Destination: East Bay Oyster Bars

Your guide to local oysters and where to get them

The Bay Magazine ·

Oysters are delicious, plain and simple. They’re the number one aquaculture product in Rhode Island, and are served on menus across the East Bay. If you’ve been wondering where to get a taste, we’ve got you covered. Area restaurants are showcasing these tiny treats in the most delicious ways possible.

East Bay Oyster Bar
The East Bay Oyster Bar doesn’t hold back when it comes to offering local oysters. “We source the most local oysters possible so our selection will always be predominantly from Rhode Island such as Dutch Island, Cedar Island, Wild Goose, Afternoon Delights and Chessawanock,” says restaurant owner Jim Harris.

Partial to the Chessawanock oyster himself because of their balanced flavor, he notes that the Cedar Island is a great choice for those that prefer a brinier finish to their oyster.

For those new to oyster appreciation, Jim recommends starting with a smaller oyster. Texture is often the stumbling point for those unfamiliar with oysters, so start small to appreciate the flavor before becoming accustomed to their unique mouth feel.

Traditional cocktail sauce, mignonettes (a vinegar, shallot and cracked peppercorn dressing), hot sauce, lemon and horseradish are all on hand for those who like to anoint their oyster before enjoying. Fried and grilled oyster dishes can also be found on the menu, served with a variety of aioli sauces. 308 County Road, Barrington. 401-247-0303.

The pride and passion that Bywater has for oysters is abundantly clear. The focus of Bywater – owned by husband and wife duo Katie and Brian O’Donnell – is on East Coast oysters with a particular attention to Rhode Island grown species. Katie says that, “The aim is to have oysters that are different enough from each other so that the tasting experience is fun and you can get to know where they’re from.”

Brian, who is also the head chef of Bywater, has a soft spot for the Prince Edward Island Raspberry Points due to their intensely briny and crisp quality. Taking six years to come to maturity compared to the typical two to three years of a Rhode Island native, the shellfish’s sharp, bold flavor comes from the harsh conditions in the more northerly waters.

Resident oyster guru and chief shucker Pete Boschini is a stalwart fan of the Rhode Island Walrus and Carpenter. His affection for the oysters is down to them being sustainably hand harvested as well as truly representing how wonderful Rhode Island oysters can be in terms of flavor and texture.

It’s not just for their flavor that the team at Bywater raves about oysters.Katie is keen for first time oyster appreciators to know that “they are great for you and great for the environment… [they contain] more zinc than any other food product and help to keep our local ecosystems sustainable and clean.”

Winter months invite baked preparations of oysters to Bywater’s menu with warmer weather welcoming experiments with mignonettes and toppings. Those looking for something fresh and new will be sure to find it at Bywater as the restaurant is “always fooling around with oysters,” according to Katie.

Bywater’s location in Warren is not only appropriate for its proximity to the Barrington River, but also because Warren was once one of the oyster processing capitals of the world. This accolade is now purely historical, but the town’s roots in seafood and shellfish run deep, making it the perfect spot for this modern hub of old-school hospitality. 54 State Street, Warren. 401-694-0727.

Bristol Oyster Bar
Location, location, location is the name of the game when it comes to the Bristol Oyster Bar’s beautiful red brick building and its attitude to oysters. General Manager Scott Pinocci says with pride that “You can expect to find oysters harvested from Rhode Island waters on the raw bar, we get them hours after they come out of the water. It’s all about the freshness.” Local varieties such as Matunuck, East Beach Blonde, Aquidneck and Moonstone are regularly found on the chipped ice laden metal platters presented to eager oyster lovers.

Offering something to suit all palates, Bristol Oyster Bar offers the shucked shellfish with a variety of accompaniments including traditional mignonette, cocktail sauce, horseradish, pickled jalapeño and lemon. For those looking to mix things up a bit there is also the Oyster Shooter: a combination shot of an oyster, vodka, horseradish, Old Bay seasoning, bacon and bloody Mary mix. 448 Hope Street, Bristol. 401-396-5820.

The Red Dory
Red Dory owner Steve Johnson is a particular fan of local Rhode Island and Massachusetts raised oysters, and sings the praises of Sakonnet Point aquaculturalist Peter Melanson, from whom he buys many oysters including those harvested from the south side of Fogland Bay.

Unlike other raw bars, The Red Dory only offers one variety of oyster at a time. Steve's approach is to sample what is available seasonally, and once he finds the best available he’ll stick to it. This allows him to order small amounts very regularly, ensuring only the freshest shellfish are on the bar.

As for advice for novice oyster eaters, Steve says it’s essential to chew the oyster rather than shoot it down. “It’s not tequila,” he says. “Chew the oyster. Experience the texture.” He also urges that one should try oysters first without any accompaniment. They are a delicate flavor with many idiosyncrasies inherited from their place of growth. Any added flavorings will immediately alter the character of the oyster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s best to experience the oyster in its virgin state first.

Not only can you sample some of the freshest oysters in the East Bay from The Red Dory, they also offer buttermilk-fried oysters. They’re transformed to rich, meaty morsels with a dredge of flour, buttermilk and cornmeal then served with an assertive homemade tartar sauce. It’s a completely different experience for those not sure about joining their raw oyster eating dinner companions. 1848 Main Road, Tiverton. 401-816-5001.

