“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” – Jonathan Swift, 1738
I don’t write restaurant reviews, but have come perilously close in the past (see my happy chat about one of our favorites, Rockland’s Park Street Grille), and will probably cross over the line with our latest downtown discovery, North Beacon Oyster. Man, we needed this! Yes, you can find raw oysters elsewhere in town – The Pearl, Primo and Archer’s to name three – but at North Beacon you can choose from several different oyster locales along the Midcoast – and at a fair price of roughly $2.50 each (depending on how many you want). Throw in a terrific small-but-inventive menu, a full bar, great service, and you have the trifecta for a superior dining experience in a cozy but accommodating restaurant space (that has seen other enterprises come and go like falling dominoes. Anyone remember The Broken Egg?)
My wife and I went a few nights ago with our friend Charlie, no slouch as a gourmand, and we launched into a dozen North Haven oysters (for $29, as I recall). Wonderful flavor, but they were much smaller than I remember from previous encounters with them. So we switched to Pemaquids – the biggest and boldest of their seven or eight variety offerings – and savored their slippery, delicate flavor. True, for anyone who’s never seen an open oyster before, the prospect of eating it seems horrifyingly repulsive. Fortunately for Maine’s oyster industry, those people are pretty scarce.
These look like Pemaquids. Brawny and briny. All restaurant photos courtesy of North Beacon Oyster.
These are Weskeags – our late friend Jerry (red hat) at the culling board. Weskeags taste great, but they’re so reluctant to die for your dining pleasure they are notoriously difficult to shuck. (my photo)
North Beacon also offers raw littlenecks, steamed mussels, a tuna poke (my wife had it – amazing!), sweet whole belly fried clams in a tasty tempura-like coating… and several other things right here:
Click on it to see it bigger…
Charlie had the crispy chicken sandwich and declared it to be exceptional. I’ll give it a go next time.
The only setback, I thought, was the raw beef salad – beautiful to look at, but the beef was awfully tough for something one expects to be more like carpaccio. The key words in the descriptor are “round eye,” and I’m someone who will no longer eat either top or bottom round in whatever disguise it takes – one of the leanest and toughest parts of the cow. If I were owner and head chef Mike Mastronardi, I would risk a switch to a well-tenderized very thin cut of chuck or maybe flatiron. But it’s not my call…
Tuna poke (pron. po-keh). Gorgeous all around.
I hear the plan is to keep North Beacon Oyster open year ’round – excellent news for seafood lovers in the January-to-March doldrums, when Rockland’s Main Street seems bereft of eateries. Well, not quite: North Beacon’s next door neighbor is the year-round Suzuki’s Sushi Bar – easily the best sushi restaurant in all of Maine – so North Beacon is in good company.
Oyster-craving is a strange thing. I love littlenecks and mussels and steamers, but I reserve the word “craving” exclusively for oysters. When we lived in Georgia, my wife and I went twice four hundred miles to Apalachicola, Florida largely for the cheap and delicious oysters. Apalach (as it is affectionately shortened to) is America’s oyster capital, responsible for over half of all the oysters served in restaurants nationwide. Down there, they were a dollar each at any oyster bar. But since they have a gazillion of them in Apalachicola Bay, they needed to sell them pretty quick, and at a buck a throw they were irresistible. So says this inveterate oyster-craver.
Apalachicola oyster dock, with oyster boats. (my photo)
So thank you, Mike Mastronardi, for North Beacon Oyster, and I know we’ll be back well before the the snow flies. Before the leaves turn. Before very long at all…
There it is, for now.