There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who say, “Good God, get those fries away from me.” And those who say, “No wait! I’d like to lick this plate entirely clean.”
I found myself toeing that line Thursday evening on my first visit to Ben and Erica DeForest’s newest restaurant, Oyster Bar 02557, located just above the Cardboard Box and across the street from the Red Cat Kitchen — Ben’s other two restaurants off Circuit Avenue and Kennebec in Oak Bluffs. Ben owns the Red Cat Kitchen with Sarah Omer, and he owns the Cardboard Box and Oyster Bar with his wife Erica.
Everything was so good. Filling, flavorful, and clearly crafted with masterful culinary intention by longtime Island chef Joe DaSilva. By the time on-the-ball server Josh came by to clear plates, our table exchanged those all-too-familiar glances that communicate an unspoken understanding that everyone was, in fact, full, but hesitant to part ways with these canvases of food art.
I haven’t gone out for a “nice-nice” meal in a while, so maybe my tolerance was low, but it felt like every bite softened my eyes shut and induced an involuntary “YUM.” Let me take you through our evening’s choices — all of which I’d make again.
Ben’s restaurants always offer a creative cocktail menu. On our visit, it was Shark Week, and the Oyster Bar had an extensive shark-themed drink menu, with a portion of profits benefiting the Ocean Project, an ocean conservation group.
I tried Pimm’s Royale ($15) off the regular cocktail menu. Herbaceous. Refreshing. Bright. The Pimm’s Royale is made with Crystal Head Vodka, Pimm’s Archer Roose Prosecco, lemon, mint, and angostura bitters. It was served in a tall glass over shaved ice, and was like drinking a light and refreshing iced tea with an added zest of lemonade. Plus a little booze. Toss in the bustling vacation wonderland that is Circuit Avenue, and you’re sippin’ on the epitome of down-Island Vineyard summertime.
When dining at a New England seafood restaurant, the caliber of the clam chowder is often a window into the rest of the menu. So that’s where we started. We tried Stewart’s Rounsville’s True Clam Chowder ($12), and it was a sure sign of good things to come. Every spoonful balanced chunks of fresh, quality clam, soft, diced potatoes, and creamy, rich, and salty broth. Oh, and the chowder’s gluten-free. DaSilva nailed it.
Next, we tried the Grilled Flatbread ($14). We choose the three cheese with truffle oil and Loon Farm herbs. You can get it with lobster, too, for an extra $6. The dough was soft like a pillow and warm out of the oven — the perfect platter for a melted cheese blend with pinches of fresh-off-the-farm herbs. Most of Oyster Bar produce comes from Chilmark’s Loon Farm, owned by residents David and Moxie Ginsberg. Ben’s three restaurants source their produce from the up-Island farm. Native Islander Greg Rubick has his hands in the dirt there as head farmer, orchestrating an environment for the richest soils to produce the highest quality produce for the restaurants.
Anything on the Oyster Bar menu labeled “from our Chilmark farm” or “Loon market vegetables” refers to the Ginsberg’s 5000-square-foot production farm that sits on the north shore of the Island. Which segues nicely into our first chosen entrée: Today’s Market List Vegetables from Our Farm in Chilmark ($24). Note that this item varies by day depending on “what’s sexiest on the farm,” Josh told us. We were served an English pea risotto topped with marinated tomatoes. Cue the most vocal and involuntary “YUM” of the evening.
The risotto was fluffy with subtle hints of Parmesan, textured with the finest fresh crunch of green peas, asparagus, and a medley of herbs and ruby red, orange, and yellow tomato blends. They don’t call DeForest “the tomato practitioner” for nothing. Each of his three chefs, DaSilva, Max Rodegast at the Red Cat Kitchen, and Dominic Giardini at the Cardboard Box, creatively works tomatoes into many of their dishes.
Last but not least, we ordered the Pan Roasted Codfish ($36) with Chatham mussels, tomatoes, Nicoise olives, capers, and pan sauce. The cod was light and flaky, falling off its cut with the gentlest flick of a fork. It was cooked into a light and citrusy pro-grade pan sauce. A serving of sparkling mussels peppered the perimeter of the plate. Inside were little bonus bites of saltwater molluscs. We devoured this dish, essentially licked the plate clean.
That’s when Josh asked if we wanted to hear what’s on for dessert. We did, but we didn’t, and we toed that line of wanting more, but knowing we couldn’t possibly handle more. The good news is there’s always next time.
Oyster Bar 02557 is located at 6 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs. The restaurant is open every day from 11:30 am to 1 am. For more information, visit oysterbar02557.com.
*Updated to clarify Red Cat Kitchen restaurant ownership.