Serving local, sustainable cuisine isn’t just something a restaurateur chooses to do from time to time; it’s one of many commitments that come with owning a restaurant. Others include dedicating much time and money to the business, working late hours and, perhaps, closing your restaurant for an entire evening and volunteering yourself and your staff to prepare food samples for hungry guests each year at the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction.
Kevin Sharkey is no stranger to these responsibilities. In fact, he’s been closing his restaurant, 1608 Crafthouse, both years since it opened in 2015 to participate in the March of Dimes’ tastiest event of the year. “It’s for a great cause,” he says. “It’s fun; it’s something different.”
You could say he’s gotten the hang of the event by now, taking home both the People’s Choice Award and Dish of Coastal Virginia Award this year. The People’s Choice Award was determined by event attendees, and the Dish of Coastal Virginia Award was determined by a panel of judges (myself included) who gathered just prior to the event’s beginning to sample each dish created by the region’s top chefs. The Dish of Coastal Virginia is the highest award of the evening, highlighting a dish that captures the unique regional flavor of Coastal Virginia through ingredients, preparation and/or imagination.
Sharkey wowed judges and attendees with butter basted scallops served over stone-ground Appalachian cheese grits, a poached James River oyster and crispy Surryano ham, garnished with pickled mustard seeds. The grits hail from Byrd Mill in Ashland, Va.; the cheese comes from Meadow Creek Dairy in Highland, Va.; the mustard seeds were pickled with Smartmouth Brewing’s Alter Ego Saison; and the ham is from Surry. “Even the milk that I used to poach the oysters in is from Marva Maid,” he says.
Though only his second time competing in the March of Dimes event with 1608 Crafthouse, Sharkey has been cooking for the event for about 20 years, he says, back when there was just one local March of Dimes auction held in Williamsburg. He worked at Catch 31 for about five years, Mahi Mah’s for several years and the Sheraton at the Oceanfront for nearly three years. “I’ve been in the area for a while and worked for a lot of other people, but this is the first time I’ve done something for myself,” he says.
When deciding which dish to prepare for the event, Sharkey ensured that it would be a dish that people would like and a dish that fits the overall theme and mission of the restaurant. “It’s obviously very local,” Sharkey says. “If you’ve never been here before, and someone put that down in front of you, you probably wouldn’t expect that, which is what we shoot for here.”
Although the food at 1608 is certainly the star of the show, their beer selection comes in at a close second. “We only have six taps, which, in the grand scheme of things, is not really a lot, but they rotate all the time,” Sharkey explains. “Our bottle and can selection is really a big deal.” Their beer list consists of two pages containing 50–80 different varieties. The only downside to this is that the beer takes up a lot of space in the restaurant’s refrigerator. “One of the interesting things about this place is that we don’t have a walk-in,” Sharkey notes. “It’s a great selling point because when you come here, you know everything is fresh.”
Furthering the local component, nearly 95 percent of the beer selections come from within 250 miles. They have a friendly relationship with local breweries and even host four-course beer dinners every other month, focusing on a different brewery each time. “The first couple we did, we had maybe 20 people,” he remembers. “Now we sell out with 50 every single time.”
The Dish of Coastal Virginia will be featured at 1608 Crafthouse during the month of January.
1608 Pleasure House Rd., Virginia Beach