Oyster farming in Rhode Island has really taken off in recent years. In 2002, when Perry Raso started the Rhode Island oyster revolution with his Matunuck Oysters, it was a revelation to Rhode Islanders. The briny bi-valves came into higher demand and more and more oyster farms starting appearing in local waters. At my last count, there are no fewer than 20 oyster farms operating in Rhode Island today. That’s great news for Rhode Islanders; there’s an abundance of oysters for them to slurp! Buying oysters to serve at home is an option, but let’s face it, shucking oysters is not really enjoyable and is a bit dangerous. Many restaurants in southern Rhode Island serve oysters and several even call themselves “oyster bars.” Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar on Main Street in East Greenwich has been shucking oysters since 2012 and has been a staple in the Rhode Island oyster scene.
Arriving at the Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar at 5pm on a Saturday night, I was surprised to find the restaurant already jam packed with people. My friend and I literally wedged ourselves into the last two remaining bar seats. We arrived early to take advantage of their “Buck a Shuck,” which runs seven days a week (see website for specific hours). The restaurant is small with a handful of tables and a compact bar area. The theme is decidedly “eclectic nautical” with mermaids, whales and boats adorning the walls and hanging from the ceiling. The atmosphere was lively and energetic with everyone enjoying an early spring night out. Even after 6pm when the “buck a shuck” ended, the restaurant was very busy with standing room only.
Sitting at the bar, we saw firsthand how hard the bartenders work. They were in charge of tending to the bar customers drink and food orders, making and pouring drinks and also shucking dozens of oysters, clams and cherrystones for the raw bar. Despite working their butts off, the bartenders were friendly and efficient. I decided to kick the night off with a martini. My Pearly 75 ($12) was a riff off the classic French 75 cocktail. The combination of Bombay Sapphire gin, St. Germain, fresh squeezed lemon juice and prosecco was a winning one. My friend was excited to see they had Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin ($5) on draft, which is a tasty, tart fruit enhanced IPA from San Diego. After my martini, I couldn’t resist Pawtucket’s own Foolproof Farmhouse Ale ($5) also on tap. The bar had a nice collection of beer, with plenty of local and unique options. The cocktail menu includes a handful of oyster shooters as well (think your favorite shots with a raw oyster thrown in for good measure).
Since the reason we got to the restaurant so early was to sample their “buck a shuck” offerings, we started out with a dozen Umami oysters ($12) served with mignonette and cocktail sauce topped with plenty of fresh horseradish. Umami oysters are produced by Salt Water Farms located in Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. We enjoyed our first dozen so much, we ordered a half dozen more. The “buck a shuck” also includes little necks and cherrystones, but we didn’t sample those. For us, it was all about the oysters. If raw oysters aren’t your thing, they also offer several cooked options (though not available with the “buck a shuck” promotion) including classic Oysters Rockefeller, oak grilled oysters with a basil crema as well as fried on the half shell with jalapeño relish and sriracha aioli.
The menu includes many other appetizer choices, so we decided to try the Crab Cakes ($12.95) and were glad we did. The two large crab cakes were chock full of crab and coated in crispy panko crumbs. They were topped with a flavorful but not too spicy aioli.
At this point, we were already very satisfied with our meal and quite full, so we ordered our entrées with thoughts of leftovers in mind. On this cool night, my friend warmed herself up with the Lobster Mac and Cheese ($21.95). They did not skimp on the lobster meat, as there were several large pieces of tender lobster scattered throughout the casserole dish. The three cheeses used were not overpowering, which my friend thought was a good thing. I ordered the Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($20.95). My four fresh tasting scallops could have used a little more sear on the outside, but the inside was cooked to a tender perfection. The cognac cream sauce on the scallops was really good and not as rich as I feared it might be. The scallops were served with herbed mashed potatoes and asparagus.
When it came time for dessert, a wiser person would have said “no,” but when it comes to Fried Twinkies ($6.95), I do not have the ability to resist. If you’ve never had a fried Twinkie before, you should know up front that these things are extremely addictive. The Twinkies are battered and dropped into the deep fryer. As the outside gets crisp, the cream inside the Twinkie gets gooier and gooier until it melts into the cake. Here, the Twinkies were served with a smattering of fudge sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.
Even after everything we ate, we just barely scratched the surface of the menu. They have classic lobster rolls, po’ boy sandwiches, clam chowder three ways (Rhode Island, New England and Manhattan), grilled pizzas and much more. My advice? Plan a night out at the Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar, but make sure you get there early to claim a seat and save room for a fried Twinkie.
Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar
240 Main Street, East Greenwich