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Oyster ToursAugust 18, 2017

Do You Know About the Oyster Trail of Maine?

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this treasure map years ago, but I freaked out (in a good way) when I did. The Oyster Trail of Maine is the brainchild of Catherine Schmitt and Dana Morse from Maine Sea Grant, and it’s growing into something much bigger.

The hope is to turn this directory of oyster goodness below into a full-fledged Oyster Trail of Maine website that visitors, locals, and food professionals can use to organize their own fabulous Maine oyster adventure.

Check out the landing page to learn more about Maine oysters. You can also navigate the points of interest using this key below!

Red pin: Oyster farm tours
My faves being: Nonesuch Oyster Farm, Damariscotta River Cruises

Yellow pin: Buy oysters
My faves being: Harbor Fish Market, Browne Trading Market, and Glidden Point Oyster Farm

Green pin: Eat oysters
My faves being: Eventide Oyster Co., BP Shuck Shack, Scales, Roberts Maine Grill

Blue pin: Know oysters
My faves being: Johns River, Bar Harbor Selects, Glidden Point, Pemaquid, Otter Cove, too many others to list!


READ POST: Blazing the Maine Oyster Trail Part 1

Oyster ToursJune 29, 2017

Blazing the Maine Oyster Trail: Part 1

According to NOAA, Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline (ranking them 4th across all states). That’s a lot of oyster potential! I’ve been helping Maine Sea Grant to blow out their Oyster Trail concept, and what better way to get inspired than to experience the trail for myself? For Part 1, I am republishing a piece that I wrote for Portland Magazine’s Summer Guide 2017 based on a solo road trip that I did in Summer of 2015 with some additional notes.

As an international oyster fanatic, I find it wise to be diplomatic when I’m asked, “Where do the best oysters come from?” encouraging the asker to remember that every oyster-producing region can grow exceptional oysters. I can rave over an oyster from anywhere, as long as it’s served in peak condition.

But I’ve got a confession: I secretly favor Maine oysters over all other regions in North America. Maybe I’m biased from happy childhood memories of Acadia National Park and romantic summer trips with my then boyfriend, now husband. Maine has always served us well as a place of relaxation and renewal. We even got married in Stockton Springs and toasted our new life together with champagne and local oysters. Objectively speaking, I think the pristine environment and bracingly cold waters of the Gulf of Maine make the oysters here taste a cut above the rest. You just can’t deny the crisp brininess and bone-broth savoriness of the oysters that come out of these waters.

Oysters aren’t that different from fine wines insofar as they are site-expressive, meaning their taste is shaped by the characteristics of their growing environment. Where wines have terroirs, oysters are defined by “meroirs.” Water salinity, temperature, the type of algae present in the water, and seabed characteristics all factor into an oyster’s flavor.

Day One

I land at Portland International Jetport and get right down to business. First stop: James Beard Award-winning Eventide Oyster Co. for a midday snack. My first meal of the trip features new discoveries from Brown Point, Otter Cove, and Schoodic Point farms. A plate of fluke crudo with wild blueberry and hoisin sauce is a delicious addition to my oyster-centric diet.

Temporarily satiated, I head south to meet up with Abigail Carroll, the “accidental oyster farmer” who grows Nonesuch Oysters near Scarborough, and I’m immediately fascinated by her approach to the craft. Scrappy and innovative, she has repurposed old lobster traps as makeshift oyster nurseries. They seem to perform just as well as traditional gear.

Look at the oyster babies!

I sample some of Abigail’s bottom-planted oysters, bag-cultured oysters, and a couple of her Nonesuch Flats–a variety that is native to Europe (Ostrea edulis) but also exist in Maine. They have a robust, savory flavor and metallic finish that is completely different from our native Atlantic species (Crassostrea virginica).

2017 Notes

If there’s an unbearable wait at Eventide, try their next door joint Honeypaw. Insanely tasty shared bites and noodles. Or if you’re craving classic seafood, try Scales or J’s Oyster. At J’s, however, I would recommend their bucket-o-steamers over their oysters any day of the week.

