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Top 11 Chesapeake Bay Oyster Eateries - Maryland vs Virginia

Sip and Slurp Your Way Around the Bay

By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

Chesapeake summers ease you into such a laid-back state of mind that your big decision of the day can be choosing cold beer or crisp wine to accompany a dozen fresh oysters. That cool combo of bivalves washed down with a favorite drink is a beloved Bay ritual. The options were once simple: Natty Boh or Bud for brew fans; red or white for wine lovers. And oysters were only eaten in cold months. Today's Bay oyster scene has evolved dramatically. Now, 100-plus bivalve brands are harvested, and aquafarming makes them available year-round. The steady supply has sparked a raw bar renaissance with new oyster houses opening all over the region.

Could so many choices complicate a relaxing Chesapeake baycation? Not if we can help it. Marinalife teamed up with Chesapeake Oyster Lovers' Handbook to create a pair of oyster tours where Virginia wine and Maryland beer are coupled with local bivalves for a tantalizing bay-to-table event. Visit these 11 destinations and chart a flavorful course for sipping and slurping your way around the Bay.

Virginia Wine & Oysters

Pass the Bottle, but Hold the Bubbles Your Chesapeake oyster crawl starts in Virginia amid historic characters, rolling countryside and award-winning wines. Its vino tradition dates back to Thomas Jefferson, and centuries later, more than 250 wineries are curling their vines around 3,500-plus acres of land. The success is partly due to nurturing grapes that thrive here but fail in other places. Local vintners also defy the old adage that champagne and oysters are the ultimate couple. Instead, they pair fine wines with scrumptious bivalves that are cultivated in the same area and complement each other's flavors.

This bivalve quest also takes you to aquaculture sites that are bolstering a lucrative rebirth in the Chesapeake oyster biz and turning Virginia into the East Coast's top seafood producer. Its 2014 season jumped 31 percent by selling more than 40 million oysters, offering a wide range of flavors -- Rappahannocks to briny Chincoteagues. If you're ready for great grape and bivalve adventures, cruise to these five destinations.

Oyster Farm at Kings Creek - Cape Charles, Va.

When you lounge on the restaurant's deck soaking in a gorgeous view of the Bay, you might see workboats chugging by and gently dropping spats on shells (baby oysters) into the water. It's a pleasant reminder that oyster beds are right in front of the eatery, and you get to witness the infancy of the process that delivers fresh oysters to your table. Usually two or three local bivalve brands are presented with a smooth chardonnay grown about 15 minutes away at Chatham Vineyards. On Watermen Wednesdays, Eastern Shore aquafarmers give talks about their oysters and shuck them for tastings. (theoysterfarmatkingscreek.com)

Where to dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center (757-331-3100, ccyachtcenter.com)

Pleasure House Oyster Farm - Virginia Beach, Va.

Just a stone's throw from the Atlantic awaits an unforgettable experience where harvesting and eating oysters is not a spectator sport. At this aquafarm, guests tug on tall waterman's waders and step into the Lynnhaven River where briny bivalves lie beneath the waves. With the current swirling between your feet, the Chef 's Table Tour presents a feast of oysters and other local seafood served on tables in the water. Nearby vineyards, such as Boxwood, Williamsburg and Chatham wineries, make bringing your own wine easy. Two other guided tours offer oyster tastings, regional history sessions and hands-on activities with fishpots, oyster cages and aquaculture gear. (pleasurehouseoysters.com)

Where to dock:Long Bay Pointe Boating Resort (757-321-4550, longbaypointemarina.com)

Dog & Oyster Vineyard - Irvington, Va.

