With spring in full swing, and summer’s sizzle on the way, you may find yourself grappling with epic seafood cravings: the perfect way to capture the breezy, salt water tinged air even when you’re stuck in the city. There are few finer places to dine on the fruits de mer in Center City than the Oyster House on Sansom Street, a well-loved Philadelphia institution. Family-owned for generations, the cheery, fresh dining room is lined with while tiles and decorated with an impressive collection of vintage oyster platters. Plenty of high-top tables along the front the windows are perfect for enjoying a cold beer and a dozen raw oysters on the half shell during the popular “Buck-a-Shuck” happy hour. Seats at the bar are great for grabbing a quick drink or knocking back a couple of oyster shooters – try “The London:” a raw oyster floating in a shot glass of dill gin, spiked with cucumber and lemon. Or, nab spot at the raw bar to watch the Oyster House’s shuckers endlessly pop shells open like it’s the easiest thing in the world. The dining room in the rear is an intimate space with plenty of comfortable seating.
With graduation, Father’s Day, and plenty of other reasons for celebrating coming up, the Oyster House’s “Dump Dinners” are fun seafood feasts meant to be shared with friends. With 48 hours notice, groups of 6 or more can treat themselves to a real New England-style experience: steamed clams, mussels and Maine lobster with merguez sausage, kale, potatoes, and corn are brought out to the newspaper-covered table in dramatically large tin steam pots and guests can dig right in. The base price for the dinner is $25 per person, though for an additional $15, the meal starts off with a chilled raw bar sampler (oysters and clams on the half shell and shrimp cocktail), brought to the table in the plateau style, elevated on stands to tantalizing eye-level. Another $20 per person gets the booze flowing with all-you-can-drink Narragansett tall boys, white and red wine, and a seasonal punch.
Of course, you can always just order drinks from the bar with your Dump Dinner to sample some of the Oyster House’s brand new cocktail creations. The “Sunday Silence Julep” is just what the doctor ordered for muggy afternoon sipping: Rittenhouse Rye with amari, sugar and mint. To conjure beachier locales, try the “Brickhouse Punch,” a summery combo of gold rum, ginger beer, and lemon. Seven craft beer taps, a non-intimidating bottle list, and a decent wine selection round out the beverage list. Rosemary lemonade, ginger beer, or virgin bloody marys are available for kids or teetotalers, too.
For bivalve lovers, the standard menu does not disappoint, with oysters and clams done up all kinds of ways: BBQ’d, roasted, drenched in butter, and stirred into soups. A burger, lobster roll, crab cakes, and larger plates, like a seared shad and pan roasted monkfish are hearty choices for dinner, and shrimp and grits, smoked fishcake hash, and the fried oyster studded “hangtown fry” even work the seafood angle at brunch.