Day Two

As soon as I set foot inside Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, I automatically float over to the stainless-steel raw bar beneath the cathedral ceiling. Now that’s what I call an oyster theater! Executive Chef Brandon Blethen and Tom Robinson from Taylor Lobster Company and I begin discussing oysters over a round of beers. We sample a platter of two dozen oysters from several appellations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia. I whip out my 33 Oysters on the Half Shell tasting journal, and we proceed to compare tasting notes like college kids cramming for finals week.

The complex, layered seaweed and mineral notes of the Cape Blue oysters from the Damariscotta River are wonderful, but the real showstopper of the day is Chef Blethen’s cold, hickory-smoked Glidden Points. The smoky brine takes this raw oyster to a whole other level.

Detour: New Hampshire Oyster Farm Tour

Kittery is awfully close to the New Hampshire border, so I couldn’t leave the area without checking out the new brand oyster farming scene in Great Bay. Tom arranged an outing with Jay Baker, co-founder and grower of Fat Dog Oysters. (What a great name!!)

We toured Jay’s upweller system, which was elegantly concealed under a dock, and then his grow out location. Jay uses off-bottom cages that can only be brought to the surface with a wench. We all waited with baited breath as each emerald green-gilded cage emerges from the steely blue water.

We all geeked out over the custom-built tumbler, which was not only sleek and stylish, but very quiet!

Day Three

A long drive from Southern Maine to Mount Desert Island is richly rewarded with some of the tastiest wood-fired pizza I’ve ever had and a round of freshly harvested oysters from Western Bay, Mount Desert Island at Sweet Pea’s Cafe.

I met with oyster rancher Matt Gerard, the owner of Bar Harbor’s Sweet Pea Farm, who is a generous and entertaining host. His personal approach to oyster farming can be described as laissez-faire: they are bottom-cultured and exposed to the elements and predators.

Later that afternoon, I have a chance to tour a nearby oyster lease with Brian Harvey, grower of Mount Desert Island Selects. These are some of the sweetest and meatiest oysters  I’ve ever found in Maine. Their umami taste actually reminds me of cured ham. Prosciutto of the sea, anyone?

Baby eel SQUEEEEE!

Day Four

The Damariscotta River is like the Napa Valley of shellfish. After a scenic drive down the eastern bank of the river, I arrive at Mook Sea Farms. No other farm exemplifies both the art and science of oyster farming as well as this one. A scientist, inventor, and climate-change activist, founder Bill Mook is an amalgamation of Bill Nye, Jacques Cousteau, and Willy Wonka. 

Mook Sea Farms primarily uses a floating cage system to cultivate their oysters. The wave action and plentiful food allows their oysters to grow quickly and produce clean, manicured shells.

One of Bill’s inventions: the auto bag flipper.

Don’t Miss: Boothbay Harbor

If you have an extra half day, make sure to drop down to Boothbay Harbor. This peaceful little town revs up quite a bit during peak summer months, but it is just right around August/September. Definitely check out Ae Ceramics, one of my favorite pottery studios. I discovered Alison’s gorgeous oyster plates on a previous trip to Bar Harbor and later received a beautiful one from my husband as my wedding gift!

Day Five

I can’t leave Maine without a proper “shuck your own” experience at Glidden Point Oyster Farm. I try my hand at shucking an XL Glidden Point, and it certainly puts up a fight. But nothing is more satisfying than shucking your own briny lunch right at the source.

I make my way back to Portland in search of one last indulgence before I leave. My last stop on this whirlwind Maine oyster tour is at the corner of Commercial and, appropriately, Pearl Street.  If hot dog and pretzel stands are iconic to New York, then Brendan Parson’s BP Shuck Shack fills that role in Portland. Brendan’s oyster cart has everything you need for a great al fresco raw bar experience, including a detailed map of the Damariscotta River.

2017 Update: BP Goes Brick & Mortar

Brendan will be opening a brick & mortar Shuck Shack in Damariscotta-Newcastle later this year.

That’s a wrap for now. If you’re itching for more Maine oyster stories, check out the full Portland Magazine 2017 Summer Guide!

