My fam and I enjoyed some fantastic meals during our visit to Chincoteague Island, VA in early August ‘16. Two of the most memorable restaurants that we visited were AJ’s on the Creek and Woody's Beach BBQ - both of which generated mighty thumbs ups from the team at the superb Fairfield Inn & Suites, by Marriott.
Established in 1985, AJ’s is located on Maddox Avenue behind the winding Eel Creek waterway, and is “the longest running restaurant on the Island under the same management.” It was opened by Anthony J. Stillson, a jazz pianist and nationally recognized architect, and his daughters April Stillson and Lisa Smith are the current owners/operators.
AJ’s features original recipes that have been passed down through generations of Stillsons. Given the impressive ratings that the eatery has garnered, along with a glowing review in USA Toda
y from noted restaurant critic Don Sherman, it’s obvious that the family’s culinary creations continue to please:
While their menu offers a wide selection of meat, chicken, and pasta dishes, AJ’s specialty is local seafood - and in this department, the restaurant may have an unfair freshness advantage: their catch of the day is caught from Eel Creek and hand-delivered to the chef by Lisa’s husband, fisherman Dave Smith.
The AJ’s vibe is warm and welcoming, and the decor is rustic and stately - but not stiff. Eclectic photos, paintings, and decorations cover the walls, and an airy, outdoor dining area that overlooks the creek offers luscious sunset views.
Here’s a tasty trip through the AJ’s cuisine that we experienced:
- AJ’s description: Vodka, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, and orange juice.
- My reaction: Tastefully tart + pleasantly smooth + really refreshing = niiiice, with a subtle yet powerful punch. (WARNING: this delectable cocktail is so yum, it’s possible to enjoy a bunch of them in a very short time. Don’t say you weren’t warned...)
AJ’s hot platter
- AJ’s description: 2 oysters rockefellers, 2 clam casinos (baked with sweet red peppers, onion, bacon, and herbs) & a deviled clam.
- Our reaction: While the menu describes the oysters rockefeller as being “the best anywhere, we’ve been told”, we agreed that this description applied to all three classic seafood treats on the platter - and we told them!
Fried artichoke hearts
- Our reaction: I’ll be honest - I’m not a big artichoke fan, but AJ’s delightful take on the veg made me a believer. Light and crunchy with a tender middle, and the batter didn’t overpower the freshness of the local artichoke chunks. A fun appetizer that we all devoured.
House salad with artichoke vinaigrette dressing
- Our reaction: A big “yasss!”. The combo of fresh and crunchy locally sourced vegetables with AJ’s light and lemony vinaigrette was sensational.
- AJ’s description: Shrimp, mussels, scallops, crabmeat/clams/oysters in the shell, steamed in a flavorful, garlicky seafood broth.
- Our reaction: A huge plate of delicious local seafood that’s enhanced - and not overwhelmed - by the savory broth.
Blue crab & bacon skillet
- AJ’s description: Fresh crabmeat and bacon, mixed with a little garlic butter and baked.
- Our reaction: The portion was yuuuge, and the clever combo of the two star ingredients was creative, zesty, and highly satisfying (especially to my teen daughter Ariel, who’s worships everything/anything bacon).
Grilled yellowfin tuna
- Our reaction: Thick, meaty, and sooo fresh. Without a doubt, the best piece of grilled fish that I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy very much of it because everybody else at the table dug into it (and really dug it). Served with delicious local sauteed snap peas.
Chocolate truffle torte
- AJ’s description: Dense, triple chocolate pie.
- Our reaction: Thick, chewy, and totally delivered in the sinful chocolatey bliss department. Looked amazing, and tasted even better.
- Our server Ken offered spot on suggestions of great dishes, and he was extremely accommodating with our requests for additions that weren’t on the menu (like sauteed fresh, local broccoli instead of the vegetable that came with my son Eddy’s bouillabaisse).
- AJ’s founder Anthony Stillson was an accomplished pianist, and AJ’s keeps his love for music alive by featuring entertainment in their lounge by local performers throughout the week.
- While AJ’s is noted as Chincoteague’s premier upscale restaurant (and the dishes are certainly first class), its unpretentious and friendly atmosphere has made it a consistent favorite of locals, vacationers, and group gatherings for over 30 years.
