True to Form

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In the culinary moment where farm-to-table is a given, True Chesapeake Oyster Co. is the first Maryland oyster farm to open a restaurant featuring oysters raised on its farm in Southern Maryland’s St. Jerome Creek.

The 150-seat restaurant is now open in the renovated Whitehall Mill in Clipper Mill. Its arrival on the restaurant scene is the result of the longstanding friendship and teamwork between Patrick Hudson, the farmer, Nick Schauman, the founder of The Local Oyster, and Zack Mills, the new restaurant’s chef.

The menu naturally revolves around the oysters —raw, roasted and in signature dishes such as classic Rockefeller — complemented by varied seasonal entrees ranging from yellow perch with caramelized peaches to grilled pork loin with ramp spaghetti. General manager and beverage director Chelsea Gregoire, well known among our city’s cocktail crowd, also will offer fun departures on classics as well as original oyster shooters and an extensive wine and bubbles selection.

At an expansive 4,500 square feet, the eatery encompasses two dining rooms with wraparound bars made of oyster-shell terrazzo. There is an elevated shucking station clad in weathered copper and an outdoor bar with patio seating that will be offered in the spring. There is also an open kitchen that soars with 40-foot vaulted ceilings and a wine cellar with plenty of options to pair with your favorite mollusk.

In collaboration with architect Alexander Design Studio, local designer Kate Giese, who owns the firm KGID, restored a corner of the former sailcloth factory, to mind the frosted glow of a raw pearl.

“The main focus of the architectural and interior design has always been to work with what we have,” she says.

“We wanted to keep the integrity of the building but outfit it for [its] new life as a restaurant as gently and respectfully as possible. We had to build new walls obviously, but where we did that, we clad it in a beautifully stained cedar wood that feels very at home amongst the old, exposed and historic brick.”

Across the restaurant, artwork from award-winning Chesapeake Bay photographer Jay Fleming hangs from the walls. But, the focal centerpiece of the restaurant, according to Giese, is the wraparound bar made of True Chesapeake oyster shells, crushed and suspended in a solid surface that she refers to as “oyster-shell terrazzo.”

“For this one, we were able to use oyster shells from the True Chesapeake farm in St. Mary’s County,” she says. “We shipped them down, crushed them up, along with glass and other substrate materials, and then it was suspended. It’s just really special to us that we have the raw material of what built our farm and our company right there on the countertops.”

On top of the bar is an elevated serving trough made of stainless steel that showcases the fresh oysters, clams and steamed shrimp, among other delicacies.

“Patrick has always wanted to have the experience of sitting down and eating oysters and talking with your shucker or server about where they are from and how they are grown to taste differently,” Giese says. “It’s about sharing experiences.”

The restaurant has been in the works for years, she says, and she is eager for the public to finally experience it.

“We have really been dreaming of this for five or six years now. We would talk about all the elements that we wanted to bring into the space in terms of history and about the really unique customer experience we wanted to build,” she says. “It’s been a really wonderful experience working together, and now that it has all come to fruition, it’s just really exciting.”

3300 Clipper Mill Road, truechesapeake.com

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