Chincoteague Island is a charming town located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, about an hour south of Salisbury, MD. It’s famous for the annual Pony Penning and Fireman’s Carnival in July (immortalized in Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague(affiliate link)) and proximity to Assateague National Seashore with miles of beaches and wild ponies. My family has always preferred the beach at Assateague to the more commercial Ocean City, MD but we never took the time to really explore the town of Chincoteague itself. Rick and I recently took an off-season day trip to explore the town and have lunch.
The road to Chincoteague takes you by the Wallop’s Island facilities and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport where rockets are launched to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Past Wallop’s Island the road becomes a causeway, traversing marshes and narrow channels until you cross the bridge to the island.
There was some activity on the warm Spring day we visited, but nothing like the masses of tourists that will fill the hotels, campsites and condominiums during the Summer. Rick and I parked at the Town Dock, where we saw many ducks. Some ducks were paired up and others were still courting. We walked through the historic downtown area where a few shops were open despite some construction going on. Many of the historic buildings have been converted to shops and boutiques. The old Island Theater was built in 1945 and has been restored and showing movies again.
During our walk we saw more ducks, some old Victorian homes that have been converted to bed and breakfasts, and a few tourists and locals out enjoying the sunshine. Since it was the off-season, many of the bars and restaurants we might have tried downtown were closed, so we headed back to the car and drove down Maddox Blvd (aka the Beach Road) where we found AJ’s On The Creek was open and doing a brisk business.
I think we were the only tourists in the bar, but the service was friendly and the view across the marsh towards Assateague was lovely. AJ’s was serving their lunch menu which included fresh caught seafood, burgers and vegetarian fare. We each had a bowl of their Cream of Crab soup and split a humongous flounder sandwich. Everything was washed down with an ice-cold draft beer.
On the way back home, we stopped at one of the many local seafood markets and bought a pound of blue crab meat. The soup we had at AJ’s inspired me to make a crab bisque.
I used this recipe from Food.com for Lobster or Crab Bisque as a guide. The lovely pink color comes from tomato paste. We used Old Bay Seasoning (your favorite seafood seasoning or cayenne pepper will be great, too) and Worcestershire sauce to complement the taste of the crab. I reduced the amount of sherry from the original recipe to 2 tablespoons, but it could be omitted altogether if you don’t like the taste. Another alternative would be to substitute brandy for the sherry.
The Cream of Crab we had at AJ’s was more like a soup. This is much thicker due to the flour that’s used to thicken the broth. If you want to make this gluten-free try a commercial gluten-free flour blend. I’ve had success making a gluten-free roux but haven’t tried using other thickeners like arrowroot for this type of application.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons sherry
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups cream or half and half
- up to 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ pound back fin crab meat, picked through for shells. Reserve some crab to serve as a garnish.
- ½ teaspoon Old Bay, more or less
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce, more or less
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a 5 quart dutch oven.
- Saute the onions until translucent.
- Stir in the sherry.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir well to combine.
- Cook for a few minutes until the flour starts to darken.
- Add the chicken broth a half cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.
- Allow the bisque to thicken before adding more broth.
- Stir in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, celery seed and Old Bay.
- Stir in the cream and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
- Allow the bisque to continue to thicken and for the flavors to meld.
- Add the crab and adjust the seasonings.
- The bisque is ready when the crab is heated through.
- To serve, ladle into shallow bowls and mound some of the reserved crab meat in the center. Garnish with a little parsley. Serve more sherry on the side to add to the soup if desired.
Chincoteague is an awesome vacation spot for families. When my children were small, we made several weekend camping trips. There are tons of outdoor activities for active people and this area of Virginia is great for antiquing. Here is a link to the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce website where you’ll find all sorts of information to help plan your trip. This website has useful information about the pony penning. When visiting the island, you may want to stop by AJ’s On The Creek. You can check out their menu HERE.