The only thing that’s more refreshing than a cold raw oyster on a hot Nantucket day is a cold raw oyster sprinkled with cucumber water and pickled watermelon rind. That’s the specialty at the White Elephant Hotel’s Brant Point Grill, especially when it’s a Reysto dug from a bed just offshore. On sunny Friday afternoons, sit out on the lawn, watch the ferries pass by, and order $1 mollusks at the weekly Buck-n-Shuck party.
New York City
We start with an icon: Grand Central Oyster Bar, which has held court in the belly of the Beaux Arts landmark since 1913. Under a dazzling ceiling of herringbone-tiled arches, the multi-room restaurant offers a five-page list of bivalves from both coasts, everything from Massachusetts’s salty, nutty Barnstables to California’s sweet False Bays. For a post-meal cocktail, head upstairs to the Campbell Bar, recently renovated to Gatsby-esque effect.
Whaling boats, lighthouses, popped collars on polo shirts—welcome to Mystic, Connecticut. Newcomers might suspect that the place to go here has something to do with Julia Roberts and pizza, but insiders head a block down Water Street to the bright orange front doors of the Oyster Club. Grab a seat at the bar during Happy Hour, ask Sig what the day’s haul brought in and get ready to slurp down some plump, meaty Noanks.
Marin County, California
Tomales Bay is a long finger of cool, plankton-rich Pacific water in Marin County, just north of San Francisco—the ideal growing conditions for plump, sweet oysters. There, in Marshall—less a town than a slight widening of the shoulder on Shoreline Highway—sits the Hog Island Oyster Company, which farms and sells its own rich, smoky Sweetwaters as well as Kumamotos and a few other varieties. Take a quick tour of the facility, then take a seat at an outdoor picnic table (reserved in advance) to enjoy a platter of just-plucked-and-shucked bivalves—raw or barbecued and drizzled with chipotle bourbon butter.
The North End may be all about overflowing plates of tortellini and garlic bread. But swimming in the middle of this sea of carbs is Neptune Oyster, beloved by Bostonians for its raw bar and steaming lobster rolls. The menu, hand-lettered on a mirror above the bar, is expansive, but definitely order a few plump, briny Wellfleets, the local comeback kids—and ask your shucker to tell you their Cinderella story. Avoid the wait by showing up right at the 11:30 am opening time, 11:30 am—and save room for a chocolate-dipped cannoli at Mike’s Pastry, just down the block.
Ever wonder how Seattle residents cope with that miserably damp climate? Places like the Walrus and the Carpenter. Under an arboresque chandelier lies a long bar lined with buckets of iced oysters—usually six different varieties, all of them from the Pacific Northwest. Slurp down a dozen Baywater Sweet or feast on the fried version, served with cilantro aioli, and contemplate the merits of West Coast sweetness versus East Coast brine.
Chef Donald Link’s Cochon made its reputation on meat-tastic dishes like smoked beef brisket and suckling pig served with deep-fried cracklings. But it’s a pretty terrific place for oyster-lovers, too. Start with the wood-fired oysters smothered in chili garlic butter for a Cajun spin, and then order up an oyster and bacon sandwich. It’s basically a BLT with fried oysters—in other words, the best BLT you’ll ever eat.