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Monday, October 24, 2011

Merroir: Rappahannock Oyster Co. Tasting Room

Sucking down a platter of Stingrays with a side of blue crabs
It's rare that I stumble upon a gem of a spot so exceptional that I honestly don't want to share its whereabouts. Such is the case with Merroir by Rappahannock River Oysters, a virtually undiscovered restaurant/tasting room/picnic tables-meet-a-spectacular-view spot right on Virginia's Rappahannock River.


Located at Locklies Marina in Topping, Virginia (just before you cross the bridge into Irvington and Kilmarnock) Merrior Tasting Room is the latest oysterrific incarnation compliments of the Croxton Cousins (Travis and Ryan) whose simple mission of "putting the Chesapeake Bay oyster back on the map" is without a doubt coming to full-on fruition. Whether these briny goodies are being featured on CNN or being served up by famed Chef, Eric Ripert at DC's West End Bistro, one thing's for certain, RROC's Stingrays, Olde Salts and Barcats are turning up all over the map.
And the best news is that now you can get your hands on these fruits of the sea for pennies on the dollar by hitting their new tasting room, Merroir. Open Wednesday-Sunday (hours vary, so check their Facebook page), the tasting room features a small yet mighty menu of oysters (steamed or raw) with a lovely trio of homemade sauces designed by Executive Chef Pete Woods. Piquant tomatillo, zesty homemade cocktail and a subtle classic mignonette are served up alongside Rappahannock River's famous Olde Salts, Stingrays and signature Rappahannock oysters ($15 per dozen or $1.50 each). Clams are $10 a dozen and $1.00 each respectively.
If you're lucky, Chef Woods still has a couple of his jumbo lump laden crab cakes left or a few overstuffed clams casino still available, perhaps even a platter or two of smoked/grilled lamb shanks with Gorgonzola butter and walnuts. When we were there, we were lucky enough to score the last of this season's bumper crop of blue crabs served steamed with the chef's homemade spicy crab seasoning.
Chef Woods at work in the"kitchen"
Merroir is definitely all about what's fresh and now. There's no deep fryer (so don't go asking for hush puppies and french fries) and no appetizer, entree, dessert menu. In fact, most if not all of the cooking is done on the outdoor grill (see above). This is a tasting room, so what you see is what you get, and the focus here is all about seasonal raw and steamed, so plan accordingly. In the meantime, there are plenty of beverage options to keep you satiated, including a nice offering of craft brews ($5 a pint/$4 bottle and up) and local Virginia wines (think Barboursville Pinot Grigio $23 a bottle) with each beverage carefully selected to accompany RROC's award winning oysters.

Stand and suck down your oysters at one of the outdoor oyster tables or grab one of several outdoor picnic tables overlooking the water. No worries if it's too cold, just pull up a chair at the cozy bar inside. Also, word is that Chef Woods plans to add outdoor heaters to help stave off those chilly Rappahannock breezes.

This is relaxed dining at its finest, so don't come here if you're in a hurry. Place your order inside, grab a table and enjoy the view because it is truly spectacular, especially on a sunny fall afternoon.

Everything is made to order and when your oysters arrive, you'll find that they are truly worth the wait. Shucked to perfection with plenty of remaining liquor, like the entire Merroir experience, they are meant to be savored slowly.

When it's time to head home, if you've still got a hankering for a few more Stingrays, you can always get a couple dozen to go along with a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer.

According Merroir's Facebook page, future events will include live music from time-to-time, and there was more than one mention of a raucous post Reedville Oyster Roast after-party happening in November.

So now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, let me offer a few final words of wisdom before you make the hour and half drive to this secret spot. I can't reiterate enough that this is very casual dining, so put aside any preconceived notions you might have about a sit-down restaurant. It's a tasting room with food.

Instead, put on a pair of jeans, a warm jacket and bring your oyster appetite. Be prepared to chill out with the locals and take in the water view. There is only one chef (and he's a super nice, hardworking guy), no actual kitchen per se, and when we were there, only one server for a whole host of tables both inside and out. Remember these tidbits and we'll all get along just fine.
In the meantime, check out this most excellent video oyster primer by The Modern Gentleman himself, Jason Tesauro, featuring Merroir with interviews, tasting notes and harvest updates.

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3 comments:

  1. Kendra~
    one of the best places EVER!
    Glad you found it, and SO glad I found Fatback and Foie Gras!
    Love, love your work!!

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  2. Possibly the best Chesapeake seafood I have ever had. Everything is incredibly fresh. I have been once each weekend for the past six weekends and enjoyed different "small plates" each time.
    I just discovered the best crabcake I have ever eaten. Go there and don't be shy.
    Note: Fast service and very good staff.

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    Replies
    1. I agree 100 percent. Thanks for stopping by!

      Kendra

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