Fine food at Chef Todd’s
by Deborah Haynes
I don’t get over there as often as I would like, even though I live only a short distance away in Middlesex. Mathews is not a “pass-through-on-the-way-to-somewhere-else” county; rather, it is a “go-to” destination that leads straight to the Chesapeake Bay.
There are miles and miles of waterfront, mazes of scenic back roads and byways that all seem to connect, several public beaches, and some of the most beautiful old (and new) homes in the state. You will find churches in every neighborhood and a friendly smile waiting at the door of any business you may wander into—but you won’t find a traffic light anywhere in the county.
There are also wonderful places to eat. I recently found one of those places in Mathews Court House and I’m here to tell you about Chef Todd’s Family Restaurant so you can find it, too.
Located in the heart of town in a building that has been there for generations, Chef Todd’s has a welcoming facade that says: “Come in, relax, enjoy.”
For pleasant weather, there is a front patio where diners may watch and wave at the comings-and-goings of drivers and pedestrians. But to escape the heat of August, my husband and I headed inside to one of the cool and comfortable dining areas.
Picture high ceilings and cream-colored walls with an occasional red accent wall here and there, all with pretty double sconces. Can you see that same color scheme carried throughout the restaurant, right down to the tablecloths, glasses, chair coverings and striped curtains? If you’re thinking “lovely,” you’re thinking Chef Todd’s.
And, oh yes, the best part: The walls are full of original art work from Mathews Art Gallery and it’s all about Mathews County. My husband immediately recognized Mitchem’s Crab House in one of the paintings, and artists’ renderings of classic deadrise boats, the famous New Point Comfort Lighthouse, and scenes from all around the county are there as well.
Our server was Sara Hallberg, and she was quick to mention Chef Todd’s specialties and tell us about the dishes of the day. It piqued my husband’s interest when she said that Chef Todd is very proud of the fact his fried seafood is never greasy. Now that was a tall statement to take in for someone like my husband, who was practically brought up on fried oysters. I could see the wheels turning as he considered his choice of entree—stay tuned . . .
Meanwhile, we decided to share an appetizer of crab-stuffed mushrooms gratinee while we looked over the menu. The appetizer was absolutely delicious with loads of crabmeat in large mushrooms covered with butter and cheese.
For my entree, I settled on the Jack Daniels BBQ shrimp and andouille sausage, served with rice and a garden salad. The salad was filled with fresh lettuce, cucumber, onion, tomato and red cabbage, along with “Chef Todd’s awesome blue cheese” (to quote Sara) dressing. Sara brought a plate of warm, moist sun-dried tomato and roasted-garlic rolls and told us that most of the breads served in the restaurant are made on premises. I could have made a complete meal from the tasty bread and salad.
And then my entree arrived—oh my! In a circle on the large plate were huge tail-on shrimp and slices of sausage drenched in the sweet and spicy sauce, and centered with a mound of rice. The dish (pictured below) was wonderfully prepared and presented. I ate and ate and still wound up carrying out about half of the meal.
Did you stay tuned for my husband’s decision?
He had to go with the fried oysters to see for himself how true Chef Todd’s standing claim is, and he was NOT disappointed. In fact, it surprised the shoes right off me when he kept exclaiming: “These are the best oysters I have ever had!” Two tall statements in a matter of minutes is almost too much to take. I helped myself to an oyster and completely understood why he was carrying on so . . . so light, so melt-in-your-mouth, so perfect.When I later spoke with Suzanne Hirschberg, the restaurant’s general manager and wife of Chef Todd, she said that patrons come from as far away as Richmond and Hampton Roads just for the fried oysters.
My husband continued to compliment his meal as he sampled the side dishes of fresh coleslaw and cucumber salad. I tasted the cool cucumber salad and was immediately struck by a delightful combination of flavors. I identified vinegar, sugar, onions and possibly dill, and when I asked Sara for the rundown of ingredients, she said with a smile, “He won’t tell us.”
Of course, we could not resist Chef Todd’s signature dessert, the double-fudge torte. The dense, heavy confection is “a mixture between fudge and pudding,” according to Suzanne. It is cooked, then chilled. It was luscious and decadent and everything a chocolate dessert should be.
The talented chef behind this terrific restaurant is Todd Hirschberg, who has been cooking since he was 14 years old. Originally from Long Island, New York, he has studied in a number of culinary schools and restaurants, including an apprenticeship with a chef in Switzerland.
Through the years, he has worked in several area restaurants, but the first one of his own was just down the street from the present Chef Todd’s location. He and Suzanne, along with other family members, grew a significant following in that eatery and operated there for two years until they decided to move their business to roomier facilities in April of this year. It is obvious that their loyal customers enjoy the new surroundings as every seat was filled during the time we spent there.
As we drove through Mathews County on our way back home, we discussed how we now have an excuse to visit there again—we could go back to Chef Todd’s for another enjoyable dining experience.
And we will. Soon!