There’s a Shellfish Showdown Starting in New England
Oyster heavyweights Eventide and Island Creek are invading each other's cities and are ready to start shucking.
There’s something of a culinary turf war coming to the coast of New England this fall. Actually, make that a surf war.
Meanwhile, Skip Bennett, one of the owners of Island Creek Oyster farm in nearby Duxbury, Massachusetts, whose shellfish feature prominently on the Eventide menu already— just launched a shop and casual raw bar in, you guessed it, Portland. And it, too, sits an easy walk from its hometown competition.
Each flagship eatery has a loyal following and impressive pedigree — both have made Food & Wine’s list of the best oyster bars in America a few years back. Eventide chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley won the James Beard Award this year for Best Chef, Northeast, after being finalists in 20016. Island Creek Oyster Bar, meanwhile, has hooked a boatload of awards itself, and Bennett’s Duxbury farm also claims the distinction of producing a mollusk exclusively for chef Thomas Keller, which he uses for an iconic dish called Oysters and Pearls at the French Laundry and Per Se.
Both new ventures will skew more towards the fast-casual than the formal.
As much retail venue as raw bar, The Shop by Island Creek Oysters offers seven different oysters, including two of its own Duxbury-grown varieties plus four from Maine. And, in a nod to the state’s history as a canning capital, you’ll find a selection of Spanish tinned sardines, octopus, razor clams and squid alongside American caviar.
You can buy any and all of this to take home, or order at the counter and enjoy it on-site. Sit on metal bar stools at high tables in the industrial-chic one-time flower warehouse, under the glow of a neon-light horseshoe crab made by Portland artisan David Johansen, or hit the patio, where flower boxes filled with seasonal blooms and herbs border bar-height tables and a pair of comfy couches.
Oysters eaten in-house come on the half shell, naturally, over a bed of crushed ice, with lemons, cocktails sauce and mignonette. The tins of seafood, for their part, arrive still in their cans, the tops peeled halfway back, with traditional accompaniments including pickled onions, mustard and toast.
Pair your order with the wines on tap (a Sicilian red and, surprisingly, a Maine white) or French and Spanish vintages by the bottle. The Shop’s got New England draught beers, too, or if you’re feeling particularly fancy, you can do a bottle of bubbly from a small-production Champagne house.
As for Boston’s Eventide, when it opens in early fall, it too, will be a pretty casual affair, though one with a more robust menu. At its sleek space in Fenway’s new Van Ness luxury apartment building, you’ll once again be able to sit indoors or out, but, in a particularly modern twist, roving servers with iPads will replace the classic order-at-the-counter model.
Eventide Fenway also plans to focus on oysters from Maine and Massachusetts (including Island Creek), whereas they feature some Pacific and Canadian varieties. These can come with typical oyster accouterments as well as Eventide’s signature ices — sort of like small cups of savory snow cones flavored with kimchi, horseradish and more.
Moving onto the more substantial portion of the menu, you’ll find a greatest-hits version of the elevated New England seafood offerings that put the Portland original on the map, like a crudo or a brown-butter lobster roll on the Cold or Hot menu sections, but there’s also a rotating list of specials that's still being worked out.
So, what’s your pleasure, Portland or Boston, Eventide or Island Creek?
In this forthcoming surf war, you can’t lose.