It’s no doubt that today, oysters are the talk of the table. We’ve always served oysters at Mud City Crab House, Ship Bottom Shellfish, Old Causeway, and the Black Whale. But recently, we’ve seen their popularity go through the roof.
When we opened Parker’s Garage last year, we decided to take our relationship with the bay to the next level. We partnered with the Barnegat Oyster Collective to cultivate our own signature oyster in Rose Cove, directly across the bay from the restaurant.
In the early 1900s, Barnegat Bay was one of the top oyster producers on the East Coast. But as the area developed and the oysters were over harvested, the industry dried up. It’s a similar story to much of the fish and shellfish that our region was known for. Today, there are only a handful of wild oyster stocks left on the East Coast, the Mullica River population being one of them. The Maxwell family has farmed them for the last 150 years. We bought seeds from the Maxwell family in the summer of 2017 and began cultivating them to form our own oyster co-op.
Here’s the big news: Two weeks ago, we harvested our first Parker’s Pearl.
We are the only New Jersey restaurant with our own signature oyster. The oysters are collected at Rose Cove and landed at Parker’s Garage. By August, our guests now have the opportunity to see oysters offloaded, sorted, and bagged in the Oyster Saloon, ready for slurping in just minutes.
But this project is multi-faceted. There are social, environmental and economic factors.
Not only are we bringing oysters back to Barnegat Bay, but these shellfish are natural filter feeders. Years of development in this watershed and over fertilizing cause explosions of microorgranisms. When they die they become toxic bacteria, robbing the water and other bay life of oxygen. Oysters eat the microorganisms before they die and literally filter our bay water. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
“We’ve overdeveloped the coastal areas. This is a great way to bring back a balance. The oysters are nature’s way of cleaning the bay,” says Greg.
We’re also supporting the families of a new generation of oyster farmers and restoring the bayman lifestyle that is all but gone, to put a spotlight on local, sustainable Jersey seafood. Matt Greg and Scott Lennox of Barnegat Oyster Collective understand what we’re doing and share our vision. They’re part of a group of folks who work the bay who are creating an oyster resurgence in our area. They’ve studied the work of the traditional baymen while trying new and innovative ways to cultivate oysters.
New England, The Pacific Northwest, and the Chesapeake produce some fine shellfish. But they’re not local. Moreover, once out of the water, oysters start to lose their freshness at a rapid pace. By cultivating local oysters, we’re not only getting the freshest product, but ensuring that we have a hand in every part of the process.
“Why should we be importing something that can be produced so well in our own backyard? We’re really excited about this project. At some point, we hope to be exporting Parker’s Pearls to restaurants in New York or Philly,” says co-owner, Melanie Magaziner.
The Parker’s Pearl is one of the most exciting aspects of what we’re doing here, an investment in our environment, community, and local economy that happens to taste great with a little horseradish sauce.