Oyster ToursMarch 26, 2017

Los Angeles Oyster Crawl

After 5.5 hours of flight time, our pilot came over the intercom with a friendly weather update. 73 degrees, partly cloudy, great visibility. Welcome to Los Angeles! I was totally ready for a week of Southern Californian oyster bliss.

In the fall of 2015, I had the honor of hosting my first-ever West Coast Oyster Omakase at Blue Plate Oysterette and decided to make a work-slash-research-slash-reunion trip out of it. My best friend moved from NYC to Santa Monica earlier that year and we—along with a few other NY-transplanted buddies—were due for some hang out time.

Don’t have time to read it all? Get the oyster highlights: Los Angeles City Guide.


Descending into LAX on a clear day was pretty cool, but walking through the palm trees in Palisades Park during sunset was even more magical. Anne’s apartment was literally across the street from a swaying outdoor palm court… lucky girl!


It also happened to be a timely visit. The inaugural Downtown LA Oyster Festival, hosted by The Oyster Gourmet at Grand Central Market, would be happening. Oyster lovers and growers united under one roof to enjoy the fresh harvest. The lines for oysters were a bit long, but it was worth the wait.


Oyster ToursDecember 10, 2016

Ebb, Flow, and Cape May Salts

There’s no greater constant than change. That has been generally true of life and of oysters. Throughout the years, I’ve come across the Cape May Salt oyster from the southern tip of New Jersey many, many, many, many times. While some of its attributes never really change (like how pleasantly plump the meats are), the salinity and sweetness have always kept me guessing.

IAHS-2016-05-03 Cape May SaltsIMG_6356

A New Perspective

In 2009-ish, I had set out on a personal quest to capture and catalog the world of oyster flavors. It started as a basic 1-5 rating scale of salinity, sweetness, complexity, plus a healthy dose of fanciful froufrou descriptors. I even recorded the place and time of the tasting, but that was the extent the “scientificness.” For me, it was about doing fun and tasty scavenger hunt—an epicurean equivalent to Pokémon Go (is that still a thing??).


Oyster ToursApril 13, 2016

Bluepoint Oysters: Then and Now

The Blue Point Oyster, or Bluepoint for short, is an iconic American oyster. Trying your first Bluepoint is like trying on your first pair of jeans. It’s classic, timeless, and (for better or worse) commonplace. Bluepoints weren’t that special to me, and for a long time, I have written and talked about them as such. It wasn’t until fairly recently — from a very cool field trip last July and a serendipitous meeting yesterday — that I started to look at the humble Bluepoint a little bit differently.
Copps Island IMG_4638

Bluepoints? Mmmeh.

For a long time, when people asked for my opinion about the Bluepoint, I’d offer a tepid response. I conscientiously acknowledged its widespread popularity, prevalence, and affordable price (btw: if you’re buying Bluepoints in NYC at the raw bar for more than $2.75 a piece, you’re overpaying). But today, “Bluepoints” have become a generic name used to sell any Virginica oyster from the Long Island Sound in the New York and Connecticut harvest regions, or from as far away as New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia (nonsensical, but true). As a result, there is a great deal of variability in the quality and taste. The “genuine Blue Point Oyster” was all but lost in time.. or at least, that’s what I had read and been told in my early oyster exploration days.

“You will see Bluepoints on every oyster menu in Manhattan, and quite a few elsewhere, because many people believe they want Bluepoints and nothing but. The oysters themselves are seeded on the bottom of Long Island Sound, both the Oyster Bay area of Long Island and the Norwalk area of Connecticut, dredged up a few years later, and have an extremely mild taste. You can do better.” — Rowan Jacobsen, A Geography of Oysters

I guess my lack of enthusiasm for Bluepoints stemmed from the perception that they’re literally everywhere, and yet, from nowhere at the same time. Let’s be real here. It’s not that fun to eat naked, anonymous oysters. I’m very glad to say that there is more to the story of the Bluepoint than what is commonly told… because while there may not be a specific “somewhere,” there is a someone.