It’s always oyster season, but all the more so as the weather warms. Platters of fresh, briny shellfish on ice begin to sound like just the thing.
Over the last decade, Boston’s oyster scene has transformed. It wasn’t that long ago one had to find an oyster bar or seafood restaurant in order to partake, and the order was often simply for a generic dozen. Today, consumers are oyster experienced, or at least bivalve curious. We can choose among regions, flavor profiles, and varieties, ordering Wellfleets and Pemaquids, Sweet Necks and Cold Bottoms a la carte. And we can do so in many of the upscale restaurants in town, not just seafood spots.
Chef Colin Lynch, of Black Lamb and other area restaurants, worked with Barbara Lynch to open B&G Oysters almost 20 years ago. “We were one of two oyster bars in the city,” he says. “Now pretty much every restaurant in the city [serves oysters]. The demand is huge, which is great. It’s awesome to be able to come to a city like ours, where we should be known for oysters, and find so many places doing it right — finding and sourcing great product, but also diverse product.”
Tasting all those varieties starts to add up, though. That’s where one of history’s best-conceived dining promotions saves the day: $1 oysters. Usually offered during a restaurant’s slower hours, $1 oysters lure people in to fill seats, have drinks, maybe stay a while. In fact, the deal may have helped drive the development of oyster appreciation in this country. “In the early days, when people first started doing dollar oysters, we were skeptical. It could devalue a premium product being enjoyed pretty exclusively in high-end dining establishments,” says Chris Sherman, CEO of Island Creek Oysters. “But it’s been a boon. It’s a way to make the product more accessible, and it introduced [oysters] to people who wouldn’t have tried them.”
During the pandemic, oysters found a new market. When the world shut down in 2020, Island Creek had 800 bags on hand and no restaurants to sell them to. So they offered them to home consumers. Within a few hours, they were gone. Sherman has seen the progression of oyster consumption go from oyster bars to all kinds of high-end city restaurants to, more recently, suburban restaurants. “This last area of growth potential is eating oysters at home,” he says. The company’s restaurant business is now just about back to where it was before COVID, but the direct-to-consumer market is much bigger.
Oyster prices are currently up about 30 percent from where they were pre-pandemic, Sherman estimates — because of the growth in demand, as well as the higher costs for labor and material that affect so many products. For oysters, it takes about a year and a half to harvest, and the pandemic required growers to make difficult decisions about a murky future when they planted. Some cut back on production.
“You factor in the past six months to a year, and there’s a legitimate shortage of oysters. It’s coming back. This summer we should be in good shape,” says Lynch of Black Lamb. “Ever since I was at B&G, the most expensive oysters cost around 85 cents apiece, and you could usually find decent ones for 45 to 50 cents apiece. Now cheaper oysters are around 75 cents and expensive oysters are over a dollar.”
Does it still make sense for restaurants to offer $1 oyster deals? “It’s break even at best,” says Lynch, who offers $1 oysters daily at Black Lamb. “I look at it as an amenity. Come in and have your dollar oysters. Get a couple of glasses of rose. If nothing else, it brings great energy to the space. It’s very, very popular.”
So what are you waiting for? Here are a dozen places where you can enjoy $1 oysters:
When to find $1 oysters: Mondays 5-10 p.m.
Why else you should go: 224 Boston has been that cozy neighborhood bistro everyone loves since long before most neighborhoods had one. Come for spinach, poached pear, and goat cheese salad; lamb frites; seared scallops with potato puree; and weekend brunch.
224 Boston St., Dorchester, 617-265-1217, www.224boston.com
When to find $1 oysters: Thursdays 5 p.m until they run out
Why else you should go: For one of the best outdoor setups around, plus classic fancified comfort food such as train wreck fries, mac and cheese, wood-grilled steaks, and bread pudding.
555 Talbot Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-4300, www.ashmontgrill.com
When to find $1 oysters: Mon-Fri 4-6 p.m. at the bar
Why else you should go: This pandemic opening is a South End success, serving tapas and seafood-focused small plates from chef Michael Serpa (Grand Tour, Select Oyster Bar). You could stay for wine and paella, but a platter of oysters plus a porrón of cava on the patio sounds pretty perfect in and of itself.
