Les Barnes, Owner of London Lennie's, was not born in the Fulton Fish Market, but almost. As a sprat of 5, he accompanied his father on predawn forays to buy seafood for their Rego Park restaurant founded in 1959.
When I was growing up in the Old Fulton Fish Market, way back in the day, we bought three types of oysters. They were a Cape Cod, Chesapeake and a Blue Point. Now that’s not to say that a place like the Oyster Bar wasn’t calling their oysters from the areas they were harvested from. The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar was owned by Jerome Brody and really set up by George Morfogen, an experienced fish buyer and restauranteur. It was George I believe that set the trend of oysters from different areas. The GCS Oyster Bar had 15 to 20 oysters every day from around the country.
Now that oysters have become super trendy, there has been a campaign by the oyster growers to differentiate their product from others. As an example, Duxbury, Standish Shores and Plymouth Rock are basically the same oysters grown in the same area. The seed may be different, but I believe that they are all bottom-grown all within the same confounds of Duxbury, MA. It’s the same for Pemaquids and Glidden Bay oysters including most of the product from LI Sound along the CT coast line. Now we have Mystics, Ram Island, Naked Cowboy, and the like just in CT. I think most people would be hard pressed to tell me the difference in a blind taste test. I should mention that I don’t know how the Mystics are grown. The grower from Dennis, MA harvests the same oyster, but uses two names, Mayflower Points and Big Rock. Is that fair to the unknowing buyer?
The one thing that can make an oyster different coming from the same location is the growing method. Bottom-grown is different than racks and bags, that really changes things in my eyes. I have bought farm raised Onsets and wild Onsets from Pangea and I believe there is a big difference. Thicker shells and fuller meats mean better oysters to me.
On my trip to the West Coast, I saw how all the oysters were wet stored in one body of water for a week or two. Does it even make sense to call them the names of their original harvesting areas after that much time? I think not. At the end of the day the majority of restaurants don’t know oysters and what makes one different from the other. They are just following a trend and many customers want to check an oyster off their bucket list. Have you ever tried a Crassostrea virginica grown in the Pacific? I thought it was a terrible experiment, wasn’t even worth eating. On the other hand, Belons have done well in Maine after going wild.
So at the end of the day, I believe that we should call an oyster from the AREA that it is harvested from, without wet storing of course. If a fresh water river is near the harvesting area, use the river name; if it’s from a salt pond, use that name; if it's near a town, then that should be the name or a body of water. I guess it’s the KISS principle…. Keep it Simple Stupid.