Woody’s Beach BBQ is also located on Maddox Blvd., and it’s exactly a one minute drive from AJ’s on the Creek. Its outdoor dining facilities, which include wide open game and hang out areas, are located on a large plot of land that also hosts two other restaurants: Bettye’s Big Bad Burgers, which serves up humongous, gourmet, custom-created burgers; and The Farmer’s Daughter, which specializes in simple dishes made from fresh, local ingredients.
Fun facts about Woody’s:
- It opened in 2007, and is Chincoteague’s longest running BBQ restaurant.
- It has generated glowing media coverage in a variety of outlets, including Coastal Living Magazine, The Knot, Huffington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, Urban Views Weekly, and the inflight magazine of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
- It can accommodate groups up to 400, and has hosted big events like class reunions, wedding rehearsal dinners, and family celebrations.
In terms of how customers from across the country feel about Woody’s, the numbers are mighty impressive:
Larry “Woody” Parsons, the owner/founder of Woody’s, is a fascinating guy. When he’s not handling the day-to-day operations of his restaurants (he’s also the owner of Bettye’s), he’s a busy drummer/percussionist in recording studios and at live gigs up and down the East Coast. He’s also an avid student of leadership and management theory, so he’s up on the latest tips/advice on how to motivate his employees, satisfy his customers, and achieve excellence with his business ventures.
While he didn’t have any experience in cooking BBQ prior to opening Woody’s, he’s developed and perfected (along with his chef) award-winning recipes that fall into their own unique category that’s a little bit Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, and Carolinas.
Vibe-wise, Woody’s is all about fun. The restaurant’s colorful and laidback beach theme was inspired by Larry’s trips to Jamaica, and the message of the Woody’s surroundings is clear: chill out and smile.
For folks who are waiting for their orders or want some activity after their meals, Woody’s offers lots of options. Tetherball, bean bag toss, frisbee, beach paddleball, ring the hook - the opportunity to have a really good time is inescapable, and a stop off for a quick bite could easily turn into a several hour getaway.
Regarding our massive meal at Woody’s, here’s what the fam thought:
- Woody’s description: Half rack, half chicken, and half pound pulled pork. Jethro Bodine couldn’t even finish this fun meal.
- Our reaction: The lean ribs were meaty, moist, and deliciously seasoned: truly fall-of-the-bone awesome. The moist chicken had a luscious smoky essence and was top notch. The pulled pork was flavorful and savory with the right amount of spice and a satisfying bite. Jethro couldn’t finish it, and neither could we.
- Woody’s description: We conned three grandmothers for this recipe. Try it. You’ll understand.
- Our reaction: Slightly sweet with a pleasant hint of smoke. We tried it, and we toooootally understood.
- Woody’s description: 100% homemade from start to finish. Classic creamy style.
- Our reaction: Crunchy and creamy, but not overly so. A great textural complement to the rest of the meal.
- Woody’s description: Gilligan’s Island is not the only island to have Ginger.
- Our reaction: Smooth, cool, and sweet. The wee wisp of ginger was a creative palate-pleasing addition.
- Woody’s description: Idaho potatoes are cut fresh, daily and fried in peanut oil. Nothing better, nothing fresher.
- Our reaction: Delicious, addictive, and ideal for hand-to-mouth shoveling. We didn’t realize that we might have eaten too many of them until we were full, and - yeah. We definitely ate too many of them (don’t blame us - once you’ve tasted them, you’ll realize that it’s not hard to do).
- Woody’s is fast: it only took around 15 minutes for us to get our order.
- Woody’s is messy: after dinner, we could have used a firehose or an industrial-sized carton of wet wipes or a pack of golden retriever puppies to clean off our faces and hands.
- The servings are huge: our fridges at the Fairfield Inn were filled with leftovers for two days.
- Woody’s is a memorable and fantastic good time: if the food weren’t so spectacular, everything else about the Woody’s experience would have been just OK. But the fact that their meal offerings are brilliantly (and deliciously) executed makes Woody’s a joyous eat/play/relax destination for Chincoteague visitors of all ages.