Oyster House, Philadelphia

Posted on
Nov 6, 2013
Posted in: Food, Restaurants

Don’t let the idea of eating an entire raw animal in one bite scare you.

I arrived at Oyster House long after the lunch rush, which is one of the advantages of traveling eastward – by the time you are hungry, everyone else has eaten.

It came recommend to me by our friend Nora, with whom we were staying.

“It’s really good,” she said. “And don’t worry – they have more than just oysters.”

I loved her cautionary disclaimer, because it was so unnecessary. If Oyster House only served oysters, I would have gone just the same. I love oysters. Cold and tender and tasting of the sea. There is something familiar and comforting about that. I may be a child of both coasts, but make no mistake: I am a child of coasts.

No, no – Oyster House would do just fine, thank you very much, even if nothing else was on the menu.

The exterior was dark and simple; the interior lovely, an enormous raw bar at center and polished wood tables throughout.

Along the walls hung oyster plates, something which, until that moment, I didn’t know existed. They were apparently big in the Victorian times, when oysters were very in. As the era passed, and life became more informal, the need for such accouterments went as well.


At each table was a large chalice filled with oyster crackers. The second I was seated I reached for one and began gnawing on it. I was about halfway through it before I realized that maybe, maybe, it was just there for decoration.


Nervously, I scanned the restaurant. I was the only person eating the enormous, orb-like crackers. No, wait! A gentleman at the bar was doing the same. But, oh dear, he was rocking a faux hawk, so his judgment was clearly circumspect.


I continued eating my cracker, anyway, because it’s not like I live in Philadelphia. I seriously doubted someone would stop me on the street and scream, “YOU! YOU’RE THE GIRL WHO EATS TABLE CENTERPIECES!”

Besides, I like crackers. But really, there was a sort of brilliant vagueness to it. I imagine regulars could take their friends there and pretend to be horrified when someone ate a cracker.

“THOSE ARE DECORATIVE ONLY!” they’d scream. And fun would be had by everyone except the poor fool nibbling on the cracker.


I began my meal with oysters because when in Oyster House …

If you were to distill the flavor of the ocean, if you somehow managed to bottle the mist that rises off the waves and place it on your tongue, it would taste exactly like an oyster. I have no doubts of this.

And just like a baseball inning with a terrible team at bat, it was over in a blink. One, two, three …

… but far tastier.

At the server’s suggestion, I ordered the tuna salad, after confirming that it was not a tuna-in-a-can-drenched-in-mayo sort of thing. She was taken aback by my question – which, when I finally saw the entree, I decided was a fair reaction. It was a far cry from deli-style tuna salad. The chef prepared the fish himself, and so it was in huge, delicious chunks, mixed with green apples, cherry tomatoes, roasted artichokes, and baby spring greens.

I demolished it in the way one only can a salad – knowing that even if you stuff it all into your face at once, no one will think you are that much of a glutton because, after all, it’s mostly vegetables. (The same holds true for pies with fruit fillings, right? RIGHT?)

It was lovely – a mix of sweet and savory in a tart, citrusy vinaigrette. As I picked at a fried shallot that topped it, I wondered it if my choice of entree wasn’t almost too polished, too haute cuisine for the setting. Perhaps I should have gone with the fried oyster sandwich?

Next time, I thought. And there would be a next time. I promised myself I’d drag Rand to Oyster House whenever we returned to Philadelphia. We’d sit down, and I’d offer him an oyster cracker.

And the second he took a bite, I’d whisper, “Those aren’t for eating.”

I can’t wait.

Leave a Comment

  • The first time I ever had an oyster, my reaction was (verbatim): “not as boogery as I expected.”

  • I tried oysters for the very first time in Boston this year at Union Oyster House. I am not a child of any coast, hence never having the courage to try them until this year! My reaction? They were pretty good…I’m not sure how they disappeared so fast.

  • I just tried an oyster this year for the first time. My friends ordered a plate to share between all of us and I declined only to be encouraged to “just try one” they said… and so I did and I was pleasantly surprised which now makes me think I should try new things more often because I could be missing out!

  • My daughter lives them, but has to willingly forget that they are alive, valve beating, as she slides them down her throat. Me, I require champagne chasers!

  • OemG Yum!! I must got to Philadelphia now! Any Los Angeles Oyster restaurant suggestions?

  • I love your mean streak! And now I have a Christmas idea for my oyster-obsessed Dad–an oyster plate! Thanks much : )

  • It took me 3 attempts at eating oysters to concede I am in fact allergic. My husband forbids me from a undertaking fourth control test. Being as he’s the one who has had to clean up the resultant ‘fallout’ as I’m usually groaning and rolling about in a cold sweat….

  • Meg B

    I have tried oysters and am not a fan. You described them perfectly. You know, I’m also not a fan of the way the ocean tastes so that could be why I don’t like them.

    Enjoy messing with Rand!

  • Ellen

    The crackers are meant for eating!! Try a little bit of the horseradish on them…very tasty…called Oyster Crackers. Yum!

  • Kassandra

    As someone who lives in and loves Philadelphia in that deep intimate way you can only love a grimy city, and as someone who follows your blog like a ritual, I was too excited to see you feature not only my city, but one of my favorite spots here. Your friend Nora has excellent taste.
    I’m so glad you had a blast here! (:

  • Stacey

    Mu colleague, her husband, and I were just there! I’m not an oyster eater, but I certainly enjoyed the raw clams (and cooked scallops). Those plates on the wall were precious.

  • Ruth

    Mignonette > cocktail sauce. I’ll tell the world.

  • My first tryst with oysters was at a party in New Delhi. It was the launch of something fancy and my journalist friend got us invited through her media connections.
    They had an “oyster station” where there was a guy standing behind a table full of oysters on ice. He’d skilfully detach the oyster off its shell with a thin knife, add a dash of tabasco sauce and hand the oyster to us in a flourish.

    I’ve had several oysters since and quite like it naked and with various dressings, but the one with the tabasco sauce takes the cake! 😀

  • No worries – those crackers are totally meant for eating. I smother them in the horseradish. Oyster House also does buck-a-shuck happy hours!

  • Raw oysters, NO…for reasons that I won’t bore you with. Smoked oysters, fried oysters, oyster stew…bring it on!

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