots, yellow bell pepper and cider vinegar. Other lunch offerings include a fried oyster sandwich ($11), blackened fish sandwich (market pricing), and more elemental turf options such as a meatloaf sandwich ($7), cheeseburger ($7.50) and bologna burger ($5).
My second visit is date night with my wife, and we head out to find shelter from yet another storm. The menu is a bit limited on this visit because seafood deliveries have been delayed because of weather. I decide to steer away from raw oysters and opt instead for a basket of the fried variety. Plump and juicy Rappahannock oysters are lightly breaded and deep-fried, a simple and unadulterated taste of the sea. Cheese grits and shrimp ($14) are simple yet decadent; creamy grits are studded with crispy bacon and topped with a generous portion of perfectly cooked sweet sautAced shrimp. A side of succotash adds a healthy and colorful splash on my plate but unfortunately my palate doesn't get the same treatment.
My wife opts for the meatloaf platter ($11) that comes with the proclamation, “Your momma's might be better!” Two huge slabs of moist and well-seasoned meatloaf are smothered with gravy, a flavorful dipping sauce that outclasses ketchup for the accompanying fries. Other surf options include steamed Alaskan crab legs, clams, oysters, and shrimp priced by weight; fried oysters ($18) and shrimp ($17), fish and chips ($12.50), and crab imperial ($21).
It's difficult to gauge what had more flavor — our meals or the patrons gathered at the bar.
Summer Shack already has found some loyal followers in the neighborhood. It does a brisk weekend business as well as on its Tuesday country karaoke night. I could see myself spending some time at the Summer Shack on a regular basis if it weren't a 32-mile round trip from Richmond's North Side. But for the residents of Short Pump's suburbs and the West Creek businesses, it's in the neighborhood, and adds some local flavor to an area more accustomed to big boxes and chain restaurants. It's simple food, done well, and an especially nice escape from the cold.
Summer Shack ($$)
12859 Broad Street Road
Lunch starts at 11:30 a.m.
Dinner 4:20 p.m.-closing