Road-Trip for Oysters on Puget Sound
"Washington State grows more species of oysters than anywhere else on Earth," says Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters and co-creator of the oyster-assessing website oysterater.com. That makes Puget Sound, west of Seattle, ideal for an oyster-centric road trip. So rent a car, stash a shucking knife in the glove box, and start exploring those forested islands and placid inlets, eating raw bivalves at the source. And keep an eye out for roadside oyster shacks offering chowders, oyster burgers, deep-fried oysters, barbecued oysters, and, of course, half-shells paired with cold local beers and white wine.
1. Hama Hama Company Retail Store & Oyster Saloon sits on a two-lane highway between the Olympic Mountains and the Hood Canal. Order a dozen grilled oysters with chipotle-bourbon butter, and feast at outdoor tables overlooking the oyster beds where this family-owned business has been raising world-class shellfish since 1950. "There is no better spot to enjoy oysters than in the place they're grown," says Jacobsen.
2. Seattle has so many excellent oyster bars that you could dine for days without visiting one twice, but The Walrus and the Carpenter is probably the hippest. Named for a Lewis Carroll poem, and with a pitch-perfect interior decked out in marble countertops and funky bar stools, the Walrus and the Carpenter offers expertly fried oysters with cilantro aioli, marinated octopus, coonstripe prawn crudo, and a curated selection of hyperlocal half-shells.
3. The Oyster Bar in Bow, 90 minutes north of Seattle, serves oysters baked, fried, and on the half shell in a warm little dining room or on an open-air deck. Twenty minutes away, where a two-lane farm road dead-ends on the coast, Blau Oyster Company farms superior bivalves — with big views westward of the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
4. Taylor Shellfish Farms is the largest producer in the U.S., and its retail store sells nearly everything it farms: Manila clams, Mediterranean mussels, and geoducks. The setting is industrial — it's part of Taylor's processing plant — but the store offers a selection of oysters that, according to CEO Bill Taylor, "is like a condensed version of the entire state, plus the best smoked oysters and canned stuff we've found over the last 50 years in this business."
5. Where to Stay: Alderbrook Resort & Spa. Perched on the forested shores of the Hood Canal — a glacial fjord carved out in the Ice Age — the Alderbrook is the perfect stopover on the Puget Sound oyster trail. Oysters grow in the warm waters off the dock, the chef pulls up a harvest at low tide, and several family oyster farms are a short drive away.