Here’s Your Ultimate Summer Guide to New England Oysters
Top Boston raw bars share 15 different, delicious oysters—plus drink pairings!—to slurp before season's end.
Oysters: Everyone knows they’re a crucial component of a well-balanced, warm-weather diet. That said, if polishing off a tray (or two) of freshly-shucked bivalves remains an unchecked item on your summer-dining bucket list—take heart! There are dozens of Boston-area raw bars than can help you get your shellfish fix.
Of course, those lengthy lists of oyster varieties can also feel a bit intimidating. Don’t know your Katama Bays from your King Caesars? No problem. We asked 15 of the Hub’s best oyster purveyors to break down their expert recommendations on which bivalves we should devour before summer is over—and choose a refreshing drinks that will suit each selection to a tee. From stalwarts like Row 34 and Neptune Oyster to newcomers like chef Chris Parsons’ the Oyster Club (one of the hottest restaurants in Boston right now), dive into all these awesome options. Read on—then, start slurpin’.
The Oyster: Moondancer Oysters from Damariscotta, ME
The Backstory: Maine’s coastal waters offer many acre-feet of prime oyster-growing territory, and these Moondancers are the fine-tuned result of generations of farming-expertise along the Damariscotta tidal river. They’re grown in cages specially-designed for oyster harvesting, and the river’s cold, fertile waters yield quite a result.
The Flavor: These deep-cupped oysters boast a high-salinity meat that’s firm but supple, and finish with a bright, briny sweetness.
Pair With: B&G’s bar gurus suggest washing these down with a glass of Albarino, a complementarily-crisp white wine produced in the Galicia region of Spain. (A bottle of 2016 Do Ferreiro Albarino will do well, in particular.)
550 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0550, bandgoysters.com.
The Oyster: Katama Bay Oysters from Martha’s Vineyard, MA
The Backstory: Since 2006, oyster farmer Ryan Smith and his father have been raising bivalves on their two farms on the Vineyard, both a stone’s throw from Edgartown. After culling their crop, they run their oysters through a wind-powered tumbler that strengthens the shells and lends them an attractive, near-reflective sheen.
The Flavor: Katama Bays will first whack you with an immense wave of bright salinity, but finish with a clean sweetness.
Pair With: The crisp, lemony acidity of a Sancerre blanc is the perfect match for these salty bivalves. “Les Culs de Beaujeu,” a white wine produced by legendary vintner François Cotat in the Loire Valley, is one stellar pick.
1375 Washington St., Boston, 617-227-5011, bostonchops.com.
The Oyster: East Dennis Oysters from East Dennis, MA
The Backstory: Husband and wife duo John and Stephanie Lowell grow their oysters on a modest one-acre parcel at Crowes Pasture beach. Located on the bay side of Cape Cod, the beach is quite a haven for Cape oyster growers: twenty-one different farmers call the area home. The hatchery is pounded with waves of super-salty Atlantic water throughout the winter months, lending the oysters intense salinity.
The Flavor: Caroline Rose Markham, Eastern Standard’s general manager, promises that these petite oysters will be “among the briniest you will ever taste.”
Pair With: You’ll need a crisp, effervescent pilsner to wash down all that salty brine, and a draught of the Rothaus TannenZäpfle from Germany would make for the ideal companion.
528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100, easternstandardboston.com.
The Hourly Oyster House
The Oyster: First Encounter Oysters from Eastham, MA
The Backstory: History buffs will love these bivalves nearly as much as oyster lovers do. These medium-sized selections are grown on First Encounter Beach in Eastham, where the Pilgrims first—well, encountered—Native Americans nearly 400 years ago. The water surrounding the beach gets extremely icy during prime growing season, but the farmers have developed weather-proof farming equipment to ensure their harvest survives.
The Flavor: If you’re a newbie to the world of oysters, aptly named First Encounters are a great place to start. Inside the shell, you’ll find medium-sized meat that strikes the perfect balance between savory and sweet, and finishes with a Champagne-like dryness.
Pair With: Bubbles, of course! Anna de Codorníu Cava Brut carries notes of citrus peel and apple that perfectly complement these crowd pleasing oysters.
15 Dunster St., Cambridge, 617-765-2342, thehourlycambridge.com.
The Oyster: King Caesar Oysters from Duxbury, MA
The Backstory: There are big oysters, and then there are King Caesars. Reaching upwards of three inches in length, these are, quite simply, one of the largest varieties you’re likely to find. Grown in Duxbury Bay at the western end Cape Cod Bay, King Caesars are only classified as such if they meet stringent size requirements.
The Flavor: Don’t mess with royalty. Il Molo chef Pino Maffeo says that these biggies are for major oyster lovers, “no doubt about that.” He adds that the bivalves tend to reflect a range of savory, sweet, and briny qualities, and are united mainly by their jumbo size.
Pair With: Maffeo suggests a Sancerre wine for the “beautifully acidic and citrus-forward tasting notes,” as well as “mineral and aromatic qualities” that can take on the robust King Caesars.
326 Commercial St., Boston, 857-277-1895, ilmoloboston.com.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
The Oyster: Aunt Dotty Oysters from Saquish, MA
The Backstory: Bivalve empire-builder Skip Bennett, of Island Creek Oyster Farm fame, uses the most advanced aquaculture techniques available to raise these oysters on a family farm in Saquish—a skinny peninsula that juts out into Duxbury and Plymouth bays.
The Flavor: Aunt Dotty will help you beat the August heat. She’s got a light and sweet brine that fades into a minerally finish. They’re a lighter, softer counterpoint to the brinier Island Creek Oysters, though they still retain an up-front salinity.
Pair With: Laura Staley, wine director at Island Creek Oyster Bar, fawns over rosé from Donkey and Goat, a natural wine producer in Berkeley, California In particular, Isabel’s Cuvee, a rosé made from the Grenache varietal, has a tangy, acidic, peach-like quality that makes it the ultimate warm-weather crusher.
500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.
The Oyster: Cranberry Cove Oysters from Osterville, MA
The Backstory: Cranberry Coves come from Osterville’s West Bay, and you’ll only them on the menu at Legal Harborside. They’re easily distinguished by their green-hued shells, which get their unique color from growing among eelgrass.
The Flavor: These oyster beds are hit with particularly high tides, which constantly bring in nutrients that further color the oysters’ flavor. The result: They’re briny and delicately sweet, hitting the well-balanced sweet spot that every oyster connoisseur loves to find.
Pair With: The crew at Legal Harborside recommends a Boston-beer icon—Harpoon IPA. Bursting with old-school, citrusy bitterness, the quintessential Hub beer is the perfect match for this oyster.
270 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-477-2900, legalseafoods.com.
The Oyster: Molly Q Oysters from Mashpee, MA
The Backstory: Little Donkey sources these bivalves from oyster farmer Mark Burtis, out on Cape Cod’s south coast. The Burtis family has been closely tied to the East Coast’s shellfishing history for close to two centuries: Before he settled down to farm full time, Mark’s grandfather was a sailor in the Maryland Oyster Navy (yes, that was a real thing), fighting off so-called “oyster pirates” who would plunder shellfish farms in the Chesapeake Bay area. The family eventually made their way up to Massachusetts, and they now grow over 2.5 million oysters per year on their 3.5 acre farm in Mashpee.
The Flavor: Little Donkey chef Andrew Grosse describes these oysters as having a “brilliantly briny” quality that’s balanced by an earthy minerality.” Behind these flavors is a subtle, unexpected umami note that recalls mushrooms.
Pair With: Assistant manager Molly Willis suggests an old-school oyster pairing that she thinks is making a grand comeback: Scotch whiskey. In particular, Laphroaig 10-Year, a seaweedy and earthy whiskey, perfectly showcases the singularity of these Cape oysters.
505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1008, littledonkeybos.com.
The Oyster: Pink Moon Oysters from Prince Edward Island
The Backstory: Grown in the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic oyster industry, Pink Moons are harvested on PEI by the Pink Raspberry Oyster Co. Each oyster can take up to six years to reach maturity, but the end result is stunning. Creamy, melony, and earthy, they’re simultaneously complex and mellow.
The Flavor: Compared to some other northeastern-grown oysters, these petite bivalves are only mildly salty. Instead, a refreshingly aqueous cucumber flavor dominates, making these guys the perfect oysters to crush all summer long.
Pair With: A crisp glass of vegetal, acidic Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect foil.
223 Hanover St. and 3 Mechanic St., Boston, 617-723-6273, mareoysterbar.com.
The Oyster: Neptune Pearl Oysters from Barnstable, MA
The Backstory: Exclusive to Neptune (as you may have guessed), these medium-sized, delicately-slender oysters are culled by Pangea Shellfish in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
The Flavor: Neptune Pearls juxtapose oceanic brine with a silky, seaweedy sweetness. The consummate New England oyster, perhaps?
Pair With: New Neptune chef Eric Frier chooses a “zippy” Carricante wine from Sicily’s Mount Etna to pair with his Neptune Pearls. The high altitude terroir imparts a flinty minerality that showcases the sweetness of the oyster.
63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
North Square Oyster Bar
The Oyster: Jonathan Island Pearly White Oysters from Narragansett, RI
The Backstory: There’s more to the name of these Narragansett oysters than you might suspect. Ben and Diane Franford, the husband-wife team behind these petite bivalves, were both dentists before they pursued their oyster-farming dreams. The crop matures in cages at their humble, self-sustaining oyster farm right off Rhode Island’s coast. You’d usually be hard-pressed to find these oysters outside of the Ocean State, but North Square Oyster Bar—a pint-size setup within the North End’s new Ciao Bella restaurant—has managed to bring them to Boston.
The Flavor: The flavors here are old-stock New England—briny and sweet. But surprise! There’s a mildly bitter, spinach note that singles these Pearly Whites out from the crowd.
Pair With: North Square deals exclusively in natural wines, and the light pink, bubbly, Furlani Macerato is a perfect match for these Pearly Whites. A lively, spritzy pét-nat (a form of sparkling wine), Furlani graces the palate with notes of bitter grapefruit, acidic lemon and green apple.
5 North Square, Boston, 617-829-4975, northsquareoyster.com.
The Oyster Club at the Heritage
The Oyster: Puffer Oysters from Wellfleet, MA
The Backstory: Jake Puffer works true oyster magic on the Outer Cape. Puffer’s shellfishing roots are strong: His father, Irving, has spent the last 40 years harvesting clams, oysters, and scallops around Wellfleet harbor. Now the two generations spend their days farming and harvesting oysters together. The Puffers look as cute as they sound: They’re rounded and petite, easily dwarfed by some of their larger Cape Cod cousins.
The Flavor: Don’t be fooled by their size—these little guys pack a briny punch that hit you at first slurp, then fade into a buttery sweetness. Salt and fresh water mingle at the farm, hence the balance and nuance.
Pair With: Oyster Club chef Chris Parsons suggests a non-traditional pairing for these petite Puffers: hard cider. The Oyster Club pours cider from Sheppy’s, a world-renowned English cidery. Dry, tart, and refreshing, it’s a fine sub for a glass of Cava or Champagne.
79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-426-6700, theoysterclubboston.com.
The Oyster: Petite Belon Oysters from Quahog Bay, ME
The Backstory: Belons are an odd bunch. Native to the Brittany region of northwestern France, a uniquely American species of the oyster are now grown in coastal beds from Maine to Massachusetts. Row 34 sources theirs from Maine’s Casco Bay, where divers handpick these oysters straight from the beds.
The Flavor: Despite growing in the same territory as native Atlantic oysters, their flavor profiles share little in common. Belons can be distinguished by their unique, metallic funk—a coppery quality that Row 34 chef Jeremy Sewall describes as “penny-sucking.” Right on the money with that description.
Pair With: Mira Stella, wine director at Row 34 and sibling spot Island Creek Oyster Bar, recommends sipping on something “clean and precise” to balance out the Belons. Specifially, she suggests you go with a dry German Riesling, one made by vintner Peter Lauer. Even if the intensely funky flavor of the Belons slay your palate, Lauer’s bold wines can “literally revive the dead,” says Stella.
383 Congress St., Boston, 617-553-5900, row34.com.
State Street Provisions
The Oyster: Great Little Harbor Oysters from New Brunswick
The Backstory: Grown in theBouctouche Bay, just north of the Canadian border, these wee guys are grown in innovative “suspended cages,” held at a depth where phytoplankton is the most abundant. The result is a more flavorful finished product.
The Flavor: These petite oysters from our North Atlantic neighbors ditch overwhelming brininess for a strong, earthy minerality that can often elude New England oysters.
Pair With: The crew at State Street suggests going with a well-balanced, sparkling rosé to add an element of floral brightness to these earthy bivalves.
255 State St., Boston, 617-863-8363, statestreetprovisions.com.
The Oyster: Chatham Oysters from West Chatham, MA
The Backstory: The deep, rounded cups of Chatham oysters have made them a favorite of New England oyster fanatics for decades. Farmed on Cape Cod’s Southeastern rim, Chatham’s oyster beds are hit with salty Atlantic waves. The merroir imbues these bivalves with oh-so-New England notes of brine and butter.
The Flavor: A bit on the brinier side, these plump Cape oysters finish with a lingering sweetness.
Pair With: Sancerre, a wine-producing mecca in France’s Loire Valley, churns out bottles of Sauvignon Blanc that are characterized by an acidic, lemony bite that perfectly compliments these Chathams.
50 Dalton St., Boston, 617-867-9955, summershackrestaurant.com.