Published: December 13, 2013 | Last Modified: December 18, 2013 12:42PM
MYSTIC — The Oyster Club on 13 Water St., open for just a shade over two years, has been named the best upscale restaurant in the state by the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
For co-owner and general manager Daniel Meiser, partial owner and executive chef James Wayman, and business partner Jason Steadman, the recognition is a testament to the passion and hard work of everyone involved. A little innovative thinking doesn’t hurt, either.
Their success was acknowledged at the annual Salute to Excellence Dinner, hosted by the association at Mohegan Sun on Dec. 3. Last year, Connecticut Magazine named the restaurant as having the best seafood in the state.
The restaurant has been open only since Sept. 28, 2011.
“We are still a relatively new restaurant, but what I think we’ve brought to the area, and to the state, is an enthusiasm for the products we work with and what we do with them,” Meiser said. “The meat from local farms, the seafood from local fishermen or the beers and the wine we serve. We take it very seriously. The way we cook is the way Americans ate before World War II, and is the same way people across the world eat today and always have.
“It’s shopping daily. It’s sourcing locally. It’s eating seasonally.”
The owners are proud of the results, the dining experience, the food and the building. Meiser said that Wayman and his team were magicians in the kitchen.
“What they put out there is amazing and people recognize that,” he said.
Wayman, 41, has been in the business his whole career. He gives his staff a lot of credit for their success because they share the same passion.
“You can’t do it alone,” he said.
The two say they are lucky to be located in Mystic because the farmers and fishermen here give them quality food to work with.
“They make it easier for us to let the food shine on the plate,” Wayman said.
After opening, the dining spot was very busy by the next spring, and the demand was too much for the restaurant’s seating capacity of about 60.
“We were turning away 70-100 people a night,” Meiser said.
Wayman and Meiser liked the view on the ledge in the rear of the building, overlooking the river, and imagined that a few picnic tables would be nice. Being industrious, they broke out the tape measure and envisioned what is now known as the Treehouse. The outdoor bar and deck tucked away in the trees with a view of the Mystic River became a reality thanks to some clever planning. Completed and used this year, there might be nothing like it along the entire coastline.
“It’s a different experience, maybe a little more casual and family friendly,” Meiser said.
Said Wayman: “It’s unique. It’s on a hill looking down at the river and we cook for you, basically right there.”
They are also planning to open a butcher shop and another restaurant (see related story, this page).
Local purveyors are a key to the business. Most of what they serve originates within 30 miles of Mystic. In the winter, for example, most of the fresh vegetables are grown in area greenhouses.
Wayman, a native North Carolinian, was previously executive chef at River Tavern in Chester for seven years, where he built a reputation for local food. Meiser, 35, grew up in Manchester. He operated several restaurants, including the Firebox Restaurant in Hartford, and after helping to start the restaurant at the Ocean House in Westerly, he fell in love with the area and remained.
Nicole Griffin, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said the Oyster Club was nominated in the upscale restaurant category and a committee of board members narrowed the nominees to five finalists. The nominees were posted on the association’s website and people voted for their favorites over about a two week period.
“Voting was open to the public and we received over 8,000 votes on our website,” Griffin said.
Published: December 13, 2013 | Last Modified: December 13, 2013 11:32PM
MYSTIC — A new restaurant and butcher shop are opening in the downtown area, courtesy of Daniel Meiser, general manager of The Oyster Club, and its executive chef, James Wayman. Both are partial owners of the club and the new ventures.
The pair are hoping that a restaurant at 14 Holmes St., the Engine Room, will be open in time for Christmas. They are also working on bringing a butcher shop and wine bar to 15 Water St., in the first floor of the former Emporium.
“It will be called the Engine Room because that space was originally the J.W. Lathrop Marine Engine Company,” Meiser said of the property at 14 Holmes St. “From 1897 through World War II, they built some of the finest marine motors in America.”
One such engine will be there on display, courtesy of Mystic Seaport.
The interior has been stripped to its origins, showing the restored brick walls and polished concrete floors, thick wooden beams and reclaimed lumber. It will also have a fully open kitchen. The renovations were designed by Field and Co., a custom home builder and general contractor based in Mystic.
“People that have been there before, when it was Riverwalk or Trader Jack’s, will not recognize it,” Meiser said. “We gutted the inside leaving just the four walls and ceiling.”
Wayman said, “It will have 16 beers on draft and a bourbon bar. The food will be locally sourced American comfort food classics, such as the hamburger. There will be a choice of five different burgers and appetizers, and we will be staying open for late-night.”
