Tell someone you're opening a restaurant and they'll ask you "What's the concept?" Tell someone you're opening an oyster bar in Nashville and they'll ask you "Where will your oysters come from?!"
Scan the menu at any oyster bar on the East Coast and you'll find a selection of West Coast oysters too. The same is true of restaurants on the left coast. Why? Because seasoned oyster eaters are beyond the point of wanting one familiar variety - they want to slurp a briny Wellfleet and a creamy Kushi all in the same sitting. And why not? It's possible.
In days gone by, oysters were difficult to get in landlocked locations because logistics were less sophisticated than they are today and demand was low. I remember eating my first oyster at a restaurant called Rainbow Key, in a strip mall, in Nashville. Some might say that sounds scary but I was young, brave, and ignorant.
Back then, Nashville was a smaller city known for country music and the Grand Ole Opry, now it boasts some of the best restaurants in the country. Food scenes are flourishing in small and mid-sized cities across the country and demands from consumers and chefs are growing too. As demands grow, more restaurants open, resulting in more sophisticated logistics and better access to products. The distribution chain is one part of that but so is overnight shipping. Some producers - oyster farmers in this case - have eliminated distributors altogether.
Oyster farms are developing brands with attractive packaging and sophisticated ecommerce sites, offering several proprietary types of oysters by the 50, with shipping built right into the price. Regardless of whether you're in New England or Nashville, the barriers to enjoyment for both coastal dwellers and the woefully landlocked are lower than ever before.
Oysters fare particularly well from tide to table, compared to other seafood. They have a 10-day shelf life - when handled properly - which means you can order them today, receive them tomorrow, and still be eating them next week. That significantly diminishes the risks commonly associated with highly perishable seafood like fresh fish.
So, the answer is "all over! We'll get them from all over!" The growth of the oyster industry is resulting in interesting varieties on every coast, so why limit yourself to just one kind? If you live in a landlocked city or don't have a favorite oyster bar nearby, there are excellent sources for ordering oysters online. Go straight to the producer:
- Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury Bay, MA, have a firm meat, clean taste, briny start and vegetal finish
- Anderson's Neck Oysters, from Shacklefords, VA, have a smooth balance of salty and sweet with a crisp finish
- Hama Hama Oysters, from Washington's Olympic Peninsula, are a characteristically briny PNW oyster with a sweet finish
Dive deeper into the internet and you can find other varieties available to order with characteristics from melon to mineral and cucumber to cream.
While overnighting oysters isn't inexpensive, flat-rate shipping is frequently built in to the price and the cost per oyster is lower then you'll find at any restaurant. Most are sold by the 50 or 100 - not a problem for serious oyster eaters but if that intimidates you, consider hosting a get together and sharing them with friends. Just be sure you have the proper tools and a variety of condiments at home as well.
When our restaurant finally opens, I know one thing is true - Nashville is ready for an oyster bar with thoughtful variety and outstanding service. With a little effort, you can have a similar experience at home. After all, the world is your oyster!
I'm a Nashville native, cook by trade, baking hobbyist, avid runner, sometimes triathlete. I love oysters and my dog, Wrigley. My first restaurant will open this winter.