Cover: Allison Luzier Photography photo courtesy of Ingleside Plantation Winery
Virginia is known for oysters–the “Oyster Capital of the East Coast” according to some. In fact, in the 19th Century, they were as hot a commodity as gold and crucial to the area’s economy.
The Town of Colonial Beach, Virginia (CBVA) has a unique position on the Virginia/Maryland line: step off the sand and into the river and you have left Virginia and entered Maryland. It was here that a significant aspect of CBVA’s history took place: Colonial Beach became the epicenter of the century-long Potomac River Oyster Wars that lasted from the 19th Century to the 1960s. Respected and well-liked local farmer and father of three, Berkley Muse, accused of poaching oysters, was shot and killed by the Maryland Oyster Police, effectively ending the Oyster Wars. After the Oyster Wars (1865-1959) on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay turned violent, the industry began to die out.
But once the shock of the deadly oyster battles wore off, oysters experienced a “renaissance” in Virginia, says Rocky Denson, owner and chef of Denson’s Grocery and R&B Oyster Bar.
The state capitalized on that rebirth by creating events and activities that celebrate oysters in an effort to attract visitors. The Virginia Oyster Trail, for example, is a “visitor-directed experiential journey of discovery program featuring Virginia’s Oyster regions” and invites visitors to explore the “vibrant coastal communities” in which the oysters are harvested. The Trail guide highlights points of interest along the trail, such as restaurants serving oysters; artists and art galleries specializing in regional coastal art; local lodging and tours; and oyster-related festivals and events. Click here for a 7-day itinerary via Capital Region USA.
The Town of Colonial Beach, Virginia (CBVA), is a popular stop on the Virginia Oyster Trail, notably because it is both a river town AND a beach town, home to the second largest sandy beach in the state.
Some of the local businesses that participate in the Virginia Oyster Trail include:
Named Best of Virginia 2018, Denson’s Grocery and R&B Oyster Bar specializes in oysters from the Upper Bay Western Shore region, which yields sweetwater oysters with a light cream taste. Emphasizing Chesapeake Bay ‘Farm to Table’ dining, Denson’s is the recipient of dozens of “best of…” awards. The restaurant sources only fresh, never frozen, fish and shellfish and serves oysters in a variety of ways.
JarrettThor Fine Arts gallery specializes in river, bay and coastal art, featuring the work of local CBVA artists who draw their inspiration from the natural beauty of the Northern Neck region.
Each of the five coastal vacation rentals that make up Beachcomber Cottages of Colonial Beach depict a nautical, homey theme for a true “rivah” life experience.
Nearby Ingleside Vineyards also participates in the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail-Oyster Crawl, held in the spring and fall. The wine trail was voted the #1 Wine Trail in Eastern VA by the readers of Virginia Living Magazine and the #2 Wine Trail in Virginia by the readers of Savor Virginia Magazine.
The Oyster Crawl features local wine and oyster pairings from a number of wineries (7 this fall) and local restaurants who prepare one or more oyster dishes to pair with the wines. Several wineries also feature live music.
Denson’s Grocery and R&B Oyster, who has received countless Best Oysters, Freshest Seafood & Oysters, Best Restaurant, Top Oysters and Best Gourmet awards, is always in demand by local wineries. He frequently partners with Ingleside Vineyards.
Rocky, who owns Denson’s with his wife Blaire, loves oysters and is known for the creative ways he prepares them.
When asked if he is the ‘Bubba Gump’ of oysters, Rocky replied, “I guess I am. I fry them, stew them, grill them, saute them, make them with butter and garlic, in oyster stew and even a special sauce from North Carolina. It’s something I love to create because I love oysters. I’ll only put on the menu what I enjoy eating.”
Participating in the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail-Oyster Crawl is a no-brainer for Rocky, who is a third generation owner of Denson’s Grocery in Colonial Beach.
“My grandfather started the market in 1912, my parents took it over in the 1940s, and I swore I would never be part of the family business,” recalls Rocky. “But the last five years of my career, all I could think about was running the business.”
We are certainly glad Rocky changed his mind and entered into the family business!