Blue Ridge Seafood offers casual family dining with seafood specials
By Christine Craddock
The story goes that Rod and Cora Stringer, owners of Blue Ridge Seafood in Gainesville, are quite the couple. Rod is a visionary and entrepreneur. Cora balances him out and has always held down the fort while supporting his many business ideas throughout their years of marriage.
Although his main career was an air traffic controller, Rod always operated a side business with many other ideas brewing just below the surface. One of these part-time gigs was a little crab trailer, where he also sold trees at Christmas time. His daughter, Donna, looks back on these times with fond memories; whatever idea Rod had, his family helped him follow it through, especially Cora.
Growing up in Maryland, Donna remembers driving around looking for places for the family to eat dinner, and always ultimately ending up at a seafood restaurant. When the building that became Blue Ridge Seafood became available for purchase, Rod seized the opportunity as a way for him to continue his crab business in a more permanent way. Cora had worked for years as a hostess in a seafood restaurant so the transition to this type of business wasn’t too far of a stretch. “He couldn’t have done it without Mom,” says Donna.
Donna remembers her parents working long hours sometimes when the crabs were delivered late at night, or when Rod would drive all the way to Florida to pick up seafood. The Stringers have now settled in Florida, where Rod continued his entrepreneurial spirit by co-owning, and then selling, another seafood establishment. Donna Donovan and her husband Mark now manage Blue Ridge Seafood full-time. Since 1979, it has operated as a family-owned restaurant with employees who have become like family. A few have worked there for 15 to 20 years, something that is rare to find these days.
Through the years, many things about the business have changed,but the best parts have remained the same. Humble, charming, and cozy would accurately describe the interior, which is decorated in a beachy theme with crab and fish accents. Originally a two-story home, the building has had additions that now house dining areas in the front and a tiki bar in the back. Adding to the charm is the fact that visitors can picture the original home structure through inside doorways and windows that give glimpses into its beginnings. There are two front dining areas, accented by wood walls and ceilings, that offer seating at individual tables and chairs. The more casual back dining area features picnic tables covered in butcher paper to make for easy cleanup after a crab or shrimp feast while giving the room a laid back, family vibe.
“We may not look like much, but we strive to serve the best product we can,” says Donna, who emphasizes the shrimp served is one hundred percent domestic, wild caught, gulf brown shrimp. Blue Ridge Seafood offers local oysters, while the lobsters are shipped in fresh from Maine. One such lobster has been nicknamed “Big Boy” because of his huge size. Big Boy sometimes makes appearances in the dining areas just so visitors can witness him.
During the summer, regulars come weekly to enjoy live music and tiki bar specials in the sunshine on the back deck. Donna points out that although most people think of seafood as a summer delicacy, winter can be the best time for certain dishes, such as oysters and lobster. On cold days, diners can cozy up for some hot, fresh homemade crab soup, clam chowder, or lobster bisque along with dishes from both the land and the sea. Some of the recipes stem from the original dishes Cora created in the beginning, such as the crab cake, crab soup, key lime pie, and cheesecake.
Appetizers include the popular Boom Boom Shrimp, shrimp cocktail, calamari, hot crab and lobster dip, stuffed mushroom caps, bacon wrapped scallops, and oysters on the half shell. Seafood lovers will have quite a time choosing a dinner to delight their appetites; some choices are stuffed flounder or shrimp, house specialty crab cakes, snow crab legs, whole Maine lobster, fried shrimp, surf and turf, and fillet of catfish, haddock, or flounder. The Blue Ridge Combination features sauteed crab cake, haddock, shrimp, scallops, and clam strips. For diners who prefer fare that doesn’t come from the sea, there are choices of New York strip steak, t-bone steak, fried chicken, herb roasted chicken, ribs, and quail.
Blue Ridge is now open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., when visitors can enjoy lighter options of po boys, sandwiches, baskets, and soups and salads. Each weekday offers a special: Tuesday nights feature shrimp, Wednesday nights feature snow crab legs, Thursdays offer oysters at a discounted price, and Friday is lobster night. Regular business hours are Tuesday through Thursday and Sundays 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Blue Ridge Seafood is located at 15704 Lee Highway in Gainesville. To learn more about the restaurant, including hours and specials, go to blueridgeseafood.com or call 703-754-9852.