600 Harrison Ave., South End, Boston, 857-233-2898, www.atlanticoboston.com
When to find $1 oysters: daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Why else you should go: Because you live in the South End or want to feel like you do. This is a hardworking, high-achieving bistro for the locals, with something for everyone: snacks for cocktail hour, salads and burgers and duck frites for easygoing dinners, weekend brunch, and a kids’ menu.
571 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-982-6330, www.blacklambsouthend.com
The Blue Ox
When to find $1 oysters: Sun-Thu 4-5 p.m.
Why else you should go: A Lynn favorite from the Caturano Group (Prezza, Tonno), the Blue Ox is home to the “Sin” burger (a bacon cheeseburger with truffle aioli), among other delicious fare. Oysters are just one of the before-5 p.m. bargains: You’ll also find $2 wings, $4 salmon tartare, and a few other snacks for short change.
191 Oxford St., Lynn, 781-780-5722, www.theblueoxlynn.com
When to find $1 oysters: Tuesdays 4-8 p.m.
Why else you should go: Owners Andy Fadous and Matt Thayer, who run wine and cheese shop American Provisions, are behind this South Boston wine bar focusing on natural pours; Mira Stella (Tres Gatos, Row 34) is wine director. Chef Marcos Sanchez also worked at Tres Gatos, as well as Tasting Counter, and the menu here is stocked with tempting plates: shrimp chips with Thai curry spice, house-made pretzel baguettes with pimento cheese, beer-battered fried fish, olive oil cake with roasted rhubarb frosting.
615 East Broadway, South Boston, 617-269-1001, www.grayshall.com
When to find $1 oysters: Mondays and Fridays 4-9 p.m.
Why else you should go: 36 beers on tap, perfect with your oysters. This downtown brasserie made it through the pandemic, and now it’s open from lunch through late-night serving togarashi fries, shrimp tacos, grilled Arctic char, and steak frites from chef Ignacio Lopez.
60 Franklin St., Boston, 617-482-6060, www.themerchantboston.com
When to find $1 oysters: daily 3-5 p.m.
Why else you should go: Wife-husband restaurateurs Jen and Josh Ziskin are also behind Italian restaurant La Morra and the Heritage of Sherborn. This Punch Bowl is named for Brookline’s original Punch Bowl Tavern, which opened in 1730. Jen Ziskin’s wine list highlights women winemakers, proprietors, and growers.
Hilton Garden Inn, 700 Brookline Ave., Brookline, 617-487-8581, www.punchbowlbrookline.com
Trident Galley & Raw Bar
When to find $1 oysters: Mon-Fri 4-6 p.m. and after 9 p.m.
Why else you should go: It’s located at the Hingham Shipyard, so before or after oysters, you can take a stroll by the water and ogle the boats. Chef-owner Brian Houlihan also owns Bia Bistro in Cohasset, the Tinker’s Son in Norwell, and other area restaurants.
23 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, 781-374-7225, www.tridentrawbar.com
When to find $1 oysters: daily 5-7 p.m. (Fridays starting at 4 p.m.)
Why else you should go: To order the rest of the menu at this Central Square Italian standby. It’s got nice veggie plates (fried artichokes!), house-made pasta (bucatini carbonara!) and pizza (pistachio pesto!), and more. While we’re on the subject of deals, don’t miss the choose-your-own three-course menu for $45.
502 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-576-1900, www.vialecambridge.com
When to find $1 oysters: Mon-Thu 5-7 p.m. restaurant-wide; Fri-Sat 5-7 p.m. at the bar only
Why else you should go: This sister restaurant to Alden & Harlow and the Longfellow Bar celebrates seafood via chef Michael Scelfo’s menu. Think peel-and-eat shrimp, chopped clam pizza, lobster cacio e pepe, and wood-grilled octopus. There’s also an excellent bar program.
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, www.waypointharvard.com
Woods Hill Pier 4
When to find $1 oysters: Tue-Wed 5-6:30 p.m.
Why else you should go: The gorgeous water views (this was the site of Anthony’s Pier 4) and executive chef Charlie Foster’s upscale, farm-to-table dishes, from crispy pork belly with sea bean aioli to olive oil-poached salmon with buckwheat risotto.
300 Pier 4 Boulevard, Seaport, Boston, 617-981-4577, www.woodshillpier4.com