The World Is Your Oyster
The world was my oyster for three days this summer.
Between Boston and the tip of Cape Cod, Mass., I indulged in as many oysters as I could. My goal? To eat so many oysters that I never wanted to see another oyster.
I did not succeed.
Despite my efforts by the dozens, I still want more oysters.
And more “bone dry” Muscadet — the perfect oyster wine — to wash them down. Or a glass of Sancerre — another perfect choice.
“Eating an oyster is like kissing the sea,” said the menu at Legal Sea Foods. I agree. What could be better? The briny juice that sloshes along with the tasty morsel does, indeed, taste like the sea.
Each area in Cape Cod has its own brand of oysters, with a distinctive flavor, shape, size, etc. It is described as “terroir.” Just as wines grab their characteristics from their environment, so do oysters.
My first platter of oysters were from The Naked Oyster in Barnestable, Mass. The oysters come from a small, family-run oyster operation there, farmed by a husband-wife team, Kevin Flaherty and Tamar Haspel, who moved to Cape Cod in 2008 from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“Our oysters, and those from the other farmers in the waters off Barnstable, benefit from ideal oyster-growing conditions. The temperature, salinity and nutrient density of the water are such that oysters develop briny, firm flesh with a sweetness at the center. We know that Barnstable isn’t the only place that grows great oysters, but we’ll hold ours up against any other,” they said.
Next up, Wellfleet, located close to the tip of the Cape.
Wellfleet has been considered the home of one of the world’s great oyster beds for generations. This history created a fertile environment for the Wellfleet SPAT to emerge. Wellfleet SPAT, Shellfish Promotion and Tasting Inc., is a nonprofit organization chartered in 2002 — the year after Wellfleet’s first OysterFest. SPAT is devoted to sustaining Wellfleet’s shellfishing and aquaculture industries. Even the name honors the oyster. The acronym SPAT is also the name for a newly attached baby oyster.
According to the Wellfleet Chamber of Commerce, the salinity in the Wellfleet Harbor is higher than many places with significant tides. That means a high volume of fresh, plankton-rich ocean water washes swiftly through and feeds the oyster beds two times each day. “These variations greatly contribute to Wellfleet’s distinctive balanced flavor of creamy sweetness and brine.”
A great time to visit Wellfleet is during the Wellfleet Oyster Festival Weekend, this year on Oct. 14-15. For information, visit www.Wellfleet Oysterfest.org.
We didn’t have time to stop in Duxbury for oysters (well, thanks to airline delays, we WOULD have … but that’s another story).
However, I hit the mother (of pearl) lode when we stopped for one last meal in Boston’s “Hah-bah” before heading home. That stop actually put the airline delay in the plus column for the day.
Along with a gorgeous view, Legal Sea Foods Harborside offered 11 varieties of oysters — most of which came from Cape Cod waters. Two were from Washington state, while one came from Maine.
Contuit Bay oysters were described as “plump meat with a clean, sweet, briny favor.”
Cranberry Cove oysters, from Nantucket had “medium salt with a buttery aftertaste.” This variety came in XL … and it was definitely more than a one-slurp oyster.
The Glidden Point from Damariscotta River, Maine, was described as “large, plump meats, crisp, complex flavor, both briny and sweet.”
From Duxbury Bay, Mass., came Standish Shore oysters — “medium brine, plump meat, crisp clean mineral finish.
Katama Bay oysters from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., are “extremely plump, pleasantly briny with a smooth finish.”
Onset oysters, Bourne Cove, Mass., had a “strong brine, were earthy/seaweed, with a buttery, clean finish.”
And, even though I had tried the Barnestable and Wellfleet in their native towns, I had them again.
From Barnestable came the Sandy Neck oyster, with “bursts of salinity, up-front, prolonged ocean finish.
The Wellfleet, Mass., oyster had a “distinctive balance of creamy sweetness with a sharp bite of salt.”
There is more to Cape Cod than just oysters.
There are lobster rolls, too.
And while the Ohio Valley has its DiCarlo’s Pizza debates, Cape Cod has its lobster roll debates as to where they are the best.
Lobster with mayonnaise served cold; or hot, buttered lobster on a roll, enter into the debate, as well.
We were advised to try Sesuit Harbor Cafe. And, while I can’t compare it to all the other places that claim to be the best — that unfortunately I didn’t get to try — it was a pretty incredible lobster roll.
Don’t forget the fried clams — another specialty of the area.
If you tire of scoping out the best oysters. lobster rolls and fried clams, the Cape has its share of tourist attractions.
There are lighthouses, art galleries, jewelry studios, breweries, inns, museums, festivals, history (quite a bit of resident Kennedy history, too), the Cape Cod National Seashore, boating excursions and whale watcher cruises, beaches, bike and hiking trails.
There also are Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and Provincetown — all of which could take up a few days of exploring.
And oysters. Did I mention the oysters?