On any given weekend during the tourist season this summer, The Wheelhouse in Lewes went through up to 20 cases of raw oysters at its indoor and outdoor oyster bars. That’s 2,000-plus bivalves.
The restaurant, located in the Wharf’s former location, is not alone. The Starboard Raw in Dewey Beach shucks up to 1,200 oysters on a summer weekend. Meanwhile, diners at Henlopen City Oyster House in downtown Rehoboth Beach—one of the coastal area’s most famous raw bars—have collectively consumed up to 8,000 oysters over one weekend.
“Every year, oysters seem to pique the interest of more people,” says Chris Jacona, one of the owners of The Wheelhouse, which opened this year, and Zoggs Raw Bar & Grill in Rehoboth Beach.
Steve “Monty” Montgomery also noticed the trend. He long considering adding a raw bar to The Starboard, but there wasn’t enough room given its booming business. When Scully’s Ocean Side Café went on the market, he saw the opportunity to expand The Starboard brand.
“It’s really a fun and unique little spot,” he says of The Starboard Raw. “It’s become not only a favorite to almost everyone who works at The Starboard but most everyone in Dewey Beach too.”
The rise in raw bars is due to diners’ increased willingness to experiment. Raw fish in dishes such as sushi, sashimi, poke and ceviche are becoming mainstream.
“People are willing to venture outside of their comfort zone,” agrees Ryan Schwamberger, general manager of Chesapeake & Maine in Rehoboth Beach.
People enjoy comparing the differences between oysters. Much like wine, the flavor depends on the locale and the growing conditions. East Coast oysters, for instance, are often saltier than their West Coast counterparts, which have more of a mineral note and a creamier texture. The latter also tend to be smaller, which can appeal to novices.
As with local produce, oysters from the Delmarva region have fewer miles to travel to coastal restaurants, which means they’re less expensive. Oysters from Virginia and Maryland, for instance, are ideal for those who want to pay $2—or even $1 during buck-a-shuck promotions. Oysters from the West Coast and Canada can climb into the $3-and-up price range.
Because of its concept, Chesapeake & Maine offers up to eight oysters from those regions. The restaurant also boasts a proprietary “Smoke in the Water” variety. These oysters are grown around Hoopers Island in Maryland, harvested and placed in tanks with culinary smoked sea salt. “The result is an oyster that has a smoky flavor to it,” Schwamberger explains.
SoDel Concepts’ restaurants have the proprietary SoDel Salts. They’re particularly prevalent in the restaurants with dedicated raw bars, where you can watch the shuckers in action.
Here are a few raw bars along the coast to try.
Oysters at Bethany Oyster House primarily come from the East Coast, from Canada to Chincoteague. Try an Absolut pepper shooter with cocktail sauce and hot sauce or a shooter with chilled tequila and lime juice.
210 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 537-2020
Both the location on Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach and the spot in Ocean View sport dedicated raw bars. Big Chill has a wholesale division that delivers to other restaurants, so quality counts. (The group also owns Trolley Square Oyster House in Wilmington.)
20298 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-FISH; 30415 Cedar Neck Road, Ocean View, 829-8163
Both locations have a raw bar with about six seats each. You get a better view of the shucking at the Rehoboth site.
30115 Veterans Way, Rehoboth, 278-7395; 30904 Coastal Hwy., Bethany Beach, 539-7111
A new courtyard is a visible tie between C&M and its older sibling Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, which now occupies a sleek modern structure. The raw bar has five seats at a dedicated bar and additional seating in that section. Selections are in keeping with the C&M theme.
316 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3600
Part of the Big Fish Restaurant Group, the restaurant has a raw bar attached to the main bar. Bourbon Creek oysters from Virginia are $1.50 all day, every day.
19598 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2019
Oysters are a natural pairing with beer, which is why Fins also owns Big Oyster Brewery. There is typically a variety of oysters from the East and West coasts.
19269 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3467; 33544 Market Place, Bethany Beach, 539-3467
The pearl in the Fins family recently underwent renovations that make the building more user-friendly yet still distinctive. Situated downtown, it appeals to tourists in summer and locals in the off-season.
243 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3467
Fans of this restaurant, which opened in 2010, are adamant that it has the best selection, and considering the name, that’s not surprising. Expect to see up to nine different oysters on any given day. The menu often changes so you can try something new on a regular basis. That’s also true of the craft beers.
50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 260-9193
Venture a few miles inland on Del. 24 for fresh oysters at a reasonable price. Jamie Davis founded the restaurant in 2006 after working at McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar in Annapolis. There is now a Georgetown JD Shuckers as well.
20750 John. J. Williams Hwy., Lewes, 945-8850
The Lewes location has a raw bar inset into the regular bar and its visible the moment you walk in. Local oysters such as Sweet Jesus and Choptank Sweets are staples.
34401 Tenley Court, Lewes, 644-2267
Located near Lewes Beach, this restaurant has a small raw bar that’s part of the regular bar. Opt for an oyster, an oyster shooter—or both. The pub specializes in Belgian-style beers.
516 E. Savannah Road, Lewes, 313-4487
Yes, this slender restaurant is all about seafood. However, that’s not all you’ll find. There are also steaks, burgers, chicken dishes, salads, pasta and tacos. The crush might rule at the restaurant’s big sister across the street, but espresso martinis are the No. 1 drink at The Starboard Raw. As for the oysters, there are daily happy hour specials on featured selections.
2000 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-9000
This new restaurant has indoor and outdoor oyster bars with a view of Fisherman’s Wharf, which is bustling with fishermen, boaters and cruise patrons during the day. The place has a cool Key West-ish vibe, with plenty of outdoor seating and live entertainment.
7 Anglers Road, Lewes, 291-2163
Steps from the beach, Zoggs’ raw bar is small, but the items are fresh. The Caribbean cool atmosphere is always chill.
1 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7660