Canadian Atlantic oysters are known
around the world as
being among the best. Connoisseurs order them on the half shell, naked, for meaty texture and rich, earthy
flavour — allowing the pure taste of the cold Atlantic to fully express itself.
Yet Canada’s geography, with its two distinct coasts, means excellent examples of two species of oyster can be shucked and served on a bed of ice with a cold glass of Muscadet, all year round. Moreover, production since the mid-1900s has never been higher. This is the golden time for the Canadian oyster industry.
Lifestyler employed the expertise of John Petcoff, oyster fanatic and resident expert at Toronto’s Oyster Boy — celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011 — for a guided tour around Canada’s pearls.
“The oyster beds in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were so full they used to rip them up for fertilizer until the 1880s,” he explains. “Today they are much rarer, but P.E.I. is one of the last places in North America you can find wild oysters.”
In Canada there are two species of oyster: The Virginica (American oyster), found on the East Coast, and the Gigas (Pacific oyster) from the West Coast. “The difference between the Gigas and the Virginica is like the difference between white and red wine.” After that the taste is defined by the region (New Brunswick, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, B.C.) and the rest is the terroir, or as Petcoff describes it, the “merroir.”
So, what about the old adage, never eat an oyster if the month doesn’t have an “r” in it? “All oysters can be enjoyed all year round,” Petcoff clarifies. “But the quality fluctuates. June and July is usually spawning season, so the flavour is meeker, but they all spawn at different times so at Oyster Boy we just buy what’s the best quality.”
Generally, oysters from B.C. are best between January and June, and mollusks from P.E.I. are at their best between fall and Christmas, but also superb during the spring. Again those from New Brunswick are best in fall, but the cool temperature means they are great all year round.
The resurgence of interest in oysters has been coupled with the welcome recognition of looking for foods as local as possible. This means the menus in restaurants specializing in oysters will also have some excellent in-season shellfish and fish, often from the area. Fresh mussels, calamari and the less popular clams can all be found in the best restaurants.
“Now is an exciting time for the oyster industry. Here in Oyster Boy we have seen a complete change in demographic. Now we get groups of young girls coming in and ordering oysters on the half shell. That didn’t happen 15 years ago.”
Canada's Best Oyster Bars
Ferris’ Oyster Bar (Victoria)
This restaurant is renowned for its fresh oysters and inventive dishes, and loved for the lively and inviting atmosphere with locals.
Joe Fortes (Vancouver)
Self-proclaimed as “Vancouver’s Best Oyster Bar,” Joe Fortes prides itself on the exceptional flavours and hospitality. This atmospheric joint has been a favourite for more than 25 years.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Claddagh Oyster House (Charlottetown)
Claddagh’s inspired oyster dishes, including Crispy Fried Island Oysters, complement dishes selling P.E.I.’s finest seafood
Oyster Boy (Toronto)
When Oyster Boy opened on Toronto’s Queen Street West 10 years ago, the hip logo and modern decor changed how the city thought about oysters. It still remains the coolest place to eat oysters.
Rodney’s Oyster House (Toronto & Vancouver)
Rodney’s has a long and illustrious reputation for serving the best oysters in Canada. In its history it has become an incredibly popular restaurant in Toronto and in Vancouver, shifting more than a million oysters a year. Its menu also includes chowders, mussels, scallops, lobster and crab, alongside clams and periwinkles when they are in season. An unmissable oyster restaurant.
Little Louis’ Oyster Bar (Moncton)
Chef Pierre A. Richard infuses his passion and experience into promoting local and unique flavours. Little Louis' Oyster Bar is a casual dining experience, often with live entertainment, that allows you to enjoy your oysters, drinks and company.
Lucille’s Oyster Dive (Montreal)
A graffiti painting of a blonde 1950s pinup girl sitting on a giant oyster shell and waitresses in nautical garb welcome you to Lucille's. For a seaside oyster shack experience, Lucille’s is the place to be, whether on the outdoor patio or at the indoor bar. Try the Oyster Shot or Oyster Mary Martini.
Learn how to shuck oysters from Oyster Boy's John Petcoff: