If you spend some time in Virginia Beach, and local cuisine interests you, you’ll probably do a little research. The name Steinhilber’s will come up repeatedly, touted for their fried shrimp. So you do a little more digging on Steinhilber’s and discover this is no beachside fried seafood shack. Rather, it’s an expansive, old-school restaurant from 1939, on the grounds of a former country club, popular for weddings and anniversaries. If that dissuades you from paying Steiny’s a visit, you will have made a huge mistake.
So you make your reservation, set your GPS, and find yourself wending your way through a residential neighborhood that, you are certain, does not contain a restaurant. Yet, there it is, at the end of Thalia Road, along the banks of the west branch of the Lynnhaven River. The parking area is huge. It sure FEELS like you are arriving for a wedding. Step inside and you would swear you will be dining in the old-time rustic-style clubhouse of a country club, with wood paneling, brick fireplaces, and dark wood. None of this gives you confidence. Don’t chicken out. Stay with it.
As you are shown to your table, things begin to change. To begin with, service, while thoroughly professional, is relaxed. Take a look at the menu: it’s a combination of the modern (blackberry demi-glace on duck breast) and the classic (twice-baked potatoes). But, really, by today’s standards, it’s none too adventurous. Steinhilber’s long-time customers permit change only up to a point. And that’s fine, because this chef and his kitchen have really applied themselves toward producing terrific examples of those classics.
The first thing that arrives at the table, with your well-made cocktails (they make a good Sazerac!), will let you know the evening will be different: butter and homemade Melba toast, one small piece per person. Why? That’s how it’s done, silly! And this small cracker lets you know the chef’s philosophy: if he has to make food from the ’40s, he’s going to make the best damn version of that food he’s capable of.
She-crab soup is rich with the flavor of shellfish, and a showstopper platter of oysters Rockefeller features bivalves from the river right outside your window (if you nabbed a window table). A soft-shell crab special, featuring a pair of the huge critters lightly breaded and fried, were perfect, simply the best soft-shells we have ever enjoyed – not a hint of a shell reforming, cleaned with skill, expertly fried, loaded with the meat that we have so much trouble extracting from their shell-intact cousins.
Those famed shrimp? Get ’em! They are everything you want from fried shrimp, fried not a moment too long, speaking more of seafood than crust, and, behold, shrimp that actually taste like shrimp! You can ask for them in various permutations, from appetizer to main course, depending on how shrimp-centric you want to make your dinner.
Why, even our side dishes, sauteed fresh spinach and the infamous twice-baked potato, are paradigms of classic cuisine. The bread basket is addictive. Our blackberry cobbler dessert with vanilla ice cream featured blackberries from plants growing out back.
Robert Steinhilber opened the restaurant, as we noted above, in 1939. His restaurant remains in the family, operated by his daughter and grandson. There was once a time when they closed for vacation for most of the summer, one of those cranky old-time traditions of some tourist town restaurants that choose to cater to locals while giving a big raised middle finger to the tourist crowd. Today, we’re all welcome!653 Thalia Road Virginia Beach VA 23452 757-340-1156 Steinhilber’s Website Steinhilber’s on Facebook