Bluewater Bar and Grill
Offering fresh Blue Point oysters delivered daily, Bluewater Bar and Grill offer their oysters individually rather than by the half or whole dozen for one simple reason: “You can order one, 12 or 43. We don’t set limits on oysters here,” says Head Chef Cara Duskin

Blue Points are a steadfast favorite amongst the clientele and have earned a loyal place on the raw bar due to their consistently excellent flavor. Rather than a vast selection of varieties, the focus is on a reliably high quality and popular New England native oyster.

In the space once occupied by Tyler Point Grille, Cara is moving the menu toward a lighter, more modern fare that sit perfectly with the upscale, family atmosphere of the restaurant.

The options for oysters are abundant, like dishes including grilled oysters with sweet and smoky red pepper and chili popping up on the specials board as well as their locally famous onion mignonette. 32 Barton Avenue, Barrington. 401-247-0017.

Metacom Kitchen
Metacom Kitchen has earned itself a reputation for fine dining in a casual and relaxed environment. Under the stewardship of head chef and owner Rick Allaire, the once dive bar location is now home to a refined menu inspired by local produce and seasonal delicacies.

Speaking of his affection for Rhode Island native oysters, Rick recites the raw bar roll call, which includes: Walrus and Carpenter (a particular favorite of Allaire’s due to their medium size and natural balance of salt and brininess), Moonstone and Wellfleet varieties. Summer months also see a selection of ceviche – cured and raw preparations of black bass join the oysters on the menu.

“Good quality oysters have a great complexity. When they’re good they can stand on their own,” Rick says about accompaniments. “I do like Asian flavors though, vinegars flavored with seaweed and white soy sauce. We sometimes do quick vodka infusions with kaffir lime leaves or lemon grass. Oysters go really well with vodka.”

He explains that the key to an oyster accompaniment is about enhancing the natural complexity of the shellfish. It’s about the flavor of the oyster first and foremost, to enhance and elevate rather than mask.

If you’re keen to sample oysters in a manner other than their traditional shucked, raw guise you may also find them at Metacom Kitchen: “We’ve done a fried oyster. It was a light preparation with a tarragon aioli, and pickled vegetables.” Ever respectful of the quality available produce, Richard creates these delicacies that pop up on Metacom’s specials when seasonal bounty allows.

A self-described modern American bistro, Metacom Kitchen is a cozy spot for the casual crowd with fine dining attention to detail. Those to whom the professional kitchen is a thing of visual beauty rather than just a room from which the food appears, should be sure to book a seat at the chef’s table. A collection of four seats that overlook the kitchen allowing diners to watch the intensely focused ballet of finely tuned culinary execution.

Also offered at these premier seats is the restaurant’s tasting menu. Comprising six, eight or ten courses at the guests request, the menu is composed uniquely for each party based on a list of likes and dislikes gleaned in the days prior to the meal. Diners do not receive a menu on the evening of their meal, but are presented with courses in accordance to their expressed preferences before a commemorative copy of their personal menu is gifted to them at the finale.

A perfect composition of a casual and welcoming environment, paired with exceptional attention to detail, Rick is adamant that the small team behind Metacom Kitchen all work together to create the unique experience the restaurant has earned its reputation for. 322 Metacom Avenue, Warren. 401-245-1193.

Midtown Oyster Bar
Right in the heart of bustling Newport, Midtown Oyster Bar sits in the spot once occupied by beloved Salas’ Restaurant. The renovation and ultimate rebuilding of the property on Thames Street may have initially been met with trepidation, but the resulting multileveled space, filled with reclaimed wood and cathedral ceilings, has earned a steadfast place in the hearts of local and visiting food lovers alike.

Charlie Holder, operations manager at Midtown, says that “Midtown Oyster Bar is about the experience. It’s a place where people like to meet up for drinks or dinner. Where people feel comfortable to gather.”

It’s not a case of form over function at Midtown. Their raw bar highlights the local oyster farms of Rhode Island and the Cape while also branching out to include varieties from the Mid-Atlantic and Maine as well as the West Coast, British Columbia and Canada. Anyone interested in stretching and educating their palate will be sure to find the means to do so with the six to 12 varieties of oyster offered daily.

Charlie prefers raw oysters and explains that they are very susceptible to their environment. As such, the intricate flavors they possess are as unique as a fingerprint. He also concedes that a fried oyster will always be one of his secret cravings.

Midtown’s Champagne and Shells events on Tuesday nights are a must attend for anyone looking for a way to enjoy shellfish in style. With the purchase of a bottle of wine, your party receives a dozen complimentary oysters. 345 Thames Street, Newport. 401-619-4100.

The Wharf Tavern
Perched directly on the water in Warren, boats can dock right on The Wharf Tavern’s mooring in warmer months. The large deck surrounding the restaurant, often dotted with anglers in summer, is open seasonally.

In cooler months the restaurant continues to benefit from its enviable waterfront location, with winter light glancing off the water through large windows on all sides of the dining room. The beauty of The Wharf Tavern lies in the fact that, as manager Sue Esmay says, “Every seat has a water view.”

An impressive selection of oysters both from local waters and those further afield grace the raw bar at The Wharf Tavern: Ducksberry, Blue Point and Maryland varieties are on the menu right now, with Rhode Island grown species joining the line up in warmer months to come.

Summer also sees cooked oysters on the menu with Rockefeller and grilled recipes in The Wharf Tavern’s popular repertoire. 215 Water Street, Warren. 401-289-2524.

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