Two 40-foot-tall corkscrews at the entrance welcome guests to an award winning vineyard that specifically cultivates wines to pair with Chesapeake oysters. Bottles of white, rosé and red are sampled in the Wine Stand, while the Oyster Stand dishes out Windmill Point and Kellum oysters, soft-shell crabs and other seasonal seafood. The canine component of the name honors the sweet rescue dogs that roam the grounds to protect grape vines from deer and other hungry critters. Docked nearby is the Faded Glory, a Chesapeake Deadrise workboat that gives tours of oyster beds along Carter's Creek. In early November, the vineyard hosts the Virginia Wine & Oyster Classic, which features 15 of the region's top wineries. (dogandoyster.com)

Where to dock: Tides Inn Marina (804-438-4418, tidesinn.com)

Merroir Tasting Room - Topping, Va.

This little hidden gem has played a big role in the Chesapeake oyster resurrection. Merroir is owned by Croxton family members, who were early pioneers in aquafarming and are now growing world-class oysters. Their 250 acres of oyster beds lie just a hundred yards away from the charming eatery. These oysters grow in cages on the Rappahannock River bottom, but when they're pulled from the water, you relish a spectacular farm-to-fork experience that pairs beautifully with Virginia wine. Three types of oysters appear on the menu Rappahannocks (sweet), Stingrays (mild) and Olde Salts (briny) and they're prepared on outdoor grills with a variety of seasonings or presented simply on the half shell. (rroysters.com/restaurants/merroir)

Where to dock:Regent Point Marina and Boatyard (804-758-4457, regentpointmarina.com)

Inn at Stratford Hall - Stratford, Va.

Built in 1730, the luxurious inn overlooks the Potomac River with 1,900 acres of exquisite gardens, fields andforests. Four outstanding wineries are located nearby, creating noteworthy wine and exceptional cuisine. The chef at this oyster haven serves only Chesapeake oysters, often shucked on the half shell, baked with local bacon and parmesan, crispy fried or roasted with wasabi butter. Tasting the paired wine before the oyster is his preference, because guests find it's hard to resist a chilled glass placed on their table. Stratford's September Wine & Oyster Festival is a must-go event. (innatstratfordhall.org)

Where to dock:Nearby at Colonial Beach Yacht Center (804-224-7230, cbycmarina.com)

Maryland Beer & Oysters

Let's Raise a Frosty Mug to Brews & Bivalves Migrating north on the second leg of the journey, your oyster quest meanders to Maryland's farmlands, urban pockets and quaint Eastern Shore towns. You'll savor the rewards of folks who blend hops and barley to brew beer that couples well with Bay oysters. The state's long tradition of raising frothy mugs dates back to 1703, when the first brewery opened in Annapolis. From the iconic Natty Boh to today's craft ales, Maryland digs suds with bivalves.

Steamed crabs garner the most notoriety in the Bay's current seafood scene, but oysters have been major players in Maryland's commerce and culture since colonial times. These bivalves grew so abundantly and were devoured so voraciously that towns such as Crisfield and Solomons were built upon discarded shells. By the 1800s, Chesapeake oysters were the delicacy that everyone wanted to bring to their lips. Now, Maryland aquafarmers are rekindling the global oyster mystique by branding Bay bivalves with alluring labels such as Skinny Dippers, Chesapeake Golds and Sweet Jesus oysters. If you want to discover the bliss of beer and bivalves, then head for these six destinations.

Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grill- Piney Point, Md.

Located on the narrow causeway to St. George Island and flanked by the Potomac River and St. George Creek, Ruddy Duck gracefully blends into Southern Maryland's serene landscape. Next to the deck, a solitary loblolly pine guards a secret that's hidden beneath the gorgeous waterfront view: Oysters are growing just beyond the shore under the waves. These sweet bivalves are harvested daily for the restaurant and are a perfect match for the beers made fresh in house. A collection of brews are offered year-round from pale ales to stouts and traditional German festival biers. (ruddyduckbrewery.com)

Where to dock:Haskell's Marina (301-994-1008)

Boatyard Bar & Grill - Annapolis, Md.

