A few months ago, my husband and I both had the misfortune to be working in our offices downtown on a Sunday. To provide a bright spot in this otherwise unhappy day, I searched for a "chowish" lunch option in the Loop. As it was a Sunday, the options were even more limited than usual. Looking through Metromix, I came upon a reference to a restaurant I'd never heard of before: the Dearborn Street Oyster Bar. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, it was not open. However, we drove by and I'd been waiting patiently for the proper opportunity to try it. Today was that day and I must say it was worth the wait.
I find it strange that I'd never heard of this before, and even stranger that, judging from my Google search, this locale has never been discussed on this forum. This is a hidden gem. The food is very good, the service outstanding and the atmosphere even better. As the name belies, the Dearborn Oyster Bar serves oysters - oysters on the half shell, fried oysters, oysters rockefeller and an oyster po'boy sandwich. We tried the first two. The raw oysters were very good, but the fried even better. Coated in a cornmeal batter, they arrived hot and crisp with a velvety oyster core. In lesser hands, the coating might be too thick, but here it was just perfect - almost a small hushpuppy with a secret center. For a main course, my husband had the gumbo file and mussel appetizer and I one of the specials, soft shell crabs. Both were better than they should be in a hidden, unknown lunch spot in the loop. The arrival of the soup gave us an opportunity to see one of the better examples of service in the city. My husband, with eyes bigger than stomach, ordered a bowl, not a cup. It arrived, with all of our other main course options, and he commented to me that he should have ordered the cup. Hearing this, our charming german waitress offered to exchange his offering.
At this point, we would go back for the attributes already listed - but the atmosphere took it over the top. This place is clearly a well-kept secret judging the number of regulars who were there. It is as one of those noir-ish places sought after previously on this board. The main clientele I can only assume would be professors, lawyers, federal judges maybe even guards from the prison across the street. Clearly a cast of characters. And yet even though we were new, we were treated as nicely as any of the others. There is a sort of collegiatity encouraged by the servers as evidenced by our waitress' inquiry to me when another customer inquired about the soft shell crabs.
The prices are not cheap, but not high for a place that prides itself on fresh fish. Definitely not an everyday option, but well worth it.
Dearborn Street Oyster Bar
409 S. Dearborn Street
Open Monday through Saturday