Epic Oyster Food Column - June 28, 2019

Marc and Sarah Warner in their North Falmouth restaurant, Epic Oyster

“My goal in life was to open an oyster bar,” Marc Warner told me when we talked with his wife, Sarah, at the Epic Oyster on County Road in North Falmouth. “I had a good career selling wine, and Sarah was teaching, but even after traveling the world, we kept looking for a place. After starting a family, we thought maybe the oyster bar just wasn’t going to be—then we found out about this place.”

Customers rave about the restaurant: “Delicious fresh oysters and lobster from the old neighborhood… taste of the ocean in my mouth… it’s as if you have been going for years—very inviting and friendly, like family…seafood is absolutely fresh…this place is epic!”

And there you have it—the Epic Oyster! Marc said the name came to him in the middle of the night, after he and Sarah had taken a look at the property that had started as a diner in 1922. “It was originally a Tierney dining car, and in 1936 it came to Wareham. Then it came to this location, where it was known as the North Falmouth Diner, owned by the Eldridge family in the 1960s, then purchased by two longtime employees. They rented it out for a while, until we looked at it and I saw the potential as an oyster bar,” Marc explained.

They have been open for two years, and the accolades just keep coming. In 2017, the place was advertised as having a “Portuguese-inspired menu and (naturally) a selection of local, shucked-to-order oysters.” While working at Legal Seafood in Boston, Marc had a chance to attend the Cambridge Culinary Institute. “It was just four months,” he said, “but I really learned a lot.”

Both Sarah and Marc are from Portuguese families, and they wanted to use Portuguese flavors as much as possible in what they offered at the restaurant. “We hired a chef from Fall River, Marc Gomez, and we still shop a lot in Fall River,” Marc stated. “We’ve tried to build relationships with locals who produce artisanal breads and cheese.”

Sarah added that they intentionally added dishes to the menu that were favorites from home. “Cod cakes, Portuguese fish stew, shrimp Mozambique—we had lots of ideas from our travels, but wound up really focusing on Portuguese olive oils, sea salt, and cured meats like linguiça and chouriço.”

Marc insists that serving fresh Portuguese bread, and using the salt and oil from that part of the world, is what makes their place so successful. “I grew up in East Falmouth in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said, “and I learned that it’s not just about the freshest products, but also how to present your food. We have a totally separate room that we use to process the fresh seafood.”

They want everyone to know that although the place is small, they are always able to make room for people. “Reservations are good, but we now have extra parking, and during the summer, when we are open from Tuesdays through Sundays, there’s lots of space for people to eat both inside and outside,” Marc stated. “Don’t just drive by and assume we are full!”

I asked about favorite dishes on the menu. “We’ve been told we cannot take the crabcakes off the menu, or the grilled oysters, or the miso black cod,” Sarah commented. “But our non-seafood dishes—the ribs and the steaks—are also popular. On weekends we do a prime rib which everyone really likes also.”

But many customers insist that it’s all about the oysters. “We serve oysters from the Cape: North Falmouth, Dennis, Megansett, Popponesset, Eastham, and Wellfleet,” Marc listed. “Also from off-Cape: Island Creek in Duxbury, Moriches Bay, Long Island, Prince Edward Island, and Humboldt Bay, California.”

What I find interesting is that the oyster menu not only includes a full description of the various oysters (“sharp brine with soft meats and stony finish; bright fresh and mildly salty; honeydew finish, exotically delicious”) but also the names of the farmers. With all the focus on farm to table, this is the only place that I have seen farmers acknowledged in this way.

As both Marc and Sarah are fond of saying, “The world is your oyster—you just have to shuck it.” That’s what Marc does on a nightly basis. Here are a few of their most popular recipes for serving with oysters, as well as a couple of other items from the menu. For the true experience, however, one should definitely visit the Epic Oyster and sample the fabulous food yourself.

Champagne Mignonette

(for oysters)

1 shallot, minced

½ cup Champagne vinegar

2 TBSP Champagne or sparkling wine

½ tsp ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine; cover and place in refrigerator. Serve chilled with freshly shucked oysters.

Epic Wash

(for oysters)

¼ cup each: seasoned rice vinegar and unseasoned rice vinegar

1 large shallot, peeled and minced

1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

Half bunch cilantro, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir; serve alongside freshly shucked oysters.

Note: “These two sauces complement and enhance the natural flavor of the oyster. Traditional cocktail sauce tends to mask the oyster flavor.”

Mostly Crab Crabcake

(makes 4)

1 tsp dry mustard

1⁄3 cup plus 1 tsp mayonnaise

½ tsp horseradish

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, more to taste

2 TBSP Tabasco

1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning, more to taste

12 oz fresh jumbo lump crabmeat

½ cup finely crushed Saltine crackers

Whisk together dry mustard, horseradish, Dijon, mayonnaise, egg, Worcestershire, Tabasco and Old Bay; gently fold in crab and crackers without breaking up the meat. Refrigerate for one hour; preheat oven to 400°F; after one hour, divide crabmeat mixture into 4 equal parts and shape into patties. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until brown; serve with mustard sauce.

Mustard Sauce

(serves 4)

1 TBSP Colman’s dry mustard, or more to taste

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp A-1 sauce

2 TBSP light cream

salt

Place the mustard in a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer; add the mayonnaise and beat for one minute. Add Worcestershire, A-1, cream and a pinch of salt and beat until the mixture is well blended and creamy; cover and chill until serving.

Five Bean Salad

kosher salt

¾ lb each green beans and yellow wax beans, trimmed and halved

14-oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

14-oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

14-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 TBSP each: chopped flat leaf parsley and fresh oregano leaves

¼ cup Champagne vinegar

2 TBSP each: honey, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard

½ cup olive oil

ground black pepper

Peri Peri hot sauce or your favorite hot sauce

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a generous amount of salt and fresh green beans and yellow was beans and cook until beans are just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain well and shock in ice water; drain again and set aside. Place all beans in a large bowl. Add scallions, red pepper, parsley, oregano, vinegar, honey, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon and toss to combine; season to taste with salt, pepper and your favorite hot sauce.

Grilled Oysters With Escargot Butter

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 TBSP white wine

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

2 dozen local oysters, preferably larger because the meat will shrink while cooking

rock salt

Panko crumbs for topping

In a bowl, mix butter, shallot, garlic, parsley, wine, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined; lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and place butter mixture in the center. Fold plastic wrap over butter and roll into a log shape; refrigerate for at least two hours. To serve, rinse the oysters in cold water. Place oysters on a hot grill (preferably charcoal for flavor); once top shell pops open, pull top shell off. Add escargot butter and top with Panko crumbs. Cook 1-2 minutes until crumbs are toasted; serve immediately.

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