Best of Boston All-Stars: What’s New at Island Creek Oyster Bar
This fall, this favorite Boston seafood mecca celebrates five years of innovative twists on New England classics.
Welcome to Best of Boston All-Stars, a series that takes a closer look at what’s new at longtime Best of Boston favorites.
When it comes to seafood, Boston does not settle for mediocrity. We demand the highest quality. We insist upon that special kind of clam chowder the rest of the country can’t seem to get right (looking at you, New York—seriously, what are you doing?).
We New Englanders take these things very seriously—and Island Creek Oyster Bar does, too.
This Kenmore Square shellfish emporium first opened its doors in October 2010. But its true origins stretch back two decades earlier and 30 miles south of the city, to Duxbury Bay—where, in 1992, Skip Bennett planted his first oysters and founded the Island Creek Oyster company.
Just as Maine has its lobsters, the small Massachusetts town of Duxbury has its oysters—where conditions are just right to make this chilly Atlantic locale a seafood haven. And according to Bennett, we’re in the midst of what he likes to call “America’s oyster renaissance.”
“So it’s no surprise that when [Bennett] teamed up with local chef Jeremy Sewall and restaurateur Garrett Harker—both of Eastern Standard—on a full-scale eatery, the result would be a smash hit,” we wrote in 2011, when we proclaimed ICOB the best restaurant for upscale seafood.
And so it was: Even with only five short years under its belt, Island Creek Oyster Bar has managed to top our lists for best seafood time and again.
It’s not just the oysters that draw us into their modern-but-coastal-inspired space (backdropped by a crushed-oyster-shell wall). It’s also the lobsters, which chef Sewall gets from his Maine lobsterman cousin and uses in ICOB’s award-winning lobster roll: a signature mix of tender lobster meat, créme fraîche, dill pickles, and celery salt, heaped into a house-made roll until it’s “bursting at the seams.” In 2013, our readers declared their chowder the best in the land, while Boston magazine staffers gushed about the fried-oyster sliders, the lobster-roe noodles, and “the house-made-saltine-topped casserole packed with scallops, fresh fish, lobster, and shrimp in a sherry-cream sauce.”
Clearly, their formula has proven to be a winning one so far. But ICOB isn’t content to stand still, either, according to new general manager Vikram Hegde and chef de cuisine Nicki Hobson: “It’s important for first-time diners to know that every dining experience at ICOB is going to feel new and different.”
For example, the beverage program: “We’re really thinking through every cocktail that goes on, avoiding any ‘filler,’” says Hegde (who recently returned to Island Creek after a stint as the bar manager at Sarma) of their frequently changing, carefully curated selection of wine, beer, and cocktails. “Everything is moving in the direction of being simpler and more user-friendly in terms of choices, yet remaining interesting and challenging,” he adds.
Always wanted to try ICOB for yourself, but could never get a table? Take a protip from Hobson, and check out the Saturday lunch program: “[It’s] a great opportunity for people who have a hard time making dinner reservations with us to experience the restaurant in a slightly quieter environment.”
But quiet’s not exactly on the menu this week—first, ICOB has a birthday to celebrate. Guests at their five-year anniversary bash on October 15 can expect a blast from the past: “We’ll have some special guests from our opening team and some tried and true favorites from our opening menu, like Oysters Gregory and Oysters Benny,” Hobson says.
“In the five years since we opened, Island Creek Oyster Bar has become synonymous with freshness,” says Hegde. In that time, they’ve managed to capture our hearts (and stomachs) with some innovative new twists on New England classics. What will the next five years bring? We’re looking forward to finding out.
Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.