Wylder Hotels held its first Oyster Restore Afternoon last weekend, which included a tasting of different Tilghman Island oysters. Courtesy photo.

Build Reefs, Get a Taste at “Oyster Restore Afternoons”

We’ve finally entered the months ending in “R” here on the Chesapeake, and tradition tells us it’s time to get excited about oysters. The Choptank River is home to several aquaculture operations, making it a perfect locale for one to spend a day dedicated to the Bay’s best bivalve.

Wylder Hotels in Tilghman Island is offering “Oyster Restore Afternoons” on a couple of upcoming Saturdays. Guests get an immersive oyster experience—first building oyster reef habitat, then learning about how they grow in farms (versus in the wild), and finally getting to eat them.

Locals, visitors and hotel guests alike can book the experience. It begins with a unique approach to providing oyster habitat: building reefs out of hockey sticks. Yes, hockey sticks. The nonprofit Rink2Reef Chesapeake Bay collects donated broken hockey sticks to build reefs and in some cases, sells them to fund more spat-on-shell oyster restoration. Among the hockey organizations they work with is the Washington Capitals, whose marketing team spent a weekend at Wylder learning about aquaculture and building reefs from Caps hockey sticks.

At upcoming Oyster Restore Afternoons, participants will not only build hockey stick reefs but also get an education in the importance of oyster restoration. Then, they’ll get to learn about the oyster farming process and the different varieties of oysters served on the half-shell at Wylder’s onsite restaurant, Tickler’s Crab Shack & Restaurant.

Wylder Hotels General Manager Kristin Seymour Bram says people are fascinated to learn how the oyster’s environment can impact its taste, appearance, and even how difficult it is to shuck. On the Choptank, oysters from two farms on the same river, growing just 10 miles apart, can taste noticeably different.

Tickler’s raw bar currently carries oysters from Choptank Terrapins, raised right off Black Walnut Point on Tilghman Island, Tilghman Island Oyster Company, which come from all around the island’s waterways, and Chincoteague or Assateague Oysters, as well as a couple of national options to try.

The next step, of course, is for Oyster Restore attendees to learn to shuck their oysters. Some varieties are harder than others, Bram says, and even some of the same local oysters can be harder or easier to shuck depending which week they were harvested.

Finally, the eating part of the day happens. Participants get a half-dozen raw oysters to taste and their choice of an oyster po’boy or oyster pot pie. And for those who love to learn about oysters but not necessarily eat them, several other menu items can be substituted.

Wylder is very proud of the great lengths they go to in keeping their menu ingredients local. Bram tells Bay Bulletin, “80 percent of the menu comes from purveyors within a 50-mile radius. The beef is from Salisbury, the lamb from Easton, the seafood from markets within 20 miles.”

Produce like lettuce, tomato and basil comes from different farms in the mid-Shore area. Bread is baked in-house or elsewhere on Tilghman Island, and the mayonnaise, cocktail sauce and other sauces are made onsite at Tickler’s, too.

Oyster Restore Afternoons are being held Sat. Sept. 24 and Sat. Oct. 1, 3-5 p.m. Anyone who buys tickets to the event can get a 20 percent discount on a weekend (minimum two-night) stay at Wylder Hotels. There is live music every Friday night and Wylder is both pet-friendly and family-friendly. To attend an Oyster Restore Afternoon and book a stay at the hotel, call 410-886-2121 or email [email protected]

-Meg Walburn Viviano