RED MILL — Executive chef Charles Thain considers sweet potato biscuits to be one of his signature recipes.
So how did a Virginia Beach native come to be identified with a dish that most people associate with the South Carolina and Georgia lowlands?
“Trial by fire,” said Thain, owner of Blue Seafood & Spirits at 2181 Upton Drive in the Red Mill Commons shopping center. “My wife and I just experimented with them because I love them so much.
Except for the biscuits, most of his dishes reflect his Mid-Atlantic background, Thain said, and they will be familiar to local people.
“I prepare straightforward seafood, and then I add my own twist,” Thain said. “A lot of chefs are trying to get away from fried seafood. They think that they’re too good for fried, but there’s nothing better than fried oysters.”
Fried oysters, crab cakes, fish dishes and she-crab soups are among Thain’s signature items — and in April he won first place at the East Coast She Crab Soup Classic, held at the Oceanfront.
The restaurant also features dishes made with locally grown vegetables, including the spring succotash made with locally grown asparagus from Cullipher Farm Market. Freshness, Thain said, is the key to both good seafood and good vegetables, and he buys his seafood fresh from the Eastern Shore.
For Thain, owning this restaurant is the culmination of a lifetime of preparation. He grew up at the Oceanfront and began working in restaurants when he was 13.
“By the time I was 15, I knew that I wanted to be a chef,” Thain said.
After graduating from First Colonial High School in 1989, Thain attended Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts and worked in seafood restaurants on the Outer Banks during the summer. After an internship in Boca Raton, Fla., he became an executive chef at Island Inn in Ocracoke, N.C., before acquiring The Historic Eastville Inn in Eastville.
Then, Thain decided to come home to Virginia Beach, and, in October 2013, he opened Blue Seafood & Spirits. He and his wife, Shannon Thain, decided that they wanted their twin sons, Tanner and Reed, now 9, to attend school in Virginia Beach.
“We put family first,” said Thain.
For that reason, his restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays, as well as all holidays, so that he and his staff members can spend time with their families. Shannon also works in the restaurant only on weekends so that she can be at home with the boys during the week.
“For us, it’s all about balance,” Thain said. “We want a balance between business, family life and happiness.”
“The staff is like my family,” said Joe Dolsey, the assistant chef who has worked at the restaurant since it opened. “I have been working with Charles since I was 13, when I began working at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club. He has taught me everything, and he’s like my brother.”
While Thain adores both preparing and eating crab cakes, Dolsey particularly likes preparing the Seafood Belle Haven, a dish that includes jumbo shrimp, sea scallops and lump crab meat prepared with cheese and butter. They both agree that prepping the fresh food daily is the most challenging part of the work, and they both say that they love seeing their customers enjoy their food.
“We’re big on service,” Dolsey said.
So why is the restaurant named “Blue?” It’s named after the color of the ocean, of course.
Blue Seafood & Spirits is located at 2181 Upton Drive in Red Mill Commons. Learn more at Blue’s website, blueseafoodandspirits.com, or call (757) 689-5395.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC