Over the weekend, some friends came by with food to help christen our new barbecue. Instead of the usual wieners and buns, they brought a few dozen fresh oysters, picked up that morning from the fish store, and presented on a bed of ice chips in a gigantic platter. They proceeded to pop them on the grill, alongside a pitcher of scallion butter, which was served sizzling atop the hot shellfish.
Needless to say, it was a slice of summer heaven! And it got me wondering where to go for my oyster cravings, as I’m ready to slurp down some half-shells on the regular. With so many different kinds of oysters and ways to prepare them, it can be hard to know how to manage your order at a restaurant—these rocky crustaceans can be a tad intimidating, especially to the newbie. Fortunately, we spoke with Guy Kairi, chef at Concord Hill in Williamsburg about everything you need to know to make the most out of these mollusks. Plus, we’ve rounded up the best Brooklyn places to eat them raw, and at happy hour prices to boot.
Think about ordering oysters the way you do wine
The complexity of eating this shellfish is comparable to wine tasting. For instance, with wine, the terroir refers to how the place contributes to the unique taste, and with oysters, this is known as the “merroir.” That’s why the menus often shout out where the oysters were grown. “For me, it’s less about the origin, East Coast or West Coast, than how the oysters taste, what kind of water they grow in, water temperature, and time of year,” says Kairi. “I try to have at least one type of oyster that is more briny and another that is more delicate and on the sweet side. You can get very special stuff from all over the world.”
Select oysters from cold-water sources
There is an old adage that goes, “Shellfish is best eaten during months with an ‘R’, meaning September through April. “In general, oysters are better in the winter since the water is colder,” says Kairi. “They have a better fat content and they taste fresher. In the summer, I try to get oysters from Canada where the waters are colder.” Also, Kairi notes that restaurants should be shucking-to-order, so the oysters are as fresh as possible.
Forks vs. fingers
“Culturally, some people prefer a fork, but slurping is definitely a great way to enjoy an oyster,” says Kairi. “It really depends how you want to eat the oyster.” If you are squeezing a bit of lemon on top or a mignonette (that sauce made from minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar), slurp away. If you use a cocktail sauce or a bit of horseradish, you may prefer a fork. But by doing so, you may miss out on one of the most-important the experience: the “liquor” of the oyster (which is the briny liquid that the meat sits in). It shows off the freshness of the oyster, and can only be truly tested by a slurp.
5 of the best places for raw oysters in BK
Best buck-a-shuck deal: Concord Hill
If you’re looking for an oyster happy hour, look no further than this Williamsburg spot, which is shucking oysters for $1 every Tuesday through Thursday from 4 pm to 7 pm, along with drink specials. (The usual oyster price is $9 per half dozen.) Concord Hill is known for focusing on the ingredients, and with the oysters, it’s no different. “We try to keep it local and stick to the East Coast,” says Kairi. “The oysters are fresher since they aren’t coming from across the country, which also reduces their carbon footprint. Malpeques are great, they’re not too big, they’re briny and plump.” Kairi pairs them with a house infusion shot that lets the brine shine through.
Concord Hill, 374 Graham Ave., Williamsburg
Best local oysters: Grand Army
Grand Army is an unassuming seafood restaurant that has more of a dark, date-night atmosphere than a beachy vibe. It also has a lock on Long Island oysters, delivering up a choice of half-shells from Peconic Bay. Weekdays from 4 pm to 6 pm and weekends from 2 pm to 4 pm, you can indulge in an oyster happy hour of $25 for a dozen, served with your choice of lemon, vinaigrette, or cocktail sauce, plus $1 off drinks. (Otherwise, oysters will run you around $4 apiece.) Additionally, you could opt for an oyster shooter including a can of ‘gansett and a spicy dressed oyster for $10.
Grand Army, 336 State St., Boerum Hill
Best daily dollar oysters: Maracuja
Maracuja means “passion fruit” in Portuguese, which might also be a perfect nickname for oysters since they are meant to be an aphrodisiac. The new owners, who are also former regulars of the neighborhood favorite, are offering up $1 Wellfleet oysters every day from 5 pm to 7 pm (otherwise they are $3 each.) Wellfleets are arguably the most famous of the East Coast oysters, and are plucked right out of the muddy flats of Cape Cod’s Wellfleet Harbor. Enjoy a dozen while you shoot pool or just relax in the pretty garden with your order.
Maracuja, 279 Grand St., Williamsburg
Best experiential oyster spots: Island Oyster & Pilot
The owners of these sister restaurants know how to make you feel like you’re on vacation. Island Oyster, a scenic oyster bar on the edge of Governors Island will transport you out of the city in the time it takes your ferry to dock. Pilot, meanwhile, is an actual boat docked at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park that sways gently in the summer breeze. Both options serve sustainably harvested oysters ranging from Long Island Sound to Hog Island Bay in Virginia to Deep Bay, British Columbia (between $36- $48/dozen.) Go wild at Pilot and order The Grand Banks ($70 for two dozen), billed as “the complete Pan-American oyster experience.”
Island Oyster, Governors Island
Pilot, Brooklyn Heights