The Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore has enjoyed many cameo roles in movies and television like Enemy of the State, Veep, and everyone’s Netflix favorite, House of Cards. While large mansions and marbled fountains give the neighborhood the distinct air of old money, tucked away in a cellar of one of these stately buildings is a hidden gem where a regular guy or gal, like us, can order a fine tray of oysters and a cocktail or three to wash them down.
We caught up with Dylan’s Oyster Cellar proprietor Dylan Salmon to learn more.
What got you into the oyster and cocktail business? Nice choice by the way.
Honestly, it was from replying to a Craigslist ad for an oyster shucker. However, I have always been very into food and was drawn to the French view of the oyster as a near perfect food: it grows its own bowl to serve it in, produces its own sauce (the liquor), tastes of its own terroir, and might be the only truly sustainable seafood. As I worked as an oyster shucker I became obsessed with them, dragging my girlfriend to oyster farms and bars as we went on vacations. The cocktail side of things came as I began bar tending at the same oyster house. I have always loved mixing drinks and what better with good seafood then good drink?
Say I’m trying oysters for the first time, any tips before I dive in?
I’d say have an open mind, and don’t be scared first off. Just a little lemon is really all you need, I would always avoid cocktail with good oysters. Remember to slurp from the rounded bill of the oyster. Give the oyster a few chews, swallow it, and savor the flavor. It’s like kissing the sea on the lips.
“…the French view of the oyster as a near perfect food: it grows its own bowl to serve it in, produces its own sauce (the liquor), tastes of its own terroir, and might be the only truly sustainable seafood”
Like wine, there seem to be all these nuanced flavors when it comes to oysters. What are some of the words I should use after I slurp to sound sophisticated?
Well the big word seems to be “briny” and it is a very vague word. To some people it means very salty, some confuse it with brackish. To me I see it as a mild form of salt, with high salt being as salty as they get. Moving on from briny, there is the word sweet. Sweet to me is the absence of salt, and the oyster’s liquor is almost neutrally flavored. Moving on, there’s the textural qualities: crisp, silky, plump, buttery, creamy, etc. Then there are the flavors. Oysters can run the gamut from fruity to coppery to sweet cream to mushroom to nutty and the list goes on and on. The flavors are sometimes more subtle than others so again, no cocktail sauce as you will only taste that.
I want to serve oysters at home but I’m nervous about buying them. Any tips?
I would say to check out some of the mail order options online. You can order small quantities of great oysters shipped overnight right to your door. Check out Island Creek Oyster Farm in MA. Or you can get good local oysters from Frank’s Seafood in Jessup, MD. Just make sure you check the tags on the oysters. They will tell you the harvest date. Never buy oysters out of the water for more than a few days if possible. The fresher the better. Then once you have them, get a bunch of ice and cut up some lemons and get to shucking. There are lots of good demo videos online just make sure you are careful and use gloves and a towel as you learn how to shuck.
You guys serve up some delicious cocktails. What’s your most popular right now?
We just came up with one called The Green Oyster, using tequila, some of our watermelon shrub, and some locally grown cilantro flowers. It’s a perfect pairing for a salty West Coast oyster’s cucumber flavor. Also, there’s the Gin Dandy, our take on a Gin Buck, and our first cocktail.