Forget sweaters and changing leaves. Here are ten telltale signs we know it’s fall in DC. Cupcake Challenge 051

1.       Dinner switches from gazpacho to roasted chicken

2.       Mike gets reacquainted with the Big Green Egg

3.       After a summer of crabs at Quarterdeck and Tangier Island, our go-to seafood is oysters at Johnny’s Half Shell and mussels at Granville Moore’s.

4.       Elizabeth starts baking again

5.       Pumpkin beer!

6.       We’re on the hunt for savory recipes starring leeks and butternut squash

7.       We say good-bye to the basil lemontini and hello to the warm duck Rueben at the Poste bar

8.       Too many local apples, not enough apple recipes

Apple Cake 0349.       Kiss the sunglasses good-bye. We go from al fresco dining to cozy lounges and tea houses.

10.    Fall colors bring road trips and local discoveries like Wasmund’s single malt applewood smoked whiskey.

Tangier Island 168There is a tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay where the accents still reflect those of the first Cornish settlers who settled there in 1620, where you have no choice but to unplug and let the mellow pace of the place guide you, and where a bustling Main street and quiet, pristine strip of beach are a five minute bike ride away from each other. Welcome to Tangier Island.

Directions to Tangier Island are simple: drive to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and get on a boat for an hour until the island appears. Rising and falling with the waves of the Chesapeake Bay, the first thing you’ll spot is the water tower, which pumps fresh water from  thousands of feet below the bay floor. It is potable with an iron tinge, but knowing where it comes from soothes any frustration about weak water pressure in the shower. Next you’ll see the gleaming white church steeple. Religion is prevalent here and two churches serve the population of about 700 people. Soon you’ll be able to pick out clapboard houses, stand-alone crab shanties, and watermen’s boats. The last thing you’ll see is the ground of the island itself. At its Tangier Island 097highest point, Tangier Island is only 5 feet above sea level, swept with marshes and seagrass.

Our B&B host met us at the ferry dock, zipping us down Main Street in a four-seater golf cart with our bags tucked in the back. Tangier Island, three miles long and one mile wide, does not allow cars beyond a few that serve official functions. Residents and tourists (pronounced “tuhrrists” by the locals) alike rely on electric golf carts, bicycles, and their own two feet to traverse the island.   Bicycle rentals are cheap and simple: $2 an hour or $7 per day. Payment and return is on the honor system. No locks necessary. Theft on the island is as common as oversized SUVs. 

Tangier Island 077Lunch was our first order of business after an early morning drive to catch the ferry at Onancock. We took a cue from our ferry captain and made a beeline for the Waterfront Restaurant. Located outside on the dock, we sat on weather-beaten picnic benches in the shade as locals caught up with prodigal daughters returning from “the shore” for a weekend visit with the grandparents. To Tangier natives, anything not on Tangier is “the shore,” from coastal towns on the Bay to America’s heartland.

The Waterfront Restaurant is a definitive no-frills-no-fuss establishment. Efficient middle-aged women man the kitchen, calling out orders and dishing out food on paper plates. Menu offerings include American staples, but the ultra-local seafood is the star. I ordered a softshell crab sandwich, enchanted with the idea that the crab I was about to consume was brought in by one of the dozens of boats just behind me.  The presentation was an amusing but charming surprise. My crispy softshell crab sandwich featured two lightly sauteed crabs served on, no joke, Wonderbread. Mike’s double order of clam fritters and Tangier Island crab soup was more impressive. The fritters were little morsels Tangier Island 079of fried goodness on the outside with a briny bite in the middle. I found myself stealing one last bite over and over. The crab soup is a distant cousin to Manhattan clam chowder, made with a bright tomato base mixed with fresh vegetables and local blue crabmeat. The soup was light with just the right amount of seasoning to balance the crunch of veggies and small chunks of crabmeat.

Waterfront Restaurant
Tangier, VA 23240
Waterfront Restaurant on Urbanspoon

With full bellies, we had a warm afternoon of fresh breezes and gentle sunshine ahead of us. We pedaled beach cruisers with squeaky seats across the briny marshes, rolling up and down wooden footbridges and among quiet clapboard houses and white picket fences. Soon we found ourselves at the public beach, a long stretch of sand reclining against the lapping waves of the Chesapeake.  We had it to ourselves for hours, our own private beach in all pastels of beige sand, grey-green water and proud seagrass. 

A Tangier-style family dinner, a personal tour of a softshell crab shanty and puffy fish (!) after the jump.