Thanks to restaurants like Sushi Den, Jax Fish House, and Stoic & Genuine, Denver has been shedding its reputation as a seafood wasteland. Not only have these spots put their sourcing practices in the spotlight, they’ve also managed to challenge the “myth of coastal superiority,” along the way.
The Mile High City’s current appetite for fresh-from-the-ocean oysters is at a fever pitch—so what better time for a local hospitality development group to partner with a Long Island-based shellfish farm for a Denver eatery? Concept Restaurants (the team behind Humboldt Farm Fish Wine, Stout Street Social, Rialto Cafe, and others) and the Blue Island Oyster Company are seizing the moment with Cherry Creek’s sparkling new Blue Island Oyster Bar. The oyster farm-linked restaurant model is relatively novel. According to Blue Island Oyster Company CEO Chris Quartuccio, this is only the second partnership of its kind in the United States—and it’s the first to open in a landlocked state.
This is one restaurant that truly puts the bivalve front and center, as evidenced from the moment one steps foot in the pearlescent entry way, which director of operations Sean Huggard designed to feel like stepping inside an oyster. One wall boasts an oversize map of New York’s Great South Bay, where the Blue Island team harvests many of the oysters daily. Along the bar, metal oyster baskets brimming with ice display the shellfish front and center.
Even if you’ve sampled oyster offerings all over town, you’ll find some proprietary selections to slurp at Blue Island. The slightly vegetal Blue Island #9, for example, which comes straight from the farm, as well as the trademarked Naked Cowboy, a briny variety that grows wild in the Long Island Sound. My favorite, however, was the Shibumi, a petite, deeply cupped oyster that’s farmed to Quartuccio’s specifications in the Puget Sound. Its smoky, complex finish might give one of Denver’s West Coast favorites—the Kumamoto—a run for its money.
The best way to experience the breadth of Blue Island’s menu, executed by chef DJ Nagle, is to order the “Chef & Shucker” (pictured), a smart marriage of charcuterie board and seafood tower. This two-tiered stunner houses some of those Blue Island #9 oysters, Long Island littleneck clams, and peel and eat shrimp on the bottom. On the wooden board above, you’ll find salmon rillettes, grilled bread, garlic salami, tuna poke, seafood salad, and cheese drizzled with local honey. For $49, the tower is enough to serve three to five people—and make everyone else in the room say “I’ll have what they’re having.”
Blue Island Oyster Bar opens daily at 11 a.m., 2625 E. Second Ave., 303-333-2462, blueislandoysterbar.com