Sometimes I crave oysters on the half shell, but don’t want the formality of a sit down restaurant with fancy table napkins. Nor do I have time (or rather, the chops) to buy and shuck them myself.
Taylor Shellfish in Capitol Hill’s fun-lovin’ Melrose Building is the answer. Although the retail store has only been open for 3 months, the Taylor family has been growing oysters for over 100 years. They are headquartered in Shelton, WA, but Taylor is a household name for Seattle’s shellfish lovers and their products are served in many restaurants (Matt’s in the Market, Staple and Fancy, and Spring Hill to name a few).
If you are a shellfish lover, you will shake with excitement as the cleanly laid out space draws a front-and-center focus to the live tanks. In the live tanks, I count 8 different types of oysters along with geoduck, scallops and a heck of a lot of crab. The manager also tells me Mediterranean mussels are a hot commodity.
Some customers are clearly on an in-and-out mission and grab their seafood and go. But I reckon the coolest thing about this urban shellfish mecca is the fact they will shuck any of the oysters for you and serve them on the half shell with mignonette, lemon and hot sauce for you within minutes of ordering for you to enjoy at one of the tables with an outdoor view.
You can also pick your own crab and they will boil it up for you. That, however, requires more of a commitment as it takes about 45 minutes.
While waiting for my oysters and crab, I gravitate to the two pots of soup people seem to be fawning over: Geoduck chowder and Oyster stew. I start with a cup of the oyster stew ($4.50), made by jovial Xinh Dwelley who worked at Taylor for a number of years before opening up her own restaurant near Taylor’s headquarters. The soup is delightfully heavy on the oysters with a buttery broth and balanced taste of onion, garlic and pepper.
Then, lunch arrives.
- Shigoku – Initiates my taste buds with a salty pow and then leaves me with a sweet finish. This lil’ guy is has the complexity of a prized red wine. As the manager and I discuss the complex flavor of these oysters, it sounds like we are conversing about wine as we belt out descriptive phrases such as “the kumamoto tastes like a powerful combination of watermelon rind and sea cucumber.”
- The trusty ol’ Tottens from the Totten Inlet in the Puget Sound. I love the full flavor of these guys, which is likely due to the inlet’s algae-rich water.
Tip: Take advantage of the knowledgeable and super friendly staff. The Taylor crew is more than willing to answer any of your shellfish-related question and they may even shuck an oyster or two on the spot for you to sample. How is that for customer service?