(Dana & Kevin Kern bring delicious bistro fare to the north end of Colley.)
By Jeff Maisey
I pony my hungry self up to the Coach House, ask for a Soggy Dollar Painkiller to relax my mind a bit, and peruse the menu while I await the arrival of two amigos.
It’s about eight in the late summer evening, darkness has just settled in.
The interior’s aesthetics are warm and cozy to the eye like some modern twist on rustic I experienced out Wyoming way. The restauranteurs, I thought to myself, obviously made the best use of reclaimed wood and iron I’d seen ‘round these parts. Ambient amber-ish lighting had campfire-in-a-glass-bulb all over it.
With paper menu in-hand, I skipped down to the desserts portion at first ‘cause I was also on an unofficial reconnoissance mission, aiming to bring my Little Honey to the restaurant on the next weekend.
For Little Honey, the dessert options are make-or-break; we either leavin’ with a smile or mope-faced sad home.
The friendly, attentive waitress rounded my way to check and see how I was doing on that Painkiller.
“Just fine,” I said. “Just one quick question: What is Bobby Huber’s Sin Pie all about?”
“That’s really popular with our customers,” she said convincingly. “It’s really dense and chocolatey.”
“Say no more,” I thought, “Little Honey’s gonna love that.”
Just at that moment my pals walked in, scanned the room, and ambled over to the table.
“Whatcha drinkin’, man?”
“Painkiller, brotha,” I lob back. “Been a long day but it’s gonna end well.”
They each order a Proper Lager draft from local craft brewer Kevin O’Connor’s place.
“We thought you’d be drinkin’ a beer since you do that other publication, Virginia Craft Beer Magazine,” they ribbed.
“Yeah, ordinarily I would but I’m doin’ some explorin’ here. Gonna switch to some wine while you boys sip your brew.”
The Coach House Bar & Grill is co-owned by wife and husband team Dana and Kevin Kern along with John Power, who also co-owns The Blue Point restaurant down in Duck on the Outer Banks.
The Coach House name, of course, harkens back to a restaurant at the same location by the same name back in the 1980s. The former Coach House was popular with locals for its comfort food and live music. Rockabilly-meets-blues band The Jailtones regularly performed at the old joint. The focus now is on the dining experience.
Where Dana minds the bar and front of the house, Kevin’s in the kitchen makin’ sure every dish destined for a table is cooked by request to perfection. Like the Johnny Cash song, he’s been everywhere, man, and I’m talkin’ restaurants with consistent quality and a good value like No Frill Grille.
I was told by a lil’ birdie the wine list selection offered at the Coach House was assembled by the sommelier at The Blue Point.
“No wonder this looks so good,” I thought.
The key to a good wine list these days, in my opinion, is to offer a variety of style options at an approachable price point but keeps things simple — as in just a few of each “genre” so as not to overwhelm the customer. The Coach House wine selection nails it in that regard.
By the glass, I was most pleased with the 2017 Pinot Noir ($12/48) from Pali Wine Co in the famed Willamette Valley of Oregon. A nice, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass ($9/36) was from Trim, a north coast California wine by the Signorello Estate. If you’re goin’ full-bottle, definitely splurge for the Hall 2016 Cab ($90) produced in the Napa Valley; they don’t call it “an absolute home run” for nothin’.
If white wine is more to your liking or pairing, check out the solid Hain Kabinett Riesling ($10/40) from Germany, Loire Valley’s 2018 Patient Cottat Sauvignon Blanc ($9/$36) or a crisp bottle of 2017 Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley Vineyards ($34).
After a few libations to get the dinner party started, it was time to get some food rollin’ in our bellies.
The fellas ordered Virginia House-Roasted Peanuts (super jumbo red skins with sea salt, $3.50). I suspect our sports talk partly influenced their “snacks” choice to kick-off dinner.
I went a different route with the Octopus Bruschetta, a tender baby sea creature joined with heirloom tomatoes, roasted garlic, and fresh mozzarella ($10.95). Sometimes bold choices gain instant fans, and each of my friends wanted a bite. Of course they did.
Following the opening round, we each ordered a fresh Romaine Hearts & Spinach Salad ($11.95). Equally enticing were the She Crab Soup (fresh Virginia crab, sherry, paprika oil, $10.95) and Kevin’s Chicken Salad ($14.95). People in these parts of Virginia love them a good chicken salad and I’ve heard people ‘cross the street drinkin’ a fancy beer at Elation Brewing rave ‘bout Kevin’s recipe.
Depending on your appetite the Coach House provides three categorical options for dinner: sandwiches, small plates and big plate entrees.
Mega-popular is the Chicken Sandwich with Surry ham ($12.95). It’s topped with Tillamook Cheddar, baby arugula, house pickles, aioli, and served on a sesame seed bun.
Small plate pleasures: Corn Flour Fried Fresh Gulf Shrimp ($15.95), Soba Noodles ($11.95), Tarte Flambe (arugula pesto, roasted summer veggies, tomato, Mozz, and manchego on baked French pastry, $12.95), and the Japanese-inspired Sesame Chicken Skewers ($12.95).
When it comes to big plate selections, any choice you make is a great one. I’m partial to the delectable Faroe Island Salmon ($26.95) with its magical cucumber dill yogurt sauce, sautéed summer squash, and Israeli couscous pilaf — exceptional — and Jumbo Lump Crab Crakes with zesty lemon-caper tartar sauce ($31.95).
On my to-do list: Durock Pork (beer brined bone-in chop, BBQ black beans, sweet poto fries and horseradish cheddar spread, $28.95), Creole Etuffee (local catfish, shrimp, jumbo dry-packed scallops, Surrey sausage, long rain rice and veggies under a Cajun gravy, $28.50), Fresh Fettuccini (with Edwards of Surry bacon, $18.95), and always appealing NY Strip ($31.95) for red meat cravings.
We left completely satisfied and eager to return. In fact, I’ve been back on three different occasions in as many weeks with Little Honey. She’s keen to spread the word with friends on just how great this place is. Plus, we can’t wait to do Sunday Brunch.
We give the Coach House a Blue Ribbon.
Want to Go? Coach House Bar & Grill, 5103 Colley Ave., Norfolk, 757.489.0389, colleycoachhouse.com