Sailors, yacht owners, engine mechanics and anyone who loves the Chesapeake Bay gather at this lively Eastport pub. Tales of sea adventures and fishing conquests fill the air, while shuckers place fresh oysters on icy trays and bartenders drop the delicate meat into petite shooter glasses. Chilled mugs are filled with an impressive list of beers from across the country, including Maryland-made favorites such as Flying Dog, DuClaw, Fordham Copperhead Ale (from Annapolis) and the Boatyard Lager, specially crafted to highlight thesubtle flavors of oysters harvested in local waters. (boatyardbarandgrill.com)

Where to dock:Annapolis Yacht Basin (410-263-3544, yachtbasin.com)

BoatHouse Canton - Baltimore, Md.

Discover a destination that toasts Baltimore's industrial heritage while quenching Maryland's thirst for good beer and bivalves. This waterfront seafood house resides in the former facility of Tin Decorating Co., and its towering smokestack used to rise among scores of oyster processing plants that once lined the shore. Today, it hovers above the deck where guests nibble on oysters and watch ships zip around Inner Harbor. A glass case at the bar is filled with Bay bivalves such as Skinny Dippers, Choptank Sweets and Chincoteagues. Happy hour buck-ashuck oysters and Wednesday Craft Draft Night featuring Maryland brewsfit the bill without busting the wallet. Don't forget to check out the Dock Bar at the BoatHouse offering live music weekly. On-site free dockage is available while dining. (boathousecanton.com)

Where to dock: BMC at Lighthouse Point (410-675-8888, bmcmarinas.com)

Ryleigh's Oyster Federal Hill - Baltimore, Md.

Barstools around the shucking station at Ryleigh's are among the most coveted seats in the house. That's the best vantage point to gaze at oysters blanketed in ice with little wooden signs heralding local brands such as Shooting Points and Nassawadox Salts. This iconic oyster house offers 10 to 14 types of bivalves, but the favorite is Avery's Pearl. These oysters are custom grown in Hog Island, Va., through a unique restaurant-aquafarm partnership. Maryland brews such as Natty Boh, Evolution IPA and Loose Cannon flow freely, especially during buck-a-shuck Oyster Hour. (ryleighs.com)

Where to dock: Inner Harbor Marina (410-837-5339, baltimoreinnerharbormarina.com)

Ocean Odyssey - Cambridge, Md.

Across the Bay on the Eastern Shore lies a seafood house beloved by locals for its dedication to regional oysters and beer. Family owned since 1947, it began as a small crab factory and has evolved into the ideal place to sample an ever-changing list of local oysters such as Choptank Sweets, Barren Islands, Holy Grails and Sewansecotts. You can slurp them indoors or on the outdoor deck and beer garden that's decorated with a waterman's mural, tropical plants and colorful umbrellas. Maryland craft brews take center stage, especially bottles of Choptank designed by a Baltimore brewer to match the unique flavors of the Chesapeake. (toddseafood.com)

Where to dock:River Marsh Marina (410-901-6380, hyatt.com)

Awful Arthur's Seafood Co. - St. Michaels, Md.

On the main street of historic St. Michaels stands a lovely Victorian house that has become a prime destination for oyster and beer seekers. Beneath its gingerbread trim hangs an aquaculture cage where oysters once grew in Chesapeake waters. Every day, a raw bar list of a dozen or more types of oysters displays its unique flavors and brand names such as Chesapeake Gold, Sewansecott and Chincoteague. On tap are local ales that include Eastern Shore natives Real Ale Revival from Cambridge and Evolution from Salisbury. Extra bonus: The Eastern Shore Brewing Co. is located a few blocks away with a tasting room. (awfularthursusa.com)

Where to dock:St. Michaels Marina (410-745-2400, stmichaelsmarina.com)

Can Oysters Protect a Pearl of the Chesapeake's Past?

About 14 miles off Virginia's Eastern Shore, oyster aquaculture's cutting-edge science is helping to preserve a traditional way of life on Tangier Island. Richmond native Tim Hickey introduced to local watermen a new oyster farming method growing thousands of oysters in cages along the shore and shipping them to raw bars along the East Coast. That's a big economy boost from a tiny mollusk and a valiant effort to defend a unique part of Chesapeake heritage. For more, go to Tangier Island Oyster Co., tangieroysterco.com.

