Dare we say it? Winter is over and spring has officially sprung. Well, sprung enough to get me psyched about a fresh round of cocktails and a few choice oyster pairings over at the Oyster House on Sansom Street in Center City.
When I think of oysters, I generally presume I’ll be drinking some sort of Belgium style beer. Others might turn immediately to something sparkling. But after testing some spring cocktail options at the Oyster House, I realized what those of us who default to beer or bubbly have been missing.
The cocktail list at Oyster House is split between gin and non-gin cocktails. Here are a handful of the highlights.
Hotline BlingHotline Bling (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
New to the gin menu this season is the Hotline Bling and let me say that it’s as brilliant and inspired as the PPD #nosavsies video. Served in a coupe the Tanqueray 10 and Salignac cognac helped along by a green tea-lemongrass syrup, fresh citrus and grapefruit bitters garnished with a piece of fresh mint make for some smooth sippin’.
AlaskaAlaska (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)It joins the Alaska which is currently on the menu but is well worth a mention. The flavor of the Alaska, made with Plymouth gin, yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters, finished with a twist of lemon was a bit abrasive for my liking, puckering my mouth and only allowing a small taste at first. But paired with a set of briny Cape May Salts, the Alaska’s flavor bloomed, enhancing it in a way similar to sprinkling salt on watermelon. A true surprise and nice lesson not to be so quick to disregard something so out of my wheelhouse.
House MartiniHouse Martini (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)Of course there’s always the martini-drinker who won’t be swayed away from their favorites. The House Martini was paired perfectly with a set of Kusshi oysters from British Columbia. Very different from the Cape May Salts as West Coast oysters tend to be cleaner, crisper, and well matched for a Martin Miller’s gin martini, made with house-made dry vermouth, and again, finished with a lemon twist.
This Charming YamThis Charming Yam (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)This Charming Yam may be the biggest surprise of the new group. At first glance it may seem to be masquerading as a whiskey drink, but its the Jerry Thomas bitters, sweet potato syrup, and a float of Amaro Averna, a Sicilian liquor, that gives this Espolon Reposado tequila drink it’s warm, inviting color. The grapefruit and lemon juice do nicely to spritz things up and keep This Charming Yam from being a yawn.
Bloody CaesarBloody Caesar (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)A classic oyster pairing, not to be overlooked is the Bloody Caesar, a horseradish-y mix I thoroughly enjoyed. The Vodka, Oyster House bloody Mary mix, and clam juice only compliment the pair of Salt Ponds oysters harvested from Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island. These East Coasters are more middle of the road when it comes to brine, helped along by the colder waters of the upper Mid-Atlantic.
The Royal WeThe Royal We (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)Finally, there’s The Royal We. If ever you pair oysters with dessert, this is the way to do it. Like a sip of frothy key lime pie, this cocktail is a mix of barrel aged genever, lemon, sugar, simple syrup, cucumber, sage, orange aromatic bitters, sparkling wine and egg white. It’s creamy and delicious and oh, so strangely perfect for sipping oyster paired cocktails in the springtime ahead.
Lindsey Krueger, head bartender and bar manager at the Oyster House, and Zagat 30 Under 30 winner, took a few minutes to give me the breakdown on their offerings.
“One of the things I think I’m most proud about here though is that our bartenders are really knowledgeable, friendly and approachable, and if you have a cocktail you want made, chances are we can make it for you,” Kruger said. “We try to be very accessible.”
They also offer lots of dry white wines, stout beers and lagers, which “are always really popular with seafood,” Kruger said.
“With oysters we’re actually really lucky, we have a lot of different options that pair well. Gin and oysters, they’re best friends. They’re peanut butter and jelly together if they’re done right.”
While I’m no mixologist, I’m certainly a spirits enthusiast and, aside from the stomach churning combination of gin, oysters, peanut butter, and jelly, the cocktails at Oyster House are well balanced and impressively paired. Each very different and strong on its own, but the overall spread offers variety and appeal for more than a few oyster eating scenarios.
Which is a good thing. Because depending on the season, what’s available at the market, and the fluctuations that come with selling fresh seafood, Oyster House changes its menu twice a day, so you may not see something you’re familiar with.
My advice is to trust the Oyster House; their shuckers and their bartenders. They know what’s good.