When it comes to discovering (and devouring) stellar seafood straight at the source, the Puget Sound region is indeed your oyster, thanks to an array of family-owned shellfish farms offering destination dining experiences like none other. Imagine slurping a plump, meaty oyster hot off the grill and bursting with the briny flavor of the great blue sea, all the while drinking in a view of the tide gently coming in and boats cruising by on salty waters. Located in idyllic surrounds ranging from Hood Canal all the way north to Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands, and with the likes of freshly harvested oysters, mussels, and clams on their menus, these three tide-to-table spots fulfill that dreamy vision.
SEED TO SHUCK IN THE SAN JUANS
“Raising shellfish is a lot like growing grapes for wine, which are influenced by the soil, plants and whatever else is growing around them,” says Andrea Anderson, co-owner of Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. located on San Juan Island and situated a short two miles from Roche Harbor Resort in the picturesque Westcott Bay. “Thus, shellfish are flavored by the algae and the salinity in the water around them and for us, our bay is situated so that they get an influx of freshwater as it meets our saltwater tidal pool. It’s a bit of a magical combination.”
Anderson and her husband, Erik, purchased the property in 2013, saving what was then a defunct commercial operation and then spending the past eight years shaping it into a well-equipped, working shellfish farm that raises Pacific oysters, Manila clams, and Mediterranean mussels all on the tidelands in the bay. The idea to add a dining element was sparked by the first curious visitors who would park themselves at a few picnic tables and shuck oysters bought straight from the tanks. Seeing the potential for more, the couple added two distinct dining spots for guests, the Net Shed and Tide Tables, that together offer a full lunch menu during the summer months and a limited one during the winter.
Visiting is a true “seed to shuck” experience, as the combination of charming tables and comfy Adirondack chairs are perched right at the edge of the pristine bay. At low tide, guests can watch all the aquaculture farming in action, shucking and slurping oysters while those same beauties get pulled out of their nets in the tidelands. The farm starts all their shellfish from seed that comes from a hatchery, and it takes about two years to get an oyster to harvestable size. “Raising oysters is a real labor of love,” says Anderson. “In the winter, you’ll spot our crews out in the dark of midnight harvesting them because we’re at the mercy of the tides.” All that time and effort has produced an array of top-notch shellfish and Westcott Bay is perhaps most well-known for their Pacific oysters; the smaller High Beach Sweets are delicate and sweet, with a hint of brine, while the buttery, medium-sized Salty Franks offer an underlying earthiness.
At your table, which is currently available by reservation only and spaced out per current restrictions, treat yourself to a sampler featuring both those aforementioned varieties on the half shell and topped with the farm’s signature punchy mignonette, or go for the meaty Chubbies that are prepared on the grill and served topped with your choice of compound butter. (The chipotle-bourbon and lime, cilantro, and Sriracha options are sure to delight taste buds.) Other menu options include clam boils featuring Manila clams, potatoes, and corn or snack boards with curried meats, olives and Bakery San Juan bread. Come summer, the Andersons plan to also add salads, other menu items incorporating fresh produce from Island farmers, and an expanded wine selection.
Details, Directions + Docking Info
Be sure to plan ahead before visiting this popular locale: Tables for lunch service are available by reservation only via their website, and reservations often fill a month in advance. (And don’t forget to dress for the weather!) The farm store offers an array of fresh oysters, clams, and mussels for purchase, as well as some of the farm’s signature provisions; these can be bought on-site or ordered ahead online (they even offer dockside pick-up if you don’t have time to come ashore). Arriving by boat, you can tie up at the dock while you dine, but bring the dinghy or tender as they can only accommodate boats up to 22 feet long and have limited number of ties; by car, the farm is a seven-minute drive from Roche Harbor Resort, or a 45-minute walk. You can also hike in from English Camp on the National Parks trail.
Westcott Bay Shellfish Co.
904 Westcott Dr, Friday Harbor, Washington
WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE SEA
Nestled in a picturesque spot where the river meets the sea, Hama Hama Oyster Company in Lilliwaup has made pandemic dining a safe and, dare we say, fun experience thanks to the recent addition of the quaint A-frames to their Oyster Saloon restaurant. Available by reservation only, each of these private outdoor shelters seats four guests and comes with a tabletop heat source and blanket for cozying up, as well as two dozen signature Hama Hama oysters (one dozen served raw, the other roasted). You can enjoy those fresh oysters as you contemplate what else to order (we recommend snacking on some fresh-roasted CB’s nuts), while taking in the breathtaking view of the tidal flats and the oyster barge out front, and occasionally feeling the spray of the sea tickle your face with the shifting breeze.