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Rum, Reggae & Spies!
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The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.

In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.

Curious rum aficionados like myself are always eager to hear the back story behind the libation in our hand. Like a slice of pineapple or lime wedged upon the rim of a glass, the history of a rum’s journey from the Caribbean to our lips can make a cocktail taste even sweeter.

I recently stumbled upon the extraordinary tale that intertwines Jamaican rum, world- class musicians and James Bond. To fully appreciate this unique saga, follow my lead and shake up a GoldenEye Cocktail (see recipe below) to sip while the story unfolds.

THE SPY WHO LOVED JAMAICA

James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.

STIR IT UP

Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye

GOLDENEYE COCKTAIL

INGREDIENTS:

-1 part Blackwell Rum

-1 part pineapple juice

-Lime or pineapple wedge

INSTRUCTIONS:

Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye

TOASTY TODDY

INGREDIENTS:

-3 parts Blackwell Rum

-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

Read More
Holiday Cocktails for Any Time of Day
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If you can’t decide which cocktails to make for your holiday party, or simply need a little cheer to get you through the mayhem of family, friends and festivities, Marinalife has got you covered! 

Check out our favorite seasonal cocktail recipes to help you reduce the stress and enjoy this holiday season all day long.

BREAKFAST

close up view of a red drink
Christmas Morning Punch | Credit Kozak-Salo, Getty Images

Christmas Morning Punch

A sweet treat to get your day started

Ingredients:
4 oz. raspberry vodka
2 cups orange juice
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup ginger ale

Instructions:
Combine ingredients in a pitcher, stir and serve cold.

LUNCH

Christmas Margarita

A zesty fun drink for any festive occasion

red drinks and red cranberries surrounding the cup
Christmas Margarita | Credit Chernishev, Getty Images

Ingredients:
2 oz. gold tequila
½ oz. orange liqueur
3 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. pomegranate juice
½ oz. Key Lime juice
2 tsp. simple syrup

Instructions:
For a salted rim, fill a small plate with simple syrup and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip into a plate of margarita salt and fill your glass with ice. In a separate cocktail shaker, fill with light ice and the ingredients. Shake and strain into your glass and garnish with a lime or orange. 

DINNER

blue drink in a small glass with lemons on the side
Jack Frost | Credit bhofack2, Getty Images

Jack Frost

A creamy delight to enjoy in your PJs when the kids go to bed

Ingredients:
½ cup light rum
½ cup Blue Curaçao liqueur
½ cup cream of coconut
1 cup pineapple juice

Instructions:
For a coconut rim, fill a small plate with light corn syrup or simple syrup and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip into a plate of coconut flakes. Use a blender or fill a shaker with ice and ingredients and shake well for foamy results. Strain into glass and enjoy!

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Nautical-Inspired Cocktails for Fall
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As the leaves fall and turn to brown, our palette changes from strawberry and watermelon summer flavors to more autumnal pumpkin and apple-flavored treats. Spiced rum is a perfect spirit to enjoy this season, so we chose Captain Morgan as the main ingredient for two cocktail variations. Whether you wrap up in a cozy blanket or entertain friends on your boat, you can drink like a ship captain with the following fall recipes.

A red cocktail with seasonal fruit
Fall Cocktail | Source Veselova Elena from Getty Images

The Captain Cider

Ingredients:

1.5 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
1.5 oz Cranberry juice
1.5 oz Hard apple cider

Instructions:

Fill a rocks glass with ice and combine all ingredients. Gently stir and garnish with a cranberry and apple slice.

Hot apple cider in a glass cup on a tree stump
Hot Apple Cider | Source Wendy Melgar from Getty Images

Hot Captain Cider

Ingredients:

2 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
6 oz Fresh apple cider

Instructions:

Combine the rum and apple cider in a small pot and microwave or heat over a stove. Carefully pour drink into a mug and garnish with a cinnamon stick and apple slice.

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