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There are Oyster Bars and then there are “Oyster Bars”

A big part of what we do here in the marketing department of Island Creek is education.  We travel around the country spreading the oyster gospel, teaching people why an Island Creek is different than a Wellfleet and much different than a Kumamoto, teaching people in Africa a better way to grow shellfish, teaching people in US how to shuck them, teaching chefs, teaching average joe oyster eaters, and teaching people about sustainable protein sources.  So, occasionally in a moment of profound reckoning and deep meditation we ask ourselves, “why are we doing this?” (like you do).  The answer is almost always the same: for the sake of the oyster.

Oysters’ brains function somewhere around the level of the lima bean’s, so to say that we are looking out for the best interest of the animals we are trying to get people to eat more of would be, well, inaccurate.  We are doing it for the cult of the oyster—for all that eating oysters represents.  Oysters are good for you, they are good for the environment, they are raised by good people (in small towns on small farms), they taste good.  The good vibes abound, but they all come together into one truth that is greater than the sum of its parts.  The act of sitting down at an oyster bar and eating an oyster is at the cutting edge of how we as Americans interact with our food.  It represents a new level of gastronomic sophistication which has, on the whole, improved our sensory consciousness and maybe even our quality of life.

After you read this, find your nearest oyster bar and saddle up.  You look at the list and pick exactly where you want your imminent meal to come from.  Not only that, but your choice makes a significant difference.  Go with four varieties and, if the list is good and varied, you will have four totally different experiences within the span of time it takes you to work your way through the plate.  You will be held captive by the transformative influence of each oyster’s distinctive merroir on its flavor and on your palette.  You’ll hop from Cape Cod’s sandy shores to the balsam-scented littoral of British Columbia before rushing back gleefully to the gothic coast of Maine.  This is because oyster growers do not farm so much as they facilitate.  Your meal was not commanded to grow and then made, it was gently coaxed into being and presented.  It materialized from the elements of the water and mud from whence it came.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is eating in high definition—the kind of sought after culinary experience we now crave. This is why these little bivalves, once exiled into the shadows of frozen meat and dehydrated potatoes, have experienced a great renaissance in the last decade.  Oysters, in fact, are booming.

As with any upswing in popularity, there are plenty of people looking to capitalize on it.  Thus, in the spate of new openings, there are oysters bars and then, there are “oyster bars”.  The former realizes it is its solemn duty to deliver the experience described above.  They realize that the very boom wave on which they are happily surfing is dependent on it.  Sourcing good quality product and diversity in both origin and price are top priorities at these establishments.

The latter is an “oyster bar” merely by virtue of the fact that it is written on the door and there are oysters contained within.  Their oysters all come from one place and it is generally representative of the fact that they are the cheapest of passable quality that are available.  They are, however,  generally still priced as though they are high-end product.  For that matter, the names probably went up on the list a year prior, but as the truck drops different varieties the list, neglected, remains unchanged.

Obviously, if it came down to people eating oysters or not, we’ll take an “oyster bar” every time; however, the movement is still so young that its carrying capacity for this type of establishment is low.  It needs time to develop a critical mass of devoted ostreaphiles to uphold the culture before it can bear the weight of the hangers on.  The only cathedrals in which these conversions can occur are Oyster Bars (or your home kitchen, but that’s next week’s blog).

-Chris Sherman, Marketing Director, ICO

Just a few cutting edge Oyster Bars around the country:

Neptune Oyster, Boston, MA

Maison Premiere, Brookyln, NY

Shaw’s Crabhouse, Chicago, IL

Walrus & Carpenter, Seattle, WA

Hog Island Oyster Bar, San Francisco, CA

Waterbar, San Francisco, CA

River Oyster Bar, Miami, FL

Meritage, St.Paul, MN







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