Rising Tide

Rising Tide

In a neighborhood where, for untold centuries, people could simply wade out into the water and return with a meal of oysters, a young upscale restaurant is bringing back the pride, if not the rustic tradition.

Arriving at the Quinnipiac River Marina (map), it took me a moment to notice Fair Haven Oyster Company’s dark circular sign floating on shingles painted maritime blue. Inside, a ribbed bar extends up the left opposite a column of tables under porthole windows and stained plywood walls, giving the dining area the coziness of a ship’s cabin. Towards the stern, floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead to a well-sized deck overlooking the docks and the river.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Inside at the bar, I chatted with Shane McGowan, co-owner with Emily Mingrone, about the menu and how the boaters and marina workers have taken to it. “We didn’t know how well we’d be received, but we’ve become a neighborhood hangout,” he says, adding that he hopes more restaurants will open nearby. Contributing to the emerging destination vibe are nearby Airbnbs, a kayak launch and collaborations with Armada Brewing a mile away.

Oysters, of course, are on the menu. Several east coast varieties make up an a la carte list that averages roughly $3 a piece. The mid-sized Prom Queens were balanced and delicious, and they’re only available at FHOC. They come from a small farm in Stonington that doesn’t distribute; bartender Marcello Petrone picks them up daily on his way to work. My other favorites were the meaty and briny Puffer’s Petite (Wellfleet, MA) and the delicate Aphrodite (Thomaston, ME). McGowan touted the Ninigret (Charlestown, RI) as a crowd-pleaser and recommended the palm-sized Wianno (Cape Cod, MA) for those with more peculiar tastes. 10 or so wines are poured by the glass, but I didn’t hesitate to order a very nice Muscadet ($13), the classic oyster pairing.

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Yale School of Music

As for cooked food, the Whole Grilled Sardines ($16) were a delight to discover. Rarely offered elsewhere, mine were perfectly grilled, fatty and super fresh, complemented by a bright Nardello pepper conserva and parsley salad. (Expect tiny, edible bones.) I didn’t try the Uni Toast ($24) or dueling Hot and Cold Lobster Rolls ($36 each), but I’ll be back for them. New England classics such as the Fair Haven Clam Chowder ($9), a brothy Rhode Island style, are also on offer. And if you’re hankering for fish and chips, the clear choice is the Beer Battered Hake ($24), with crispy potato wedges, malt vinegar mayo, pickled mustard seeds and fennel slaw.

The cocktail menu is also worth exploring. The Trade Winds ($14), a savory tequila and sherry-based riff on an Old Fashioned, was how I finished my evening. I was very interested in the River Maiden ($14), featuring brine made with local kelp (harvested just a few doors down from the restaurant)—McGowan describes it as a twist on a Gibson Martini—and, since I shamelessly love a piña colada, the Last Monk Standing ($14), an herbal rendition spiked with green Chartreuse, which sounds like it could ease the transition to winter.

Once winter comes, the oysters, made sweeter by colder waters, should do the rest.

Fair Haven Oyster Company
307 Front St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 4-9pm
(203) 745-5741

Written and photographed by Katie Lloyd.

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