Though we may usually equate oysters with warm summer weather, a light appetizer, it’s the winter when they really are at their best. And as with spirits, craft beer and local food, we’re currently experiencing something of a golden age of oysters.
Sure it’s true that once oysters were far more abundant. In his book, “The Big Oyster,” Mark Kurlansky describes a scene in New York in the 19th century, where hundreds of oyster boats harvested millions of bushels from the waters surrounding Manhattan every year. Oysters could be purchased in street stands, restaurants and shipped globally as well. The world then, especially for New Yorkers, really was our oyster.
Sadly, that changed. Oysters were over harvested and the water was polluted. But now, things are looking up. Small, and large oyster farms have popped up all over the country. Twenty years ago in Duxbury, MA alone, there was just one guy growing oysters, Skip Bennett of Island Creek Oysters. Now, their are some 30 oyster farms in Duxbury Bay, and Island Creeks are served all over the world.
While, the oyster population may not have bounced back to its original pre-colony days, there’s certainly even more diversity in oyster production right now.
So yes thankfully, the oyster is having its day once again.
With that in mind, we spoke to In a Half Shell Oyster Blogger Julie Qiu to find out the best places in New England to eat oysters this year.
Island Creek Oyster
Skip Bennett is something of the godfather of the new oyster farmers, a champion of sustainable aquaculture, he’s been able to grow his oyster farm into a global brand with two Boston restaurants. Though you can find Island Creeks at oyster bars all over the world, and the White House too, making a trip to Island Creek Oyster Bar, or the company’s new offering Row 34, in Boston is a must.
Thanks to the cold water, it takes a little longer for oysters to grow in Maine, but that only makes them even better. And there’s no better place to sample Maine’s finest than Eventide in Portland, Maine’s very-happening culinary center.
“Because of the pristine environment, Maine oysters tend to possess a really nice flavor and texture profile,” says Julie Qiu, oyster blogger who runs the In a Half Shell blog, and Eventide has a “great portfolio of Maine oysters that you won’t find in most other places.”
Eventide is hot though, so make sure to make a reservation or try on off hours, says Qiu.
When it comes to name brand oysters, Wellfleets are just about as popular as they come. The beds of Wellfleet, towards the end of Cape Cod, have been producing some of the best oysters for hundreds of years. But like New York Harbor, the abundant beds of Wellfleet were massively depleted in the 1800s from over fishing. Thankfully, now, they’re back.
When it comes to enjoying a plate of Wellfleets, Qiu suggests Mac’s Shack, one of three restaurants owned by Mac’s Seafood Company, where you can eat outside. But, you’ll have to wait until spring when they reopen up, so for now, head to Mac’s in Provincetown, which is open year-round.
Mystic Oyster Club
Looking to step it up a bit? Head to Mystic Oyster Club in Mystic Connecticut. A far cry from a dockside oyster shack, Mystic Oyster club was named one of the best oyster bars in the U.S. by Travel and Leisure and Qiu says it’s one of the places to try the local oysters of Long Island Sound.
“They bring in very fresh, local product from experienced growers around the area,” says Qiu. “They have a really great selection of local oysters like Noanks, Fishers and Mystics”
What makes these local oysters unique? “Fishers Island oysters are especially clean and crisp tasting,” she says.
There’s a reason wait times are so long at Neptune. This tiny restaurant in Boston’s North End bucks the local trend of Italian restaurants and has gained a loyal following by offering super fresh oysters in their expansive raw bar. Off hours and flexibility are key to getting into Neptune, and, well, it’s very much worth the wait.
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