There will also be some Southern cuisine, like fried chicken, brisket, hushpuppies and braised greens — staples of Wayman’s native North Carolina.
“Southern cuisine is uniquely American, so it will one of several things that are highlighted,” Meiser said.
As if that weren’t enough to keep them busy, the two are also planning to lease the first floor of the former Emporium and open a butcher shop. The building is owned by the Mystic Arts Center, which purchased the property earlier this year. It is now being renovated.
“We wanted to bring something new to the area, something that hasn’t been seen in this immediate area for maybe 50 years,” Meiser said. “It would be great for the locals, something to catch people’s attention. To have a restaurant like this and have a butcher shop next door that’s cutting its own meat and making its own hams, in the food world, that’s national attention.”
According to Meiser, an art gallery and artists’ residence will occupy the second and third floors. The first floor will house the butcher shop and the basement will become a wine bar. The space has been cleaned, cleared and the floor jackhammered, adding about one foot of headroom.
“The stonewalls look great and the building itself is beautiful. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in Mystic,” Meiser said.
“We’re very excited to be there,” added Wayman.
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PHOTO BY JULIE BIDWELL
THE WHELK, WESTPORT: “These restaurants–The Whelk and Oyster Club–buy local, sustainable fish, and that’s very important to me. Of course, the chefs at these restaurants also know how to cook fish perfectly.” -Elizabeth Keyser
Chef James Wayman is a North Carolinan who gained a measure of fame in eastern Connecticut cooking at River Tavern in Chester before coming to Oyster Club when it opened last year. Among his signature dishes are a crispy Thai fish salad and a non-traditional but much-loved lobster roll (mayonnaise or butter? neither: apple butter) sprinkled with crispy shallots and served with hand-cut fries sprinkled with celery salt and cayenne. Recent menus have included things like hubbard squash soup with quince and lobster, handmade memelas (Oaxacan corn cakes) with braised goat and pickled piquillo peppers, red wine-braised stew of calf’s heart and tongue with black lentils, pan-roasted swordfish with ginger and miso-carrot purée, and a slow-roasted New York strip steak with “rich potato purée” and leek and wild mushroom sauce — plus an almond brown butter cake with blueberry compote for dessert.
At a recent special-event dinner at Oyster Club, Wayman served fried cardoons with mint, fresh Point Judith squid simply sautéed with garlic, squash-enhanced polenta with wild mushrooms, and baby goat braised with cranberry beans, with sautéed goat liver, kidneys, and heart on the side — all of it superb.
There is a terrace in front of the restaurant, most attractive in good weather, and a small but bustling bar with an “oyster bar” — serving a small selection of bivalves from the Mystic area and neighboring Rhode Island — at one end, really just a corner of the bar with a sociable oysterman shucking as fast as he can. The restaurant’s happy hour, weeknights from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring $1 Noank oysters and $2 Narragansett beer, has got to be one of the great deals in Connecticut.
written by Stephanie Lyness.
SAMPLING the lobster roll at Oyster Club in Mystic is practically unavoidable. In one guise or another, it is one of the few constants on a menu that changes daily. Though not a big fan of this shore-side standby, I was converted at first bite. The version on the day I visited (a Saturday in December) combined fat chunks of succulent lobster meat with a delicate mix of truffle oil, parsley and parsley oil. The lobster was stuffed into a house-made potato roll spread with apple butter and topped with crisp-fried shallots; accompanying it were thick-cut fries sprinkled with a flavorsome mix of celery salt, paprika, homemade garlic powder and cayenne that made it easy to forgive the less-than-crisp fries. Continue reading
Now that “farm-to-table” has hit a fever pitch, sea-to-table might be the next movement in fine dining. And Mystic’s Oyster Club seems poised to lead the pack, with its ever-changing menu focused intently on fresh New England seafood.
But owner Daniel Meiser doesn’t see his new restaurant, which opened in late September, as a potential trendsetter.Sourcing locally is simply the responsible thing to do, he says.
“As long as I’ve been in the restaurant business, I’ve been a big believer in it. And the more people that do it, the better it is for everyone involved.”
Each evening’s menu — written fresh daily by executive chef James Wayman — comes courtesy of a network of about 20 Continue reading
Mystic’s newest restaurant located at 13 Water St., opened several weeks ago, and if the number of people who attended Saturday’s celebration is any indication, the restaurant has quickly become a local favorite.
Co-owner and manager Stonington’s Dan Mesier, co-owner Jason Steadman and Executive Chef James Wayman wanted to create a restaurant that combines “bountiful fresh seafood from nearby coastal waters with produce and meats sourced from local farms.”