So Many PEI Oysters, so little time!

By Rand - Travel Editor

I have always lived by the ocean and for years, my choice of oysters was dictated by my locale.

Growing up in Massachusetts (with relatives on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard), I could choose from Cotuits, Cuttyhunks, Duxburies, Martha’s Vineyards, Tomahawks, and of course, Wellfleets. While attending college in the nation’s capital, my oyster world expanded to include Rappahannocks, Yorks and Chincoteagues – all from Chesapeake Bay.

But when I moved to Florida, the only local oysters were Apalachicolas. As a result, they were all I ate locally for decades until a local restaurateur, John Spoto, opened his first eponymous oyster bar just steps away from my home in downtown West Palm Beach. (Having outgrown that location, John moved the restaurant to a more accommodating space in Palm Beach Gardens a few years ago).

During my first visit to Spoto’s Oyster Bar in 1997, John suggested that I try the Malpeques. They were buttery smooth, a perfect balance of sweetness and ocean brine. I’ve been hooked on them ever since. Every time I have been to John’s restaurants since, oysters from PEI have been on the menu. So, in a way, John Spoto is responsible for this summer’s road trip to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
In need of research for the blog, I asked a client to meet me at Spoto’s last Sunday. It turned out to be a wise decision. Not only were oysters from Sunberry Point, PEI being featured, but also 2 lb. lobsters were on a Sunday Special for $29.75 each.

Now, I know my lobster. My hometown of Swampscott, MA, which was established by disgruntled Pilgrims in 1629, has a rich lobster history.

After more than a century as a seafaring center in the New World, Swampscott’s townsfolk became innovative leaders for the fishing industry. Lobster harvesting was revolutionized in 1808 when a townsman, Ebenezer Thorndike, invented the lobster pot. In 1840, another townsman, Theophilius Brackett, invented The Swampscott Dory -- a fishing boat used to row and to pull lobster pots. After 170 years, the boat is still widely used by lobstermen worldwide. More importantly I had friends who spent their summers working on lobster boats. So, on good days, we were able to get lobsters fresh off the boats. Back in my high school days, life just didn’t get much better than that.

Our knowledgeable waiter at Spoto’s was Wolfgang, who has been with the restaurant for almost 4 years. Although he guided us through the entire oyster selections, we ended up with a platter of the Sunberries – with a few Wellfleets to keep them company.

Harvested in the crystal clear waters of the Northumberland Strait, Sunberries look like most oysters from PEI’s Northumberland Strait, with nicely sized brown, green and white shells. However, because the frigid tides provide a constant flow of nutrients, we found the oysters possessed a unique and wonderfully briny flavor. As for the lobsters, they were incredibly fresh. The meat was sweet. The lobsters were perfectly prepared and artfully presented with lemon wedges held upright in each claw. (I ended up having two of the 2 pounders.) A reasonably priced 2009 Simi Sauvignon Blanc rounded out our dining experience. All combined for a wonderful way to conduct business and research for the blog.

Leaving my business card with Wolfgang, I asked him to pass it along to John, who in turn, might spend an hour or so with me before the road trip, talking about – and sampling – oysters for the blog. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll have some time in the next few weeks.

Preparing for our culinary pilgrimage next month, I have learned that Prince Edward Island Oysters were judged the world’s tastiest oyster at the Paris exhibition in 1900. Michael and I look forward to seeing if, after more than a century, the reputation still holds water.

As a result of my research, I now know that PEI’s oyster world extends far beyond Malpeques and Sunberries. Dozens of other oyster brands are now growing – and being cultivated – in the cool waters around PEI, including Alpines, Bedeque Bays, Blackberry Points, Canada Cups, Canadian Coves, Carr’s, Cavendish Cups, Colville Bays, Cooke's Coves, Chedabuctos, Conway Cups, Conway Royals, Cooke's Coves, Gooseberry Bays, Green Gables, Hurricane Harbors, Indian Creeks, Lucky Limes, Mermaid Straits, Mill Points, North Points, Northumberlands, Osprey Points, Pickle Points, Pipers Points, Raspberry Points, Red Points, Rocky Bays, Rocky Points, Rocky Shores, Salvation Coves, Salt Aires, Salutation Coves, Shiny Seas, Stanley Bridges and Summersides.

While Michael and I hope to sample a wide variety during our stay on the island next month, tasting all of them will be impossible, as some will not be harvested until the Fall. So, we’ll have to be patient, and place our orders for those to be enjoyed later this year, back at home.

So many Prince Edward Island oysters, so little time!