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Whaley’s is the latest D.C. seafood restaurant to debut a proprietary oyster, joining Hank’s Oyster Bar, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, P.J. Clarke’s, and others.
Co-owner Nick Wiseman worked with the region’s oyster guru, Travis Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters, to select the best possible bivalve for the Navy Yard eatery, which opened in May.
The name of the oyster plays into the restaurant’s commitment to serving sustainable seafood. “We’re going to call it the River Keeper because people don’t know that oysters are natural filters and play a valuable roll in cleaning rivers and restoring them,” Wiseman says.
The oysters are about two inches long, deep cut, meaty, and low in salinity. While it’s a private label oyster for the restaurant, the River Keeper isn’t a new species Croxton crossbred in some kind of underwater lab. Only one species of oyster lives up and down the East Coast—crassostrea virginica.
The reason why Wellfleet oysters from Cape Cod Bay taste different from oysters plucked from the Chesapeake Bay all comes down to what Wiseman calls “merroir,” a riff on the French word terroir, which is used to describe how environmental factors like soil type and climate impacts the flavor of wine. Therefore, selecting an oyster for size, brininess, or other characteristics comes down to where it lives.
The River Keeper also shares its name with a local organization, which is around the corner in Navy Yard. Anacostia Riverkeeper, an offshoot of a national organization with similar goals, works to restore the Anacostia River, hopefully to the point where it can one day be swimmable.
“The river’s come a long way,” Wiseman says. “When I first went down there, it was probably eight years ago and they didn’t think it would ever be swimmable again. Now I’m confident in our lifetimes it will be.”
Slurping River Keepers can help. A portion of proceeds from each oyster sold will go to Anacostia Riverkeeper. Try them during $1 oyster happy hour Mondays through Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m., or anytime because they’ll always be on the menu.
Whaley’s, 301 Water St. SE #115; (202) 484-8800; whaleysdc.com