Puget Sound boaters are no doubt already familiar with the Hama Hama name as the shellfish company has been family-owned and operated since 1922, and the farm’s clams and oysters often appear on menus across Seattle at such spots as Renee Erickson’s The Walrus & The Carpenter in Ballard or Westward on Lake Union. On-site in Lilliwaup, in addition to the Oyster Saloon restaurant, the farm store has long been a local landmark, and offers goodies from nearby purveyors such as Olympic Mountain Ice Cream, Port Townsend Brewing, and Finnriver Cider.
The oysters here are grown the old-fashioned way, directly on the gravel in front of the Saloon where the namesake river flows out of the Olympic Mountains and into Hood Canal. Exposed twice a day by the outgoing tide, the Hama Hama oysters are known for their clean, crisp flavor with a sweet finish; highly seasonal, they tend to be sweeter in the spring and brinier in the fall and winter. “A big part of what makes us distinct is that we are involved in both the downstream and upstream elements of the process,” says Hama Hama Marketing Director Lissa James Monberg. “Our forestry division ensures the health of the river upstream, which then trickles down and contributes to the health and flavor of the oysters here at the farm. It’s a really amazing way to see how the ecosystem is all knitted together.”
The family’s passion for their product shines through in the simple, yet satisfying, preparations that arrive at your table. Think: Perfectly-grilled oysters topped with Hog Island chipotle-bourbon butter; steamer clams served with garlic three ways; or house-smoked salmon swimming in a creamy chowder broth. Whether you hang in an A-frame for the night, huddle around a fire pit in the winter, or get it all to-go and head back on board, the entire experience is entertaining and interactive, with employees going the extra mile to welcome newcomers and locals alike. “Part of a visit here is the adventure,” concludes James Monberg. “We really love connecting people to the place where they live and to the oyster culture that is so special here in the Northwest.”
Details, Directions + Docking Info
Reservations for the Oyster Saloon are required at this time and are released on a weekly basis on Monday mornings for the weekend ahead (they usually fill by mid-morning, so grab a cuppa joe and get on it first thing!). Reservations for Friday are $50 and come with 2 dozen oysters, a covered shelter that seats four people, tabletop propane heat, and a blanket; reservations on weekend days are $100 and come with all the same accoutrements. The farm store is open 7 days a week and sells house-smoked and pickled seafood, meats and cheeses, and other tasty snacks to go. There is no dock access at the farm; the nearest public dock is located at Pleasant Harbor, which is located 15 minutes north by car, an hour by bike, and is a fantastic stop in its own right (more info available at pleasantharbormarina.com).
Hama Hama Oyster Company
35846 N US Hwy 101, Lilliwaup, Washington
A STUNNER IN SAMISH BAY
Belly up to the oyster bar at Taylor Shellfish’s Samish Bay location, a cheery, casual spot located on the bay right off the exceedingly picturesque Chuckanut Drive that winds its way north from the Bow/Edison area up to Bellingham.
Owned and operated by Taylor Shellfish Farms, another revered Northwest company with family origins that reach back to 1890, the café showcases a limited, rotating menu of the freshest options from the ocean, often including mussels, oysters, and clams, as well as crab and geoduck when they are in season. Guests recently raved about oysters, marinated in a spicy blend of Korean red pepper and sesame oil, and the soul-satisfying gumbo kissed with meaty shrimp.
Taylor raises their oysters in several locations across British Columbia and Western Washington, including the Samish Bay site, with each variety boasts its own unique flavor profile. For example, the heirloom Kumamoto oysters, grown from mid-century seeds discovered in Chapman’s Cove and endearingly referred to as Kumies, possess a delicate texture and a deep fluted shell. Or, try Washington’s native Olympia oysters. Once almost extinct, they mature slowly over four years to yield a complex mushroom bouquet and a coppery finish. The Fat Bastard oysters are favorite among grill-masters, and the best-selling Pacific Petites are famous for their sweet-and-salty cucumber flavor.
