Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Off the Hook Steamer & Raw Bar Story


Taking its award-winning cuisine to Ghent

by Candance Moore

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

From pan to beautiful plate. 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.
“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.”

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.”

Local family farms supply 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.

“The chefs call us to say they’ve developed a great new dish based on what 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 the flavors that nature has already given us. With a little nudge from us, those flavors come to life. We let each week’s supply lead us toward that week’s best new dish,” Chef Stephen remarks.

Sea scallops are perfectly seared and lightly seasoned, bursting with the flavor of the ocean in every velvety bite. A generous portion sits on a bed of roasted whole potatoes, beside al dente green beans.

“Our second location will carry on
with what makes Off The Hook so special.
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.”

—Derrick Carpinelli

Hush puppies on the side (voted Best in Hampton Roads) hit 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. Desserts made from scratch are offered as specials.

From left: Owners Derrick and Jennifer Carpinelli <BR>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

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. And while Chesapeake is growing, Norfolk is being reborn.

“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. Before the Carpinellis knew it, they were moving into a location at the very core of Ghent shopping.

“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, at the spot that was once occupied by Azar’s. That building has been completely renovated, down to the removal of the concrete floor. The result is a fresh, modern look sure to complement the delectable meals that will be served there.

Valet parking assists those who may be unfamiliar with what’s becoming known as Norfolk’s cuisine strip. A tasteful bar and a giant display wall of some 2,000 wines grace the new full-service restaurant. 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 late June 2018. Until then, the Chesapeake location is happy to welcome curious Norfolk visitors.

“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


200 Colley Avenue
Norfolk, VA  23507