The Oyster Room on Folly Beach opened in January right on the heels of Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow’s The Ordinary.
It joins Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, Amen Street, AW Shucks, Charleston Crab House, Noisy Oyster Seafood Restaurant, Pearlz, Salty Waters Rawbar and Grill, and The Crab Shacks as one of the many locations where Lowcountry residents can slurp their favorite oysters.
The Oyster Room is small, offering a catbird seat of a high-top for two with a window view of Center Street, two community tables that seat six and six tables tucked into the remaining space. The decor is minimal and the nautical ephemera that usually shows up in restaurants of this ilk is surprisingly missing.
Its dark interior is colored by horizontally run slat boards stained the color of rosewood. Highly glossed tabletops add to the ship-shape nuance of the space. One brass-rimmed porthole completes the nautical imprint as does the tightly controlled space carved from the space of Snapper Jack’s emporium.
A large chalkboard lists the oysters of the day as well as the fresh catch (MP) and the fish sandwich ($10.95). Oysters are available by the dozen and half-dozen, and the chalkboard also provides the harvest dates for each species.
Gulf Coast oysters are priced at $6.95 a half-dozen, compared with the MP specialty oysters that were $12.95 a half-dozen.
At the time of our visit, the menu included Gulf Coast oysters from Texas, local Carolina Cups, Beavertail and Quonsets from Rhode Island, Cape May Salts from New Jersey and Blue Points, whose origin is Long Island’s Great South Bay but now are cultivated in New Jersey and Virginia to the chagrin of the BP purists.
The oyster menu changes weekly. And if you were raised to believe that you should not eat oysters in the months without an “R” in their name, well, improved technology has changed all that.
In the past, as the waters warmed, the oysters spawned. Millions of little spats were released in the water to mature into oysters. This reproductive cycle changes the flavor and the texture of the adult oysters, and people tended to avoid eating them.
Now with improved aquaculture and management of the oysters beds, they are available year-round.
Here, you will find shooters ($3.50), fried oysters ($9.95), wood-grilled barbecued oysters ($7.95), baked oysters ($10.95) and po’ boys ($9.95). You won’t find Hangtown Fry, oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville, oyster stew, oyster pan-roasts or oyster loaf sandwiches. But you will find them fried, grilled, raw and baked.
The quality of the raw oysters was quite good, each coddled in a healthy volume of their “liquor” that spoke to good handling practices. They were cold, served on ice with sinus-clearing horseradish, cocktail sauce, fresh lemon wedges and watermelon mignonette. The latter, a classic French sauce with chopped shallots, crushed black peppercorns and usually champagne vinegar was flavored with watermelon at the time of our visit.
The kitchen is comfortable playing with the flavor riffs of this classic oyster condiment.
The shucker did a competent job; loosening the oysters from their shell and maintaining a good order for tasting the different varieties.
The menu is seafood-centric and in observing the number of people who peeked in and checked out the menu during our visit and then moved on, the kitchen may want to add a few items with carnivore appeal. Asian beef skewers ($11.95) and a “butcher block steak” ($19.95) were the only meat options.
The sides also could be strengthened. Whipped potatoes, red beans, fried rice, all $5.95, and white rice for $3.95 are frail matches for the menu. To their credit, the vegetable of the day ($5.95) was fresh and seasonal.
Oyster shooters with Absolut Peppar Vodka ($3.50) were popular with the bar patrons.
The “lite fare” menu of clams in a roasted garlic beurre blanc ($12.95), fried shrimp ($10.95), fried oysters ($9.95), steamed mussels ($11.95) and wood grilled barbecued oysters ($7.95) are served as is.
The fresh fish of the day (MP) can be grilled, blackened or sauteed. We opted for the wood-grilled cobia ($19.95). The fish had good flavor and texture, but the imprint of wood-flavored smoke and the markings of the grill were faint. It was served with a grilled tomato, seared lemon slices, seasoned white rice and a smear of robust tomato butter.
A smoked crab cake intrigued ($19.95), especially being served with an orange-saffron aioli. I quibble with the “traditional” lobster roll tossed in a Creole vinaigrette and a Caesar salad ($6.95) served with toast points.
The kitchen fried shrimp ($10.95) with attention. and the she-crab soup ($4.95, $6.95) was pleasantly free of the taste of raw flour.
Tiramisu was the dessert of the evening. Its flavor profile did nothing for the coastal meal we just completed. Why not strawberry shortcake, Key lime pie, seasonal sorbets, blueberry cobbler or even something as basic as vanilla ice cream with a warm, hot fudge sauce?
Friendly and accommodating servers and hosts made for a hospitable visit.
The Oyster Room is rightly scaled for the singular purpose of its menu. But the kitchen staff may want to tweak their menu so that those for whom an oyster elicits a primal gag reflex will be tempted with more than a steak. The success of The Oyster Room will hinge on baiting the menu with more than this benevolent bivalve.