Public Fish & Oyster
The Charlottesville restaurant could even be a hit at the beach
Food and travel writer Steve Cook stumbles upon an unexpected find near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia: a restaurant teeming with seafood, Public Fish & Oyster in Charlottesville.
As most Richmonders know, when you want good seafood, you gotta head to the mountains. Okay, I made that up. And while I didn’t head to Charlottesville last weekend with the idea of having seafood in a wonderful little local seafood restaurant, I am definitely glad that that’s where we ended up.
Now, before I begin, let me say that the Metro Richmond area does have a handful of decent seafood restaurants. I don’t want to tick anyone off any more than I already have. So, with that said, I shall continue.
My wife and I were up in C’ville on business and decided to have a meal before we headed back home. I have a somewhat unwritten rule. Any time I’m more than 50 miles from home, my Weight Watchers points don’t count. So, with that in mind, we started scouring the worldwide web looking for ideas. Seafood was probably the last thing on our minds as regards our meal of choice. My wife chose a little tavern on Main Street. It was described as rustic, and who can turn down rustic? I always let my wife pick the restaurant. That way, if the food and/or service is horrible, I don’t get any of the blame.
Well, it turns out the tavern was closed for a private function, but someone suggested that we walk a couple blocks up the street to Public Fish & Oyster at 513 W. Main St. There were several empty tables inside, and a smattering of diners on the patio. However, after ascertaining that we did not have reservations, the hostess told us that there was no room. She did say that we could sit at the relatively empty bar if we would like. We did like and the longer we sat there, the more we liked. In fact, there was very little that we did not like about the experience.
While the place was virtually empty when we arrived, it seems that everyone in town was right on our heels because all the tables and the bar filled up pretty quickly. John, our bartender (from Boston), introduced himself and handed us menus as well as a Happy Hour menu and we commenced to ordering and didn’t let up for the next couple of hours.
I asked John for some suggestions on the oysters. The blackboard listed about eight or so varieties. His advice was to have two of each. We did, much to our delight.
I know we live in an era of air travel, so it shouldn’t surprise me that this cozy little restaurant tucked away in a small city on the edge of the Blue Ridge should offer such fresh seafood. And it wasn’t just the oysters. Everything was fresh. The “Colossal” shrimp cocktail and the “Colossal” peel and eat shrimp were outstanding … and colossal. These were truly some of the best shrimp that I’ve ever tasted. The crabcake was also quite delicious. It may have been slightly overcooked, but just ever so slightly. I loved every bite.
John kept encouraging me to try the lobster rolls, which are only available during Happy Hour. And since it was Happy Hour and I was happy, I ordered one, although, to be perfectly honest (which I try to be), I’m not a huge fan of lobster. I prefer crab legs. I have no regrets, however. John said the meat on the roll was the equivalent of an entire lobster. It was so sweet and delicious. Words like “amazing” and “exceptional” come to mind. But since I do tend to overuse those adjectives, I won’t use them today. Just take my word for it. If you like lobster, you’re going to love those rolls.
The only non-seafood related items that we ordered were a salad (fresh and excellent) and some of the best Belgian fries you ever want to sink your teeth into. Although, I consumed them so voraciously, I’m not sure my teeth had time to do much sinking.
There were a few items that I want to try on my next visit to Charlottesville, such as the Steampot, featuring snow crab legs, mussels, and shrimp. And, as much as I like ’em raw, I really do have to try the fried oysters next time as well.
It wasn’t just the food. The entire atmosphere was fun and friendly. John (from Boston) was the perfect bartender. He makes a pretty mean Old Fashioned, by the way. But even beyond the wonderful service, the atmosphere was just so small-town friendly. Have you ever noticed how good food and drinks have a way of inducing conversation even among strangers? A young couple who have recently moved to Charlottesville from Michigan sat next to us. Travis and Megan were a lovely couple. Gee, I sound ancient using that term. It sounds like something my grandmother would have said. But they were. He works remotely as a data analyst for Kellogg’s in Battle Creek. Megan is going to law school at UVA. They told us of their restaurant experiences since having arrived in town. We suggested they try some of the excellent restaurants in Richmond. Megan’s father was also with them, but he seemed to have found some new friends on the other end of the bar, so we didn’t get a chance to meet him.
Public Fish & Oyster really is the sort of unpretentious little spot where one can spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon or an evening during the week, relaxing, enjoying an adult beverage along with fresh, well-prepared seafood, and socializing.
I’m not saying you should make a special trip to Charlottesville just to check it out. But if you did, I don’t think you’d be the least bit disappointed.
Steve Cook has lived in the Richmond area for most of his life, working as a writer and editor and in marketing and radio. He loves to keep abreast of the local restaurant scene and researches the subject voraciously. “I used to think I was a foodie,” he says, “but then I realized I just like to eat a lot.” He once co-hosted a local Richmond restaurant radio program with BOOMER editor Annie Tobey. Steve completed his first novel in 2017 and says he hopes to read another one this year.