As a girl who grew up in Baltimore, I couldn’t survive without seafood. Steamed crabs with so much Old Bay that you have to wash your hands three times to get it all off; chilled shrimp ready to be dunked into sinus-clearing cocktail sauce; clams hidden beneath butter, cheese, and a crispy slice of bacon. I like it all.
While the only seafood I’ll say no to is fast food fried fish sandwiches (say that a dozen times fast), I have a soft spot for oysters. Raw, grilled, or fried, I’ll take them any way I can get them. This passion led me right to Oyster House minutes after getting into Philly a few weeks ago.
Walking in, everyone’s eye should be drawn right toward the white marble bar that takes up a nice portion of the restaurant. Snagging a seat there during lunch was easy, and it’s always my preferred spot to sit due to the fast service and friendly bartenders. The entire restaurant feels clean and crisp, with fun pops coming from the colorful vintage oyster plates that decorate the walls. It straddles the line between upscale and casual without feeling pretentious, a feat in and of itself.
After eavesdropping a bit on the adorable couple to my left and the man nursing a Chardonnay to my right, I ordered a Doldrum Denial Punch from the bartender. A mix of St. George’s Terroir gin, lillet, cranberry, and sage, this was a good summertime drink, and paired well with the briny oysters I would eventually slurp down. Even though I did like this first cocktail, it was a bit too sweet for me and I needed to switch to something else by round two.
As I told my bartender that I loved gin in just about anything, he introduced me to my newest love, the Permafrost. He described it as a twist on a gin fizz, a point that only sold me further on trying this new concoction out. This blend of Boodles gin, fino sherry, honey syrup, egg white, and handful of things I didn’t write down was mellower than my first choice, but by far the superior beverage. It wasn’t the kind of cocktail for everyone for a number of reasons, such as the frothiness and the bitter hint of grapefruit. However, it was the kind of cocktail for this happy chica.
In addition to partaking in a cocktail lunch that would make Roger Sterling proud, I did put a little bit of food in my belly to soak it all up. Starting off with the slightly zingy Snapper Turtle Soup, I spent my time reveling in the depth of flavor in this option. This was perfect for winter due to the weighty meat and the rusty red color. Still, it was neither too thick nor overwhelming for lunch. It had a lot of layers to it and was the kind of soup that should be savored. Thinking on it now, it’s one that I can’t wait to go back and try in order to unlock whatever mysteries eluded me that first time I dug in.
Although the cocktails and soup kept me content, I went to this restaurant with the intention of trying some delicious oysters, and try them I did. I kicked off my oyster feast well by beginning with my go-to Salt Ponds, a rich, balanced option from Rhode Island. From there, I tried the intensely briny Washburn Islands, which just edged on too salty for me. A touch of the accompanying mignonette cut the sharpness of this option and made them more enjoyable. After these, I went with Little Shemogues, hailing from New Brunswick. These were my favorite of the afternoon because of the nice briny kick to them that was not overwhelming. While they all came from the Northeast coast and fit into a similar flavor profile, their subtle differences set them apart and made each a unique choice. For real oyster lovers, I think trying oysters from similar areas all at once is the best way to determine your favorites, and it’s a method I’ve taken up elsewhere as well.
Never one to shy away from trying a restaurant by myself, I would go to Oyster House anytime to scratch my seafood itch. For those who need company though, the buck-a-shuck happy hour is ideal for a group of people looking to enjoy some seafood without dropping a lot of money. No matter what your preference, this location puts out the best seafood I’ve had in Philadelphia and should be visited by anyone in town. It offers simple food done perfectly, ideal for those who feel at home with shellfish. With the big boom Philly has seen in recent years as far as quality restaurants go, it’s hard to narrow my list of favorites down, but Oyster House is easily a spot that makes the list, and I hope it stays on there in the years to come.