Your Travel Guide to the North American Oyster
Photos courtesy of the individual establishments
The oyster has been a prominent historical delicacy for centuries. Enjoyed by everyone from the ancient Greeks and Romans to modern Chinese and Europeans folks, oysters have been said to cure illness, act as an aphrodisiac and increase a person’s IQ. And although none of those apocryphal benefits have actually been proven, oysters really are quite nutritious. They are high in essential vitamins and minerals, including protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc and vitamin C. So with National Oyster Day coming up on August 5, here is your traveling guide to the oysters of the U.S.
The Gulf of Mexico
Oysters grow abundantly in the Gulf due to the warm water and low salinity. These conditions mean the flavor of mollusks vary less from summer to winter. Most oysters here are publically fished and sold, but certain locations are beginning to hold back their stock and sell them as a premium product. You will find oysters on almost every seafood menu along the gulf, but a few of the great places to stop would be Atlas Oyster House (above) in Pensacola, Florida, Felix’s in New Orleans, and the Black Pearl Oyster Bar in Galveston, Texas.
Maine and the North
Although Maine is part of New England, you wouldn't know it from their oyster, which are thoroughly Canadian. Prince Edward Island, normally known for its mussels, provides the Caraquet oyster, a kind of answer to the Wellpoint oyster out of Cape Cod. Eventide Oyster Co. (above) is where you need to go for oysters in Portland, Maine. The Claddagh Oyster House in P.E.I. and The Press Gang in Halifax, Nova Scotia will get your oyster groove on north of the border.
New York and New England
New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts all have strong oyster varieties, with none better known than the Wellpoint. But with the variety of inlets and coastlines that we see throughout the area, the oyster selection is almost as varied. Bluepoints, which for many people are one in the same as oysters, originally came from Long Island's Great South Bay, but since overfishing and pollution killed of most of the population they are now harvested mostly from the Long Island Sound. If you are on Cape Cod, your stop for a dozen raw should be Mac’s Shack and for great oyster in South Kingston, Rhode Island, try Matunuck Oyster Bar where they even grow their own oysters. If you are in Oyster Bay, Long Island (where else are we going to pick?) you should be at Canterbury’s Oyster Bar & Grille.
Once upon a time, the oysters in Chesapeake Bay grew with such fervor that they actually presented a shipping hazard. However, being overfished for two centuries, there are virtually no wild oysters left to be harvested and most of the Chesapeake oysters are actually grown in Virginia. If you are looking for oysters in Baltimore, eat at the Thames Street Oyster House. In the nation’s capital, head to Rappahannock Oyster Bar and if you happen to be on vacation in Virginia Beach, Lucky Oyster is a casual, great place to grab some local bivalves on the half shell.
It is tough to group this whole area together as there are a wide variety of places that produce oysters here. The tract goes from California, north of San Francisco in Drakes Bay all the way to Crayton Harbor in the Northern Puget Sound.
The Hammersley, Little Skookum, Totten, Eld, and Budd oysters are the most well known from the southern Puget Sound area, and Olympia oysters which originally hailed from Willapa Bay, until fished out, are popular now near the city for which they are named. In 1920, Willapa was introduced to the Asian “Pacific Oyster” and it has been providing a huge part of the country’s stock of oysters ever since.
So if you are in Seattle, grab your oysters at Elliot’s Oyster House, in Portland hit the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, and in northern California the place to go is Hog Island Oyster Company (above) in Marshall, California.
Where do you like to go for oysters? There are a hundred other places that have great local oysters around the country, so we didn't get to them all here — let me know what I missed below.
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