Great Oyster Bars from Coast to Coast
Photo By: Haleah Blank ©www.haleah.com
Photo By: Paul Dyer ©2014
Photo By: Mike Laptew ©all rights reserved Laptew Productions 2013
From Seafood Shacks to High-Class Bars
From the Gulf of Maine to Long Island Sound to the California coast, great oysters thrive in America's waters. Oyster farmers take great care to bring these top-quality bivalves to seafood shacks, bars and restaurants around the nation. Here are a few spots where you can grab a stool (or a picnic bench) and slurp these wonderful oysters from the U.S. of A. — meaty, plump, buttery and oh-so-briny.
Photo by Morgan Ione for Row34
Boston: Row 34
From the same team that brought us Island Creek Oysters, this spinoff is set inside a 100-year-old former steel factory in South Boston's newest waterfront development, Fort Point. Dominating the menu are the plump, meaty oysters with a provenance of New England — from Maine to Martha's Vineyard and, of course, their own farm in Duxbury, Mass. Oysters are just the top of the raw-bar menu, which includes smoked and cured seafood such as uni, shrimp and salmon pastrami; ceviche and crudos like the gorgeous fluke adorned with pickled nectarine, fresh basil and Aleppo pepper.
Photo by Morgan Ione for Row 34
Greenport, NY: Bait & Switch
Last summer Ian Wile, owner of Little Creek Oyster Farm, transformed this former bait-and-tackle shop, scallop-shucking house and sports-fisherman outfitter into the coziest oyster bar on Greenport's harbor. Diners get down and dirty with buckets full of bivalves from within a 20-mile radius and are encouraged to shuck 'em themselves. Also on the menu: littleneck clams, ceviche, artisan pickles and whatever fish is brought in through the doors from friendly locals. Come winter, expect to find a soul-soothing oyster pan roast and scallop chowder.
Photo by Kiri Tannenbaum
Mystic, Conn.: Oyster Club
For a fine-dining experience in a low-key, convivial atmosphere, Mystic's award-winning Oyster Club is the place to go. Despite the rotating menu, you can be sure to find at least one of what the restaurant deems the "holy trinity" of New England oysters: Ningret Nectars, Noanks and, if you’re lucky, Fishers Island. All are grown and harvested less than 20 miles from the restaurant. Ninety-five percent of the other ingredients on the seafood-driven menu hail from within 50 miles, with all of the fish sourced exclusively from the coasts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Photo by Amma Pozzi
New York City: Grand Banks
If you are looking for an easy escape from the concrete jungle, head to Lower Manhattan's Pier 25 and hop aboard the Sherman Zwicker. While the 73-year-old schooner (the largest wooden vessel in Manhattan) doesn't set sail, the oyster bar aboard it, Grand Banks, offers killer oysters and incomparable views of the sun setting over the Hudson River. Grab a seat by the aged zinc bar encircling the forward mast and watch the shuckers in action. Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan, a serious fisherman, makes it a point to highlight local and sustainable seafood with oysters harvested from the bays, sound and ocean that surround the eastern end of Long Island.
Photo by Doug Lyle Thompson
Portland, Maine: Eventide Oyster Co.
Those used to the West Coast or Gulf variety are usually blown away by the brininess of oysters from the deep, cold waters of Maine. But that's how they like them up there — salty. At Eventide they are served traditional style with mignonette sauce (vinegar, shallots and black or white pepper) or with their unique spin: ices. Chef-owner Andrew Taylor offers a horseradish, Tabasco or pickled red onion ice that can be likened to a savory Italian granita and marries well with these bivalves. Another menu fave is the jumbo oysters roasted in the shell and garnished with Korean barbecue sauce, marinated cabbage and pickles.
Photo by Zack Bowen/Knack Factory
Portland, Ore.: B&T
This casual counterpoint to its more modern sister restaurant, Roe, shines a light on oysters from Vancouver down through southern Oregon. After you slurp a few creamy Kumamotos, Minter Sweets, and Coromandels move on to the shared-plates menu with a French-Asian bent. The most-popular dish? The play on the crab roll — a hand roll stuffed with glass noodles, nuoc cham mayonnaise, yuzu tobiko and sushi rice, and baked in soy paper. Follow that up with selections from the craft cocktail menu with equally creative mixed drinks like the absinthe and root beer.
Photo by Haleah Blank
San Francisco and Napa, Calif.: Hog Island Oyster Co.
Seafood fanatics flock to Tomales Bay to eat Hog Island's oysters right at the source. Those in the know reserve picnic tables in advance and arrive ready to shuck their own oysters and grill food brought from home. On weekends, the cafe offers those same oysters along with local cheeses and charcuterie. But you don't have to travel to the farm to get a taste. Hog Island's first oyster bar inside the Ferry Building serves its oysters alongside chowders, daily fish specials and San Francisco's indigenous fisherman's stew, cioppino. And no foodie visit to Northern California would be complete without a trip to Napa Valley's Oxbow Public Market, where Hog Island oysters are available in a setting as spectacular as the oysters themselves.
Photo by Paul Dyer
More About: Hog Island Oyster Co.
South Kingstown, RI: Matunuck
Up in Rhode Island near Point Judith lies Matunuck, where Perry Raso has been farming oysters from Potter Pond since 2002. In 2009, he launched the restaurant whose concept he refers to as "Pond to Plate." Grown on its seven-and-a-half-acre farm, these babies are harvested right off the restaurant's waterfront and are sweet, crisp, firm and petite. While the Matunuck oysters are best in the raw, you'll also find them in a creamy stew, grilled with garlic, parsley and lemon butter or a la Rockefeller — baked with Pernod, spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. You really can't go wrong.
Photo courtesy of Matunuck
Topping and Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C.: Rappahannock Oyster Co.
Rappahannock Oyster Co.'s signature oyster tastes a little less briny and a little sweeter, with a mild minerality due to its "merroir" — a maritime term for terroir. These oysters are raised and farmed in the Rappahannock River with freshwater coming directly off the Blue Ridge Mountains, meeting at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, which results in a low level of salinity. All of ROC's eateries showcase the Rappahannock oyster along with their Stingray, Olde Salt and Barcat. They're either served raw on the half shell or grilled and paired with unique toppers like smoked jalapeno butter. Get closer to the action at their headquarters in Topping, Va., where you can watch the seeding process and end your visit with a cold beer and a freshly shucked shell.
Photo courtesy of Rappahannock
Washington, D.C.: Old Ebbitt Grill
Now in its third location, the Old Ebbitt Grill is hailed as the city's oldest bar, founded in 1856. Today, it's well known for its oyster happy hour, where each day local politicos enjoy half-price raw-bar items from 3 to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. until closing. Apropos of being in the epicenter of democracy, the restaurant abides by an "oyster-eater bill of rights," which ensures that every half shell that lands on those icy platters has passed through stringent laboratory testing. Oysters also go through tough trials to earn a spot at the restaurant's annual event, the Oyster Riot, whose past judges include Justice Antonin Scalia and celebrity chef José Andrés.
Photo by Sebastian Marin