It's probably been more than 20 years since I've been to the Oyster Bar. My husband and I went there once for a special occasion — anniversary, maybe? — before we had children.
Then the kids came, and for 20 years we mostly frequented family-style (read: cheap) restaurants that offered kids' menus and crayons.
Well, those kids have grown up, and I decided after 20-some years it was time to revisit the Oyster Bar.
I don't think I can write about the Oyster Bar without using the adjective “venerable.” The word just fits.
The restaurant is in a skinny little building on Calhoun Street just south of downtown. It was established in 1888. It's nothing special from the outside, but still manages to have a presence.
Inside, it's all dark wood paneling (the real kind, not that cheap stuff they put on walls back in the '60s) and it oozes class. The tables are set with real cloth tablecloths and napkins, and they don't even offer sipping straws with beverages. The front dining area is tiny, with room for about 10 tables. The bar and kitchen separate the front from a back dining room.
Of course a restaurant named the Oyster Bar specializes in oysters and seafood. In fact, discarded shells are strewn throughout the landscaping in front of the restaurant. But you could take someone who doesn't eat seafood there, and he or she would still have plenty of non-fish foods from which to choose: burgers, beef and chicken for lunch, and veal, chicken, steaks and pastas for dinner.
I began with a cup of oyster stew, which contained two large oysters in a light, delicate broth. May I confess something? I have had oysters maybe once before in my life, so I'm not an expert. (Please don't hold it against me.) But I do love seafood, and will add oysters to my list of foods to eat in the future. I have no fear anymore!
I would describe the oysters I ate (all two of them) as chewy in texture and earthy in taste. They have a very distinctive taste that, shall we say, sat well with my palate. I looked with envy at the couple next to us who ordered an appetizer of oysters on the half shell. Maybe next time.
The soup was served with warm bread — soft on the inside, crusty on the outside — and sprinkled with (I think) a garlic-flavored coating.
I ordered the seafood melt for my lunch entrée. Shrimp, bay scallops and crab were served in a lobster cream sauce, baked on an English muffin and topped with melted provolone cheese. The dish was very sweet and rich, with small, plump scallops and pink-tinged, medium-sized shrimp and flakes of luscious crabmeat.
It was served with a small container of cole slaw and surprisingly good fries, which looked like they were hand cut and cooked to a crunchy, deep-golden brown.
My companion, a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, ordered a burger, medium, which was served on a toasted (rather dark, I might add) brioche bun that held up well with the burger. The Oyster Bar offers some great toppings for burgers; my companion chose sautéed mushrooms and cheese on top.
Rather than order the cole slaw and fries for his side, he ordered a fresh fruit bowl; our server said she would have to check to see if it was available. It was, but it was also rather unimpressive, with honeydew and cantaloupe melon and some grapes.
We topped off lunch with dessert — German chocolate cake for me. It was dense and thick, with a sprinkling of coconut on top of the frosting. My companion's carrot cake was two layers topped with thick cream cheese frosting.
Our server boxed up my leftover seafood melt, and, in a nice touch, wrote what it was and the date on the outside of the container.
We were there for a lunch on Friday, and both had to return to work. I wouldn't say the service was slow, but our lunch did take an hour and a half, and that's including lingering over dessert and coffee.
I would say the Oyster Bar is just that kind of place — a restaurant where you want to sit and savor the food, and not be rushed. It's a great place to take someone for a leisurely business lunch, or to celebrate a special occasion.
I hope it's not another 20 years before I go back.
Every other Tuesday, Cindy Larson describes a one-time dining experience at an area restaurant. The News-Sentinel pays for meals. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. You can reach her at 461-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read other columns, go to www.news-sentinel.com/section/LARSON.