“Tiny and briny” I mutter aloud, perusing the daily raw menu while sitting at the bar of Old Ebbitt Grill, the storied establishment that sits across 15th Street NW from the Treasury Department. The front bar is packed with tourists fresh from a look at the White House, but the back bar is mostly empty. My bartender’s suspenders splay around his belly. He’s slightly more interested in the football scores than taking my order.
Oysters may be nature’s ultimate bar food. They require little preparation other then a skillfully handled oyster knife. They come in cupped shells perfect for holding their own juices. They quiver in my shaking hand when I pick them up. They feel wet against my teeth.
The Harpswell Flat on the other hand is a completely different type of oyster. It’s even classified under a completely different genus than what most oyster lovers are accustomed to. As the name suggests, the shells are broad and flat almost resembling a scallop shell. I’d first had a flat at Old Ebbitt’s Oyster Riot a few weeks prior. Tom Meyer, executive vice president of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group, had my ear and was showing me his favorites.
“You have to try this oyster,” he said, gesturing to the nearly 50 specimens shucked and laid out in a bin of ice. They were dark fleshed with prominent gills, and huge. I was nervous as I picked one up, and gave it a sniff, noting odors that smelled more like a river bottom than the open ocean. The flesh was meaty, and rustic flavors finished with briny metallic tones of copper.
“I feel like I’m eating a stomach that tastes like pennies,” said one rioter.
“Tastes like the underside of a pier,” said another.
Harpswell Flats are not a beginner’s oyster. In truth, I’d ordered them by accident on this visit to Old Ebbitt, in an attempt to find something new, and forgetting the name I’d encountered a month earlier. An oyster lover, however, must try at least one. After muscling down a few, they’ve started to grow on me.
You’re a sucker if you go any time other than happy hour. From 3-6 p.m. after work, and again from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. a dozen will cost you half what it will at other times. Most restaurants use specials like this to move less desirable oysters or product past its peak. Here, the deal is available on any oyster in stock. It’s the best oyster deal in town.
Photos by Scott Reitz