The Oyster Rock reinvents the Calabash cast with great food and waterfront views
There’s something soothing about sipping a craft beer out of a mason jar on the back porch of The Oyster Rock. The brand new restaurant—opened by the same folks who own Clark’s Seafood and Chop House, The Boundary House and Callahan’s of Calabash—is a striking sight along the Calabash River, docked amidst shrimp boats and still waters.
The front façade of the waterfront building is impressive, dressed in cedar plank siding that climbs up a central lighthouse-like tower surrounded by blue-grey Bermuda shutters and topped with signage that rivals the Vegas strip, complete with a rotating neon-lined oyster shell. The oyster is the main attraction, after all.
Inside, the look is modern-nautical with an exposed white brick wall painted with the logo mural on one side of the open space dining area and a sleek bar on the other. Since it was a warm night cooled by a gentle breeze, we decided to dine alfresco in the back with a better view of the water.
We chose to pair the Southern humidity with ice-cold beers as we munched on complimentary crabby chips (sliced potatoes dusted with Old Bay) and a whipped seafood dip and looked over the menu. The creative verbiage of The Oyster Rock menu is to be appreciated because—admit it—menus are typically boring. But they shouldn’t be, as those words are the first impression that preps the chef’s creation on a plate.
Under “Whet Your Appetite,” we chose an appetizer called Mussel Beach, which was a combo of pad rice noodles tossed in a sweet-spicy Thai coconut-basil curry sauce with five large, broiled green-lipped mussels lining the bowl. The mussels had lots of tender, meaty muscle and were delicious when scooped out of the shell and spun into a spoonful of noodles. There were so many close seconds in the appetizer section, including Tuna Lagoona (seared, medium rare ahi tuna, chilled and thinly sliced and folded into crispy-fried wonton pockets filled with Asian slaw, diced mango, fresh cilantro and citrus crème) and the Little Piggy River Rafts (grilled crostini topped with crisp pork belly, blue crab meat, seaside aioli, sour apple slaw and Lexington barbecue drizzle).
“The Main Plates” options all sounded irresistible, but I wanted to use my hands (“Use Your Hands” is actually the sandwich section title), and I held on tight to the Twin Tuna Club, which was double the pleasure. Two buttery, warm croissants were filled with grilled tuna fillets, crispy fried onions, crescent slices of avocado, crumbled goat cheese and bacon, Bibb lettuce, and a kiss of remoulade sauce. The handheld handiwork was a brilliant blend of ingredients, bite for bite. Plus, I chose (amidst Southern savories like hushpuppies, Carolina chopped slaw and Calabash collards) a side of Tabor City Sweet Potato Crunch, reminiscent of a marshmallow-crusted sweet potato soufflé dessert.
For his entree, hubby chose soup and a salad—and what better soup to go with than the Oyster Rock’s oyster stew? Generous helpings of fresh-shucked steamed oysters bobbed in a broth of milk, cream, butter, sea salt and cracked pepper. Classic, simple and irresistible. His “Eat the Greens” salad was the Flamed Romaine, a garden beauty thrown on the grill then shown some more love with crumbled goat cheese, chopped smoky bacon, crispy fried onions and a citrus vinaigrette dressing.
I predict that my future relationship with The Oyster Rock will include the same perfect view of the Calabash River, along with a pot of juicy oysters steamed out on one of their riverfront outdoor pits, which weren’t quite in place the night of our visit but were set to open soon. There are plenty of raw fish and oyster options to order from The Sea Bar, including oysters on the half shell, peel-and-eat shrimp and King Neptune’s Iced Seafood Sampler for four (clams, oysters, mussels, crab claws and shrimp). I’d love to bring friends to nibble on a spot from “The Board Meeting” charcuterie boards, and I’d also love to dig into one of the entrees in “The Main Plate” section, the Deep Treasure, which was a close second to my tuna fillet sandwich and features cast iron-sealed large diver scallops with a lemon risotto cake and lime beurre blanc.
There’s something enticing about The Oyster Rock, in all its looks, location, kind customer service, food creativity and clever menu promotion. It gives you a reason to want to return, again and again.
The Oyster Rock
9931 Nance St.
Calabash, N.C. 28467
Hours: Open 4-10 p.m. Wednesday through Monday