Sandpiper Reef: Fine dining hidden from the beaten path
by Tom Hardin
When I was first offered the job of “restaurant reviewer” for the Rivah Visitor’s Guide, I was very reluctant to accept. You see, I’ve met very few foods I don’t like. And being from West Virginia, I’m big (no pun intended) into fried food, fast food and the all-you-can-eat buffets. I used to think if I’m not bursting at the seams, I didn’t get my fair share at the Golden Corral.
Since moving to the more sophisticated, genteel state of Virginia, I have changed a few dietary habits, hopefully for the better. Hot dogs and pizza are still two of my favorite foods, but I’ve acquired somewhat of a taste for quality. For example, I prefer Klondike ice cream bars over the cheaper store brands. In fact, I’ve been known to eat a whole pint of Haagan Dazs ice cream at one sitting, and then frantically search the freezer for more.
For my restaurant review, I chose Sandpiper Reef in Mathews County because I heard it was really good. My wife Bev and I had an excellent meal there on a Saturday night and even were treated to some relaxing dinner music by David McKenney.
As I listened to Harry’s Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” I was confronted with an extensive menu and several tempting appetizers and specials.
Bev and I shared the seafood bisque as an appetizer, but she got very little. It was so good it left me wanting to order another bowl. I could have made a meal of this sweet cream-based soup.
However, I still had other courses to conquer that night.
Next came the dinner salad. Fresh lettuce, onions, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and spicy croutons covered with a sweet homemade raspberry vinaigrette dressing had me licking my bowl clean.
Next, the entree. Bev and I both wanted the “Reef and Beef,” which consisted of grilled seafood, beef tenderloin, squash and onions over a bed of rice. It was excellent.
Bev ordered that, and I ordered an old healthy favorite of mine—the fried seafood platter, which was, as you might imagine, a variety of fresh fried seafood.
Next time I will get it broiled. Not because broiled is healthier, as my waitress reminded me as I drained my second beer, I just love seafood dipped in melted butter.
Neither of us could finish our dinner, so we got “doggie bags” of leftovers to take home. I ate them both the next night.
For dessert, we shared. We ordered white chocolate cheesecake with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. Wow! Maybe the best thing we had all night. I arm-wrestled Bev for the final bite, not remembering she’d been pumping iron.
As we were about to leave, I saw a “king cut” of prime rib delivered to a nearby table. I will return.
“They really have to come find us, and when they do they usually come back,” said restaurant owner Liz Scribe. “Obviously, we rely on a lot of return customers.”
Liz has two bumper stickers she gives to patrons. One reads “Away From It All,” and the other reads “Mathews’ Best Kept Secret.”
The restaurant building is a “plain Jane.” It is a former dining hall for an all-girls summer Baptist Bible Camp that many locals may remember attending. When I heard this, I felt bad about not saying grace before lunging into my food.
Adjacent to the restaurant is a red barn that once served as the camp’s activities center and now is the home of The Court House Players.
The restaurant sits a stone’s throw from Godfrey Bay on the Piankatank River, and is surrounded by waterfront cottages. These cottages were once the sites of Bible Camp bunkhouses, but when the camp closed in the 1980s, the houses and lots were sold as prime waterfront sites.
Sandpiper Reef was once named Misti Cove Restaurant, but has been Sandpiper Reef for several years, including the eight years Liz has been with it—the first three years as manager and the last five years as owner.
“I’ve changed the restaurant into a very casual, family place,” she said. “I want people to come here, feel comfortable and have fun.”
Flip-flops, t-shirts and shorts are allowed, and even encouraged. During warm weather, diners enjoy eating on the large screened-in porch.
The menu is long. From soups, salads, sandwiches, full-course blue collar selections and more elaborate fare, it’s all there—steaks, seafood, chicken, and Italian.
A small bar with five stools sits in the corner of the spacious dining area. So spacious that the Sandpiper Reef frequently hosts wedding receptions, baby showers, family reunions and other special events. The restaurant is open to the public only four days a week—Thursday through Sunday. Liz also has a thriving catering business.
Take it from me. Her food is fresh, plentiful and top-of-the-line, especially those homemade soups and desserts. And the staff could not be any more accommodating and friendly.
342 Misty Cove Road,
Hallieford, Mathews, VA 23109