Union Oyster House Manager Fires Back After Scathing Boston Globe Review

Nestor Ramos took on the 'review-proof,' 190-year-old restaurant last week, and he didn't hold back. Neither does bar manager Jim Sullivan in his rebuke.

The Boston Globe stirred a bubbling pot of chowder last week when reporter Nestor Ramos reviewed the unreviewable, Ye Olde Union Oyster House.

Situated along the Freedom Trail and in operation since 1826, Union Oyster House is one of Boston’s most iconic restaurants. With Revolutionary-era architecture and famous regulars in its past like Daniel Webster and John F. Kennedy, it landed on the National Historic Register in 2003.

In 2008, Boston magazine last named it the best oyster bar in town. But in this “new golden age of the oyster,” an awakening of consumer demand, the Globe’s Ramos assessed the OG oyster house is coasting along on its substantial history.

“Their shells crumble in on themselves. Some have scant meat plastered dryly to the insides of their shells; it has to be peeled off with a fork,” he wrote. “Such oysters would be disappointing at a $1-a-pop happy hour; at [$16.50 for a half dozen], you’re paying an awful lot for history. And that nobody can be bothered to rinse down the outside of the oysters’ shells suggests a kitchen that has had 190 years to find its laurels and rest on them.”

Ramos goes on to consume acceptable (but salty) chowder and tasty (but varyingly sized—and cooked) steamers, but overall, “the kitchen churns out dish after dish that makes [the food] seem like an afterthought.”

Well, bar manager Jim Sullivan disagrees. In a letter published in today’s Globe, he writes “with umbrage” for both the author of the “vitriolic attack,” and the publication itself.

With some Facebook commenters suggesting Ramos was motivated in his review by the recent press New York Times critic Pete Wells got for lambasting Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Sullivan certainly didn’t take the same stance the New York restaurateur did in his response.

“We are sorry we let you down,” Keller wrote back in January. “When we fall short, we work even harder. We are confident that the next time you visit Per Se or any of our other restaurants, our team will deliver a most memorable experience.”

Sullivan ripped into Ramos’ credentials, including his background at publications “in gastronomical and historic meccas Rochester, N.Y., and Sioux Falls, S.D.” Ramos is now a Boston Globe general assignment and features reporter, and one of several Globe staffers who is trying his pen out on restaurant reviews while the publication searches for critic Devra First’s replacement. The former reviewer was promoted to the Globe’s food editor at the beginning of the year.

The Union Oyster House bar manager calls Ramos’ review a “blind-side journalistic sucker punch with a side of snark.”

“As a proud Oyster House employee, I watch my fellow employees strive with all they have each night to do the very best they can for our beloved guests. Ramos flicks this concept aside like a half-smoked cigarette. His attempt to belittle and besmirch the Union Oyster House is an affront to the hard-working and proud employees as well as to the Milano Family, who have had stewardship of the Union Oyster House for many decades and who have left a charitable footprint on the City of Boston second to none,” Sullivan writes.

On the Globe’s original review, most of the social media and website commenters commend Ramos’ “takedown of a sacred cow,” and substantiate his experiences with their own stories of mediocre visits. But a few others have stepped up to defend the historic establishment, “the most sentimentally memorable restaurant in the entire world,” for one website commenter.

What’s your take on a “review-proof” restaurant? Does 190 years of history overshadow culinary expectations? Did Ramos hit Union Oyster House on off-nights? Does hospitality require a rebuttal from the restaurant, and if so, did this one hit the mark?

Union Oyster House, 41 Union St., Boston, 617-227-2750, unionoysterhouse.com.