Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

S Shopper Stories


OFF THE HOOK STEAMER AND RAW BAR

Taking its award-winning cuisine to Ghent

by Candance Moore


From left: Owners Derrick and Jennifer Carpinelli and Executive Chefs Mary Prader and Stephen Gellas <BR>Photo by Kaiser Custom Images

From left: Owners Derrick and Jennifer Carpinelli and Executive Chefs Mary Prader and Stephen Gellas
Photo by Kaiser Custom Images

When Jennifer and Derrick Carpinelli opened Off The Hook Steamer & Raw Bar in 2014, they had a strong yet simple vision: fresh foods pulled from local land or sea, handled with expert skill and prepared to show off their best natural flavors. It started at a small location in Great Bridge. Now it’s an award-winning cuisine landmark with a second location opening in Norfolk – and the owners are hosting a fantastic New Year’s Eve party to celebrate.

“We brought a unique dining experience to Chesapeake that quickly earned regional attention. We’re excited to do the same for Ghent!” Jennifer exclaims. “After years of building a tenured staff and making strong relationships with suppliers, we know how to create a consistently excellent dining experience.”


“We brought a unique dining experience to Chesapeake
that quickly earned regional attention.
We’re excited to do the same for Ghent.”

—Jennifer Carpinelli


That experience begins to take shape long before a guest sits down at a table. It begins in the Outer Banks, the Maryland shore, and the Chesapeake Bay, where fishing crews haul in catches of sustainable seasonal abundance. Off The Hook has its own commercial fishing license, which means no need for a dealer to play middleman – not the case in a number of other seafood restaurants.

Derrick explains that he’s brought the restaurant as close as possible to nets in the water. Boat captains call with news of a catch, the transaction can be finalized in minutes, and the seafood reaches diners at Off The Hook before other dealers have even made the time to negotiate. Fishing crews have come to appreciate this method so much that they now call Off The Hook’s chefs for a personal offer on special items.

“We’re not just sourcing local seafood; we’re sourcing the best seasonal catches from the most talented fishing crews,” Derrick notes. “We’ve proven our devotion to fairness and respect in the local seafood economy. Suppliers are repaying us with personal loyalty.”

That sort of teamwork isn’t limited to seafood, either. Local family farms supply the restaurant with heirloom produce grown in season. Livestock ranchers offer prime cuts of beef and pork – one small step away from whole butchery – preserving the meat’s texture and moisture before it is cut into servings in the kitchen.

Local breweries even appear on the drink menu alongside a global selection of wine. Whether diners crave a rich Norfolk draft or a floral Italian Moscato, any palate can find the perfect fit.

Chefs Stephen Gellas and Mary Prader, who both joined Off The Hook at the very beginning, are credentialed culinary professionals who know how to do much more than cook a meal. They work directly with suppliers to bring in high-quality fresh-from-earth foods kept in raw, unprocessed condition. Whole fish are cleaned and butchered on site. Bone-in prime meat cuts allow for in-house broth making. New sauces are invented from scratch based on available items. If there’s a way to get more out of a resource, Chefs Mary and Stephen will find it.


From pan to beautiful plate, with potatoes and broccoli. Executive Chefs Mary Prader and Stephen Gellas <BR>Photo by Kaiser Custom Images

From pan to beautiful plate, with potatoes and broccoli. Executive Chefs Mary Prader and Stephen Gellas
Photo by Kaiser Custom Images


“The chefs call us to say they’ve developed a great new dish based on whatever came in that day, and we tell them to go for it,” Jennifer says with a smile. “That’s how we create our specials. It’s truly an organic, spontaneous process.”

While the restaurant does offer a regular menu of customer favorites, weekly specials have come to define the Off The Hook experience. Chef Stephen explains that his team arrives each morning with an open mind. Because local farmers and fishermen supply the kitchen with exclusive hard-to-find products, deliveries are adventures. As these deliveries come rolling in, the food speaks for itself, and special dishes emerge.

“We show respect for this wonderful food that we’re privileged enough to serve. Nature has already done the work of giving us flavors. With a little nudge from us, those flavors come to life. So we stand back and let each week’s supply lead us toward that week’s best new dish,” Chef Stephen remarks.

Kitchen support staffers bring culinary knowledge of their own to ensure consistent, quality preparation. This means Chef Mary and Chef Stephen can develop difficult or complex dishes, confident that the whole team will be able to execute. This also includes the aesthetic challenge of making a dish look as great as it tastes. Chef Stephen is gifted when it comes to using the plate as a canvas and shares that talent with the team. The end result is a gorgeous creation that finds itself posted on many a diner’s Instagram page. Admiration of a dish’s look is outdone only by amazement at its taste.


“We’re not just sourcing local seafood;
we’re sourcing the best seasonal catches
from the most talented fishing crews.
We’ve proven our devotion to fairness and respect
in the local seafood economy.”

—Derrick Carpinelli


Sea scallops drawn from Maryland waters are perfectly seared and lightly seasoned, bursting with the flavor of the ocean in every velvety bite. A generous portion of these large, healthy proteins sits on a bed of roasted whole potatoes. The earthy unpretentiousness of a potato allowed to be a real potato – also uncommon these days – plays off the scallops like edible harmony. The sliced pickle on top could be easily dismissed as a garnish, but it’s actually a valuable palate cleanser to better appreciate the subtle grace of al dente green beans.

