I always wonder when restaurants are named for a particular food item. It strikes me as potentially turning away some customers, and sets a high expectation for that dish or flavor on the menu.
That being said, Oysters Bar & Grille in Pembroke lives up to its name.
It bills itself as “a modern take on the New England oyster bar,” and its creative approach to raw-bar classics and American bistro fare delivers. All-natural meats and locally sourced ingredients make for some pricier dishes, but they’re worth it. And with a menu that changes seasonally — the restaurant creates about five different versions per year — diners can come back for fresh flavors regularly.
Oysters on the half-shell ($2.50) come out on a bed of ice and with a traditional cocktail sauce with horseradish. I choose my tried-and-true Island Creek and Wellfleets, and became a fan of the Taunton Bays. I was less crazy about the oysters on special ($1 between 4 and 5:30 p.m. every day) — the PEI Conway Royals were a bit fishy and sandy.
This menu also features an apple cider vinegar mignonette with small bits of red apple. I’m not too keen on vinegar (I like my oysters straight up save for a squeeze of lemon), but this option gave a nice seasonal flair.
Complimentary bread arrives with a white-bean dip soaked in a light rosemary oil, and black pepper adds a nice kick.
The scallops and bacon ($11) have a permanent spot on the menu, and rightly so. The scallops are tender and succulent, and seared edges add an edgy flavor. They come in a creamy beurre blanc (a hot emulsified butter sauce) with thick bits of smoky bacon.
Per the server’s suggestion, I tried the swordfish. To say this dish is substantial is a gross understatement; it’s served over a shrimp jambalaya and is easily two meals. It arrives with crossed grill marks, incredibly juicy and tender. Consent to the fresh ground pepper and be liberal with the lemon for an extra twang to this not-too-spicy Cajun dish. The best parts of this plate are the generous chunks of meaty shrimp that mingle with tomatoes in the zesty rice.
My dining companion for my first visit is so averse to seafood he tells people he’s allergic. However, as pasta is the only thing he knows how to make, he might be an expert; the bolognese ($19) was a success. The homemade pasta rags were more tender than al dente and not overdressed by the pork and beef ragù. This comfort food item is certainly savory, but stops short of being heavy. Large shards of Parmesan add a sharper nuttiness to the sweet sauce.
Other carnivorous options on the menu include a blackened-blue grilled rib eye (a 16-ounce bone-in steak, Great Hill Blue Cheese, mini baked potatoes, and garlic broccolini) and a chili cheese burger (a 10-ounce burger with Vermont cheddar and fries). There’s also a pan-roasted chicken breast served over mushroom ravioli, with butternut squash, sage, and brown butter.
For dessert we shared the peanut butter cup ($7), which is a salty whipped peanut mousse in a glass cup, layered with rich, dark, and bitter chocolate ganache. It came with warm plates, but we didn’t need them.
Oysters’ atmosphere is comfortable. There is no “type,” rather a happy mix of families, couples, and small parties. On a Sunday evening, a few regulars lingered at the bar, and a family was seated across the small room. Nearing the end of our meal, another family was seated next to us, and I heard the waiter explain the additional “kid foods” not listed on the menu — pasta with marinara, etc.
The decor is modern and clean. The tables are a bit close to call it intimate, but the lights are dimmed against a soft gray palette.
The service is great; on both nights the host and waiters were friendly, helpful and attentive, but not overbearing.
When I returned on a Friday night, the restaurant was filled with families and older couples, while the after-work crowd mingled at the bar over standard cocktails, an extensive wine selection, and an impressive collection of craft beers on tap (including seasonal brews like pumpkin). My friend from out of town and I could comfortably converse over a high-top by the bar.
We shared an Acrobat pinot gris ($9) and the moules frites ($16). The wine’s citrus and mineral notes echo the brininess of the mussels, while its fruitier aromas team up with the sweetness of the shellfish. The mussels come tender in a spicy white wine garlic broth, and are served with rosemary parmesan fries.
Equally crunchy and potatoey, the seasoned fries pair nicely with the spicy after-kick of the mussels. You also get a couple slices of crusty bread great for soaking up the sweet and salty sauce from the mussels. Yum.
Family-friendly fine dining at a reasonable price makes this place essential in its suburban element. To boot, it’s conveniently located on Route 139 right between Boston and the Cape.
Don’t let the strip mall scare you. Oysters is a real gem (or is it a pearl?) on the South Shore.Anne Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.