Esoteric Uses A Garden-Green Space And Focus On Craft Beer And Cocktails To Create A Welcoming Vibe In Virginia Beach
Photos by 621 Studios and Jim Pile
“The garden grounds us,” reflects Kristina Chastain, experienced restaurateur and co-owner—with husband, Tim—of Esoteric in Virginia Beach; she then laughs at her pun. But, indeed, the organic garden does ground this mini-community that the Chastains have created. The inviting complex is a property the couple acquired on 17th Street near the Oceanfront, an area Kristina has always loved for its gritty, undeveloped, “not vanilla” feel in the up-and-coming ViBe Creative District.
Built in the early 1930s–40s, the appealing compound houses Esoteric and Commune, another of the area’s other wildly popular restaurants, both with terrace seating; Tenant E, a large, eclectic multi-use space for events and “edgier” art exhibitions; an artist’s studio; and open, airy office space. Being very selective about tenants has led to the realization of the Chastain’s vision for an entity that is “bigger than the sum of its parts.” And the garden-green space anchors it all as a natural nexus for tenant businesses, their employees and guests.
Kristina and Tim were steeped—or perhaps fermented is a more appropriate word—in the restaurant business as the vice-president and executive chef, respectively, of Captain George’s in Virginia Beach, Kristina’s family’s business. When they decided to start their own gig, they developed a three-pillared approach to beer, cocktails and food. The result was a craft-beer focused, cocktail-forward restaurant serving modern American cuisine with a worldly emphasis.
Tim, who is a Johnson & Wales-trained chef and beer connoisseur, spends much of his time ferreting out unique beers and developing relationships with brewers, both local and international. With 30 taps total and 28 to work with—one is devoted to root beer and another to kombucha—Tim prides himself on “one-offs.” As he describes, some of these kegs may never even hit the price list. “One they’re here, drink them, because you’ll probably never see them again,” he advises. Tory Siebels, the mixologist, takes the lead on cocktails that are clean-tasting, made with fresh ingredients, and interesting, yet straight-forward.
Consciously working to avoid the elitism that sometimes surrounds wine, the Chastains are devoted to helping customers find a beverage they like, whatever it might be, and pairing it with delicious food. With a menu that changes more often than seasonally, and beers that are often here-today-gone-tomorrow, servers are carefully trained to pair food with categories of beer.
At the ripe age of 30, executive chef Brian Wegener earned his chops at the likes of Virginia Beach restaurants Eurasia and Burtons Grill. Though he began as sous chef, his talent and passion were quickly recognized, and he was promoted. Kristina attributes his success not only to his ability and enthusiasm, but to a balance of leadership and followship as well as an expansive attitude toward feedback. His menu is a feast of inspired Ss: Snacks, Smalls, Salads and Soups, Sandies (aka Sandwiches), Mains—okay, S&Ms—Sides and Sweets.
Dishes like house pickled veg, roasted cauliflower, duck tacos and charred octopus are served up in an intentionally “under-designed” space created by the design-loving Kristina where massive windows, original tin ceiling tiles, cement floors, vintage-inspired white tiles, Carrera marble counters, reclaimed wood and steel furnishings, and architectural salvage doors cozy up to black accent walls, black-and-white chevron wall paper, and contemporary “street art” murals by Stone Cold Nasty.
Noting that “the restaurant industry is all about relationships on many levels,” Kristina and Tim nurture symbiotic relationships with like-minded socially- and environmentally-conscious artisanal businesses—like the ViBe’s Benevolent Design and North End Bag Co.—for whom “sustainable” and “repurposed” are not just buzz words, and for a community for whom conversation and connection—oh, and cuisine—are king.
See the recipe here for Eso’s Grilled Bone-In Pork Chop with Sweet Potatoes, Bourbon and Bacon-Braised Brussels, and a Smoked Honey Gastrique.