Earlier last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer published their food forecast for 2015. One of the trends? Oysters. Or as they put it, “An Oyster Explosion.” This is not news to me. Not too long ago, Marsha Brown in New Hope and the old Milford Oyster House in Milford, NJ were pretty much the only local places where you could count on getting fresh oysters. Now, every time I turn around, another restaurant is offering raw oysters, often as part of a Happy Hour or special night. All of which makes me very happy.
Some of you are probably screwing up your face at this moment at the very thought of eating raw oysters. Let me share my initiation. I was with my sister and brother-in-law in a London restaurant. Alan had ordered oysters. My sister was taking the empty shells and knocking back the juice that was leftover. I made a face. “No,” she said, “This is good,” and handed me one. So I tasted it, and suddenly I was back on the beach in the summer sun, with the taste of the ocean on my tongue. Stunned, I said, “But…but…it’s the ocean!” I was hooked.
Oysters can be sweet, light, peppery, lemony, mild, and certainly briny. Mostly they are served with a cocktail sauce or Mignonette sauce. But always eat the first one plain, to get the full taste of the oyster, then gingerly add sauce if you must.
Steak and seafood. As you may know from our article a few months ago, Hamilton’s Grill Room: Some things just get better, the popular Lambertville restaurant recently changed their menu for the first time in over 20 years and shifted more to steaks and fresh seafood, including an assortment of both raw and cooked oysters.
“We always try to have three from the East Coast and three from the West Coast,” explains Chef Mark Miller. Miller is aiming for different taste profiles. So, for instance, he might bring in oysters from Chincoteague, VA, Long Island, Cape Cod, Maine or Nova Scotia.
Miller sources many of his East Coast oysters from Heller’s Seafood in Warrington. “Greg Heller from Heller’s Seafood is great resource,” he says. He uses Samuels & Sons out of Philadelphia for a lot of his West Coast oysters. “They offer a great diversity of oysters, from British Columbia to Puget Sound to Baja.”
I ask what are his favorites. “We’ve had some great ones lately,” he answers, “The Pemaquids (from Damariscotta, Maine) are so beautiful with their green aqua marine color. I also like the Wellfleets (Cape Cod), the Beausoleils (New Brunswick), and the larger ones from Wallace Bay (Prince Edward Island, Canada).”
Trust New Orleans. Oysters and New Orleans go together so it’s not surprising that Marsha Brown, the creole-inspired restaurant in New Hope, would carry good oysters. “We usually try to carry at least four oysters at a time,” explains Chef Dave Wall. Depending on the time of year, that can vary. Right now they have Mystic Points (Virginia) and Emerald Cove (British Columbia). “People tend to like the West Coast oysters better because they have more of a melon finish,” he says. He also gets his oysters from Samuels & Son, but also Indian Ridge and River & Glen (in Warminster).
I mention the names of these well-known seafood purveyors because many people are scared of raw fish, especially oysters. My rule of thumb, if the restaurant has high quality food, a good reputation and is clean (a good sign in general!), they will care about the provenance of their food and it’s quality. No one wants their patrons to get sick. It’s bad for business.
Raw oyster prices can range from $2 each up to $3.50, depending on how far they have travelled. Several restaurants in the area have Happy Hour specials or special raw bar nights. See the list below for more information.
So, if you ready to try your first oyster, start with a small one, like a Beausoleil. You’ll get the wonderful briny taste and it will go down quick. Washing it down with a cold martini doesn’t hurt either.
In alphabetical order:
59 Almshouse Road
Alessio’s Seafood Grill
827 Easton Road
Warrington, PA 18976
$1 Raw oyster and shrimp, steamed clams or buffalo wing for 80¢ each; at their Doylestown location also. Every day 3 p m – 6 pm.
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