There’s no better way to spend a night than at a bar with a friend, drinking local beer and slugging down a food that is best eaten in a month with an “R” in it. And since this is the last month with an ‘R’ for a while, it seems fitting to memorialize it here.
If you are Bmore born and Bmore raised, then you already know the food to which I’m alluding: the oyster.
Yes, that snot colored, gooey textured, amorphously shaped bivalve, eaten in sandwiches, stews, and raw on the half-shell. I know the way I describe it leaves much to be desired. But, to me that is much of the appeal of the oyster.
It is not the mussel with it’s delicate salmon colored flesh, found simmering in buttered broth and garlic, easily plucked from the dainty coal-colored shell that one could snap with their fingers. Nor is it the perfectly circular, snow-white scallop, served naked on a plate, whose clean tasting meat is most often lightly seared to a tannish brown, as if it had been lounging on the nude beaches of France. It’s not even the smooth clam, whose chewy texture and irregular shapes are a child’s delight when fried up and served with cocktail sauce.
No, the oyster is none of that. It is the workingman’s bivalve – rocklike in appearance and durability, needing a sledgehammer to open (or at least a shucking knife). They are the untamed seafood – with crevices and layers building up their shells, appearing to look more like a geologic feature than something one would open and eat.
They taste of the water they were living in, which can range from the mostly fresh water of a river to the totally brackish waters of the middle Bay or the salty water near the ocean. Where else can you go on a trip around the watershed – or at least a farm-raised alternative – and never leave the bar?
My friend and I recently took just such a journey when we dined at Heavy Seas Alehouse on Bank Street, a fitting venue for a food consumed in months with an ‘R’ as pirates gazed down on our bounty of shellfish and beer. Not being able to decide which oyster to binge on, we settled on a tasting of oysters from around the Bay. The Chesapeake Gold truly earns its name – being salt infused and briny, as if you were swimming in the waters off the St. Michaels shore. The Fishing Creek gave just the subtlest taste of salt, with sweet undertones – an oyster for those who want a lighter touch. And then Tom’s Creek, singing the notes of the middle bay, where freshwater and salt water truly meet before opening up and surrendering to the Atlantic Ocean.
Oysters and watermen, skipjacks and raw bars, beer and good company. What could ‘B’ more perfect pairings?