First-Rate Food On (and at) Second Street

Nobody trumps Mom in the kitchen.

That’s why brothers Mickey and John Chohany accent traditional favorites with a twist at Second Street Restaurant, a bistro in The Edge District of Williamsburg where portion size satisfies most any appetite.

Hungry diners will get their fill whether they choose any of the burgers on the menu — the Carolina burger with homemade pimento cheese starred on the Richmond affiliate of CBS This Morning. The salads that aren’t just a bunch of lettuce overwhelm the plate. The range of entrees make decisions tough. Did you want the Seafood Bake (Cajun shrimp, Chesapeake Blue Crab, Andouille Sausage with Citrus Herb Basmati Rice) or the Fallin’ off the Bone Baby Back Ribs with Smoky BBQ sauce?

“Our baby back ribs are phenomenal; even the wait staff tells people that’s our go-to,” says Mickey Chohany, the younger of the brothers. “That and we’re not an Italian place, but I love our lasagna. It has core ingredients and is comfort food to the nth degree.”

Mickey and John have been in business since 1985, so long that they can finish each other’s sentences and are long past getting on each other’s nerves. “We’ve forged a unique relationship and bond that make us very efficient with what we do,” Mickey says.  

The brothers also founded another successful venture, Aratas Wine, named for their Hungarian heritage. You’ll find the Napa Valley label on the restaurant’s drink menu along with craft beers from Virginia Beer Company, Alewerks and other local microbreweries.

“We try to be relevant,” Mickey says. “We try to be current with the look, the menu, the staffing and the desires of our customer base. We try to be forward-thinking; some may call it cutting edge. We also try to keep it simple. We try to do the classics with a little bit of a culinary twist that make them more desirable than what you remember your mom’s meatloaf being like.”

Speaking of meatloaf, the brothers grew up eating their mom’s recipe, a yummy blend that Second Street duplicates subbing in bison. After it’s cooked, they chargrill it and plate it with mashed potatoes.

“If I can do something that makes you think of Mom in a contemporary way that makes you miss her even more, that’s a win on the scorecard,” Mickey says.

Don’t overlook the crab, either, and that’s minus the word cake following it. It’s not unusual for restaurants to be heavy on the filler and light on the desired crabmeat.

Second Street specializes in crab piles and yes, “It’s what it sounds like, a pile of crab,” Mickey says. “We try to lend a uniqueness to what we do with some thoughtfulness.”

The brothers, nearing their fourth decade in business together, revamped Second Street with the help of “Extreme Makeover” in 2007. What emerged was a charming eatery with an inviting interior that features exposed brick and old fashioned wood. Al fresco dining shows off the fire pit and Koi pond that encourage lingering. The Chohanys recently enclosed the patio in an innovative manner — see-through paneling that can be raised and lowered similar to a garage door.

“It’s a really neat idea that gives us a lot of flexibility,” Mickey says.

The brothers are contemplating whether to add self-service to ordering for diners who choose to eat in. They constantly try to exceed expectations for atmosphere, service and of course, food in Williamsburg and at their second location, which opened in Newport News in 2013.

The evolving menu considers the seasons. Brussel sprouts, for example, aren’t as lush as the ones typically served so they’re off the menu until fall. Refreshing spritzers are back for the summer. Some items, of course, never go away, like the onion rings.

Mickey isn’t shy in touting Second Street’s onion rings as the best anywhere, end of sentence. “We make them perfect,” he says. “We’ve mastered that technique in 35 years.”

Second Street embraces The Edge District concept, though Mickey admits it comes at what remains a challenging time for restaurateurs. Most are exhausted, he says, after putting in the work to survive the pandemic and now navigating a labor shortage that prevents them from operating the hours they’d like.

But make no mistake, Second Street is jazzed about the concept.

“I think The Edge is awesome; I love the coined phrase and I love what it represents,” Mickey says. “It’s come out at a wonky time for restaurants. We are located on Second Street. We’re the old guard, we’ve been here so long. It pleases us this area is now getting the focus with the name Edge. It’s on the edge of town, it’s edgy and it’s big and inspiring.”

Second Street Restaurant at 140 Second St., is open Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Temporarily closed on Mondays. Call 757-220-2286 for information.