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EATING OUT: Taylor Shellfish: Barbecue on the beach

Jul 12th, 2011 | Category: Features, Food, Reviews

by Jessamyn Tuttle

One of the real perks of living near Puget Sound is being able to eat really fresh shellfish. I grew up eating crab and clams (not to mention the inevitable backyard summer salmon grills), but for some reason have only recently discovered the incredible world of oysters. Once converted, I was wildly excited to discover a place where I can buy them fresh and local year round – the Taylor Shellfish farm store off of Chuckanut Drive, on Samish Bay.

Purchase your seafood and condiments inside the store and then head out to the barbecue area at the beach. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Taylor Shellfish, a family-run operation, has many growing and harvesting locations all over the Sound, a shop down in Shelton as well as the one in Skagit County, and is opening another this month in Seattle’s Melrose Market. Each shop features seafood from all of Taylor’s farms, not just that location, so even if they aren’t harvesting the plump Samish Bay oysters when you visit, they are likely to have oysters from Willapa Bay, Skookum Inlet, Eld Inlet, Oakland Bay or Totten Inlet, as well as fresh clams, mussels, geoducks, and live Dungeness crab, all harvested from the Puget Sound/Salish Sea region.

To get to the Samish Bay store, get onto Chuckanut Drive, either heading south from Bellingham or north from Bow. Right at the hairpin turn at Oyster Creek, turn into the Oyster Creek Inn parking lot (an especially tricky maneuver when coming from the north), and holding your breath, start down the one-lane driveway that plummets down the hillside. There is a turnout partway down, so if you meet another car one of you will have somewhere to go to allow the other to pass. Follow the road down to the bottom of the hill and along the railroad tracks, then (cautiously) go across them – these are active tracks! When you get to the piles of bins, fishing nets, a large crab tank and the shucking shed perched above the tideline, you’re there. Find a place to park, take a deep breath of seaweed and oyster shells (depending on the tide it may be particularly fragrant), and head for the shop.

Inside the store, full of fresh seafood. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Inside is a bit dark and damp, as with many fish markets, but full of the clean smell of fresh seafood. An assortment of literature on shellfish farming is available next to a tank of live Dungeness crab, several bins of ice topped with bags of enormous Pacific oysters, smaller buckets full of clams, mussels and specialty oysters like Shigokus and the tiny native Olympias, and a large deli case. Here you can find smoked fish and oysters (from Leo’s Gourmet in Elma and Ekone Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay, respectively), pickled herring, and all of the possible condiments for shellfish eating that you could want.

Most people come here for takeaway, whether it be a crab or two for that night’s dinner, frozen scallops, halibut, prawns or abalone, or several pounds of live clams packed in ice for transport. But if you can’t resist the lure of a dozen fresh oysters, you can buy them along with a few condiments and a new oyster knife, then take them straight out to the beach and eat them raw, flinging the shells back into the bay. Or have an impromptu barbecue at one of the prepared picnic areas on the beach: the store sells garlic butter and cocktail sauce from the Rhododendron Café in Bow, as well as charcoal, breadcrumbs, crackers, lemons, and Tabasco, so all you need to provide are drinks and side dishes if you so desire. The picnic areas are not currently available to reserve, but we can usually find a space free, especially on weekdays. The view across Samish Bay towards Anacortes and the San Juan Islands is fantastic, even on a cloudy day, and there are frequently bald eagles gliding overhead and herons out on the tide flats. We came here for our anniversary last summer, eating oysters in the sun at high tide. It was perfect.

Taylor is open for business seven days a week, barring only a few holidays. Its big moment of glory is the Bivalve Bash, an annual event scheduled around a particularly low tide, to allow for the Oyster Sculpture contest and the Mud Run. Live music, competitive oyster shucking, and vast quantities of shellfish are involved, all in the name of promoting clean water and sustainable shellfish farming. If you want to experience the bounty of Puget Sound, this is a great way to do it; the next Bivalve Bash is on Saturday, July 16.

Taylor Shellfish Farms is located at 2182 Chuckanut Drive in Bow and can be reached at (360) 766-6002. For more information, visit taylorshellfishfarms.com.

Jessamyn Tuttle lives in Mount Vernon, and thinks about food far too much. You can find more of her writing and photography at www.foodonthebrain.net.

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