Tables are spaced out and can seat a maximum of five people, and the setting could not be more spectacular: On weekends, the smell of barbecued oysters wafts in the air as diners sip glasses of wine or beer, gazing out at the rocky berm that features a miniature, shell-encrusted lighthouse and across the sparkly water, peering at Samish Island in the distance. The docks bustle with workers, and the bay is equally busy with boats, kayakers, and if you are lucky, a seal popping out of the water every now and then—all in all, it’s a pretty much perfect spot to while away the day.
Details, Directions + Docking Info
Patio dining at the Oyster Bar is available on a first-come, first-served basis from 12 p.m.-6 p.m.; the on-site market is open from 10 am to sunset. There is no dock access on-site, but plenty of parking should you arrive via the scenic and beautiful Chuckanut Drive via car or bike; savvy kayakers can paddle ashore, but the experts at Taylor advise being well aware of the tides so you don’t get marooned on land. Several nearby parks are wonderful for picnicking, biking, and hiking while in the area and there are plenty of nearby spots to drop-off or kayak in and then meander to the Oyster Bar; check out information on Larrabee State Park, Dogfish Point, Oyster Dome, and Clayton Beach for ideas!
Taylor Shellfish Samish Oyster Bar
2182 Chuckanut Drive, Bow, Washington
SHIP TO SEA RECIPES
No time to make the trek? All three farms will ship their stellar options straight to you so you can dine in splendor on board any time. Here, they’ve shared a few tried-and-true ways to enjoy all those fresh oysters with minimal prep time spent in the galley.
WESTCOTT BAY CLASSIC MIGNONETTE
This quick and easy recipe from Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. is just what you need to dress up your oysters! Perfect the base recipe below, then start experimenting with mix-ins.
½ cup Champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar, or Cabernet vinegar work, too)
2 tablespoons finely-chopped shallots
1 tablespoon coarsely-ground pepper
Combine all the ingredients and chill. Serve with oysters on the half shell, but remember a little goes a long way!
Add any of these for a nice twist on the classic recipe:
Pickled blueberries (pictured above, with ones from Bow Hill Blueberries)
TAYLOR SHELLFISH’S TOP-OFF OYSTERS
No shucking skills required for this one: Snap up some of the farm’s frozen, top-off oysters, which are perfect for grilling or popping in the oven. Here, the experts share two saucing options to add to these beauties—pick your favorite!
On the grill: Place frozen oysters on grill at 450° for 8-12 minutes. Add sauce when the meat becomes soft and pliable, and allow the sauce to marry with the oyster before serving.
In the oven: Preheat to 450° and cook frozen oysters for 8-12 minutes on a bed of rock salt. Add sauce to frozen oysters before placing in the oven.
Farm Style Brown Sugar Butter
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 large shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, and finely chopped
1 Poblano pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, and finely chopped
3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
¼ cup minced fresh Italian parsley
In a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, butter, and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat until the brown sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Spoon sauce over oysters, garnish with parsley after cooked and serve immediately.
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 package fresh chives minced, about 3 tablespoons
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
In a medium bowl, add softened butter, minced chives, and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with the back of a spoon until well combined. Spoon over oysters and cook according to instructions above. Enjoy!
HAMA HAMA PICNIC OYSTERS
Recipe developed for Hama Hama Oyster Company by Adrienne Anderson of howtocookanoyster.com. After lightly cooking the oyster meat (smoke or poach!), toss ‘em in a flavorful mixture of shallot, fennel, and lemon, then serve on bread or crackers, and enjoy.
2 pints yearling or extra small oysters
¼ cup celery, minced
¼ cup shallot, minced
¼ cup fennel, minced
¼ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup capers, drained
¼ cup chives, minced
Smoker method: Smoke the oysters at 180° until cooked through and lightly smoky in flavor, about 25 minutes.
Stovetop method: Gently heat the oysters and their liquid in a covered pan over medium heat. Cook until the gills ruffle. Remove from heat and let them cool to room temperature.
In a bowl, add the celery, shallot, fennel, lemon juice, salt, and sugar and let sit until the shallots soften, about 10 minutes. Add the olive oil, capers, chives, and oysters with their liquid. Taste and add salt and lemon juice or sugar to taste until you reach a nice balance of savory, sour, and sweet. Store the pickled oysters in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Serve on your favorite crackers.