Hush puppies on the side (voted Best in Hampton Roads) hits all the marks for a perfect accompanying bread. Award-winning crab dip provides a delectable appetizer. For those who can’t get enough crab, Off The Hook’s to-die-for smoked crab mac and cheese will satisfy the strongest craving. Other options include cool fresh tacos, shrimp and grits, hearty pork Milanese, and even a bleu cheeseburger. Seafood connoisseurs delight in the raw and steamed offerings. Desserts made from scratch are offered as specials.


Left: Fresh seafood that can be cooked at home is available for purchase<BR> RIght: Executive Chefs Stephen Gellas and Mary Prader  work their magic to create special dishes

Left: Fresh seafood that can be cooked at home is available for purchase
RIght: Executive Chefs Stephen Gellas and Mary Prader work their magic to create special dishes

One day may feature traditional pierogies as an unexpected ethnic treat. The next day might offer lemony cheesecake or chocolate cake dusted in bacon. A lovely catch of rockfish might inspire a cashew relish to bring out hidden flavors. Chefs at Off The Hook are limited only by their imaginations.

Coffee is a popular request to top off these legendary meals. To make the best coffee creations in-house, Off The Hook reached out to Dwayne Appleton, owner of Virginia Beach’s Java Surf Coffee House, for barista training. Meanwhile, Off The Hook Bar Manager Paul Bowen has been recognized as one of the 10 best bartenders in Hampton Roads. Stylish complex cocktails provide the perfect ending to a visit. Every part of the dining experience is in exceptional hands.

Customer service is another huge element for dining, and Off The Hook shines in this area as well. Servers are educated on the source and importance of ingredients. Drink pairing recommendations are made with thought. A sense of real teamwork exudes from the kitchen to the hostess stand, surrounding diners with a warm atmosphere.

Given Off The Hook’s impressive business culture, it’s no surprise to see award after award bestowed on the restaurant. From Virginia Eats Magazine to Coastal Virginia to the Pilot’s “Best Of” campaign, the Chesapeake location has put Great Bridge on some very important culinary maps.

Only two years after opening, it was obvious that the modest first location was no longer big enough. In late 2016 the restaurant expanded by adding a large party room, replete with projector and overhead audio for business meetings or bridal events, which is available for private booking on weeknights for parties up to 40.


Left: Prime cuts of beef are butchered on-site  to maintain texture and moisture<BR>Right: A juicy, fresh-cut, perfectly cooked steak

Left: Prime cuts of beef are butchered on-site to maintain texture and moisture
Right: A juicy, fresh-cut, perfectly cooked steak


Even this substantial expansion soon outgrew itself, though. The Carpinellis saw potential for a real culinary epicenter in their own community of Chesapeake. Off The Hook purchased a property on Battlefield Boulevard alongside the Great Bridge locks. The plan was to build a commercial hub with some half-dozen diverse restaurants that could elevate neighborhood dining.

“Chesapeake is a wonderful, safe community where people love to live. So why do we drive out of town so often for dinner?” Derrick asks. “We deserve to have more regionally competitive cuisine that our own city can be proud of.”


New Year’s Eve is when they put on the ritz.
The annual celebration features champagne toasts,
balloons dropped at midnight, party favors,
live music and a special menu.


The new property came with more complications than the Carpinellis predicted. While the Great Bridge location  underwent a lengthy legal process, new doors in Norfolk opened with ease.

“We’d been sort of watching from afar as Norfolk revitalized itself,” Jennifer recalls. “It  is Chesapeake’s neighbor, so we felt that its success was good for the whole region, and we wanted to be a part of that.”

Derrick and Jennifer put out some feelers about an Off The Hook location in Ghent. City leaders responded with an enthusiastic welcome, confirming that the seafood powerhouse was just the sort of new restaurant they wanted. Before the Carpinellis knew it, they were moving into a location at the very core of Ghent shopping. Their new neighbors encouraged them not to change a thing.

“Our second location will carry on with what makes Off The Hook so special,” Derrick insists. “For diners who may have heard about the many awards we’ve won, be assured that the same level of excellence is on the way.”

The Ghent location stands at the corner of Colley Avenue and 20th Street, right in the thick of what’s becoming known as Norfolk’s cuisine strip. Valet parking assists those who may be unfamiliar with the district. It’s a full-service restaurant with a tasteful bar and a giant display wall of some 2,000 wines. A raw bar stocked with kitchen ingredients allows patrons to purchase their favorite meats for cooking at home. This location will be open to the public in January 2018.

Until then, the Chesapeake location is happy to welcome curious Norfolk visitors. Holiday reservations for parties over five are encouraged while there’s still time.

Although any day is a great time for lunch or dinner at Off The Hook, New Year’s Eve is when they put on the ritz. The annual celebration features champagne toasts, balloons dropped at midnight, party favors, live music and a special menu. It’s a sellout event beloved by locals, so tickets should be purchased in advance.

“When we first opened in Great Bridge, we were a bit nervous about whether our vision would succeed,” Jennifer shares. “So many wonderful people from across the region have been super supportive. That drives us to keep innovating and improving so we can earn that respect.

“Now with our second location in Norfolk, we aren’t taking anything for granted. We’re determined to earn approval there through hard work all over again,” Jennifer says. “After Norfolk? Who knows? But I think it will definitely be a bright future.”




Off The Hook

500 Battlefield Blvd. S.
Chesapeake, VA 23322

757-421-3313

200 Colley Avenue
Norfolk, VA  23507



WWW.OTH-Seafood.com