Reporting Jay Lloyd
The key to a great raw bar? It’s all in the shucking. Find a shucker who keeps shell bits out and all the precious liquor in, and you’ve found a winner. But a raw bar offers more than just “raw” shellfish. Look for chilled lobster, crab fingers, shrimp and chowder that’s brimming with meat. Let me tell you about a few of my favorites, near and far. – Jay Lloyd
Oyster crackers are already on the table, on the bar and at the raw bar, along with a crock of sinus-clearing horseradish. A recent visit yielded a menu with nearly a dozen varieties of oyster and three types of clams. The Oyster House is more than a raw bar, though. The seafood menu is well-seasoned with sauteed, grilled and roasted fin and shell food, and the chowders are rich and meaty. Prices are in the upper tier, but the room and service make this a worthwhile treat.
PEARL’S OYSTER BAR
Pearl’s is a no-nonsense, sit-down oyster bar where busy Center City office bees looking for a fast but flavorful lunch can get quickly shucked clams and oysters and Manhattan and New England clam chowders — along with an ocean of seafood dishes — at some of the most reasonable prices in town. Show up early to get a window seat on the 12th Street side of Reading Terminal Market.
THE GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR
One of the most elegant oyster bars you’ve ever seen is located on the lower level of New York City’s Grand Central Station. Manhattan, of course, is the island where oysters were once so plentiful in the surrounding rivers that they were sold from pushcarts when the Oyster Bar was opening a hundred years ago. My favorite lunch here is a dish of Manhattan clam chowder, followed by three Cape May Salt Oysters and a trio of little neck clams. The restaurant boasts nearly 50 varieties of oyster, both briny and sweet. While The Grand Central Oyster Bar is high on the price side, happy hours yield “buck a shuck” clams and $1.25 oysters. There’s a great beer selection to chase it all down.
Sometimes I think I spend more time on the deck of this venerable crab house, with its eye filling view of the broad Chesapeake Bay, than I do at home. It’s not unusual to see oyster dredging boats from Maryland and Virginia tied up alongside Waterman’s; you can’t get fresher. The oysters served here are all local varieties, some from beds less than a mile away. The soup to savor at Waterman’s is the rich and spicy Maryland crab.
Occasionally, it really pays to go to the source. Ocean-going fishing boats bring the catch right to the Lobster House’s dock, a favorite spot for enjoying raw bar fare known as the Schooner American. Put together a combination of chilled lobster, crab claws, oysters, clams, crab cocktail and seasoned shrimp, then share it. A good selection of beer and wine is available to punctuate the switch of flavors from one to another.
And speaking of going to the source, The Five Fisherman restaurant and oyster bar is at the heart of the cold water fisheries famous for Prince Edward Island mussels, sweet oysters and the most succulent of lobsters. It also has a history: When the Titanic sank just over a hundred years ago, this landmark building was a funeral home that received the boat’s victims. The oyster bar here is the spot in Halifax for the 5 o’clock crowd to tuck into a mixed dozen while enjoying a perfectly crafted cocktail — a bit of flaming orange rind hovered over my recent Manhattan. At dinner, you’ll wear out the floor with trips to the mussel bar; they’re that good.
By, the way, it’s only 1 hour and 45 minutes non-stop from Philadelphia International.