The streets of Downtown Mystic, Connecticut are lined with many beautiful, historic buildings which play host to Mystic’s bustling restaurants and popular shops. Perhaps
the most striking of these buildings is Oyster Club, an acclaimed restaurant situated in a vibrantly blue-hued, converted clapboard building dating from 1902. Since it first opened in September 2011, Oyster Club has become one of the most popular restaurants in the Mystic region. Following a wildly successful first year, the restaurant expanded into the skies and built an alternative seating space known as The Treehouse, an outdoor bar and deck offering stunning views of Mystic and even more stunning food. The restaurant has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Oyster Club is renowned for changing its menu on a daily basis. I have been to the restaurant several times and each time the food has always been delicious but never the same. For many visitors this is the cornerstone of Oyster Club’s appeal. I was keen to interview co-owner and general manager of Oyster Club Dan Meiser and to find out from Dan all about how Oyster Club operates, the philosophy behind the changing menu and what he loves best about his restaurant being situated in Mystic.
I am fascinated to hear Dan explain how an early twentieth century carriage house became a modern, twenty-first century restaurant: Dan tells me that the process was involved but thanks to a hardworking, creative team and a clear vision it was also quick and issue-free.
“To turn that carriage house into Oyster Club, we had to remove twenty dump truck loads of solid granite out of the Mystic ledge to make room for the dining room and peel back the ledge on the south side to build the bar,” Dan explains, “We had an incredible design team with local architect Michael McKinley of Stonington and our engineer Greg Fedus of Mystic. The pace at which we built Oyster Club was nothing short of amazing. We broke ground on July 7 of 2011 and were open for business on September 27.”
Since that day in September, Oyster Club has developed a reputation for using fresh local produce, which is transformed into delicious and exciting meals. “Oyster Club’s philosophy is simple,” Dan explains, “We let the seasons and the product availability determine what’s on our menu. When myself and our chef James Wayman got together to put together our plan for Oyster Club, we both came into the discussion with an understanding that Oyster Club would be one of the truest examples of farm to table restaurants in the region.”
Dan explains that he was motivated to operate the restaurant in this way in large part due to Oyster Club’s amazing location. “Mystic not only has access to some of the finest seafood in the world, but we also have a wealth of small farms and artisan producers,” Dan enthuses, “To not utilize these resources seemed foolish to us.”
The menu at The Oyster Club changes daily, but the restaurant has a few staples which remain firm favorites: “Our dry aged beef burger, hot buttered lobster roll and handmade pastas are always available,” says Dan, “They just change slightly with the seasons.”
Oyster Club has created many popular dishes over the years: the daily changing menu inspires creative new meals on a regular basis.Dan tells me his personal favorite dish Oyster Club has served was created by chef James last year: “Every winter we host an annual Pig & Oyster Dinner,” explains Dan, “At the dinner we celebrate two of our favorite things, oysters and pork. Last year we did a classic Tuscan porchetta with forest foraged pork from Firefly Farm in North Stonington. To date, it was the finest tasting meat I have ever eaten.”
In its first year of business, Oyster Club proved so popular that staff found themselves forced to turn people away. Dan and his team became aware a solution was needed and so the idea for The Treehouse was born. “The Treehouse was born out of necessity and imagination,” explains Dan, “After our first season at Oyster Club, we quickly realized that we needed more space, because as busy as were and have continued to be, we were turning away dozens of people a night.” Dan and his team envisaged The Treehouse as a place where “guests waiting for a table in Oyster Club could enjoy a drink, enjoy a light bite and sit up in the trees.” The Oyster Club’s newest addition quickly became a major hit and developed a reputation of its own, famed for its cocktails, quirky set up and beautiful views. “The Treehouse has quickly become a venue entirely independent of Oyster Club now,” Dan tells me, “It has a full outdoor kitchen, separate menu and dedicated staff. The Treehouse has the same commitment to excellence in service and sourcing as The Oyster Club and we offer guests an amazing meal under the stars with views of the Mystic River.”
Dan has been operating restaurants in the New England region for several years. He is the man behind renowned Hartford restaurant Firebox and helped establish Rhode Island’s famed Ocean House hotel. It is evident from everything Dan says that he loves working and living in the New England region, but he emphasizes that he particularly loves the community atmosphere of Mystic. “Oyster Club has an incredible group of regulars from all over the region, who dine with us on a consistent basis and truly get what it is we do at Oyster Club,” Dan tells me. “Our local hero is a gentleman by the name of Whit Davis. Whit is truly a national treasure, still living on and operating the Davis Family Farm, which is one of the oldest farms in the United States, dating back to the 1600′s. We buy his cornmeal, which is the finest meal we’ve ever encountered to make our cornbread.”
Supporting local businesses, using local produce and creating a friendly community atmosphere for residents and visitors alike is clearly at the heart of everything Oyster Club do. It is not a surprise Oyster Club has become such a hit. Dan and his team are passionate about what they do and incredibly passionate about Mystic.
“What do you like best about living in Mystic?” I ask Dan at the end of our interview. “It’s New England at its best,” he smiles, “Whether it’s a day on the water, a sunset cocktail with friends or hunkering down on a cold winter night, it all speaks to tradition, history and quality. It’s where I will always call home.” Here’s hoping Dan and Oyster Club will remain staples of Mystic, Connecticut for many years to come.
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