Everyone in the city might know the story of Union Oyster House (http://www.unionoysterhouse.com), but not everyone has had the chance to eat there. Well if you get the opportunity, take it. It is a once in a lifetime night to eat at America's oldest restaurant.
Housing a dress shop and a printer's press, the location is a historical landmark worth seeing for both tourists and locals alike. The building has relatively maintained its original facade and foundations. Taking a step back, it is easy to see how the exterior resembles the small replica inside near the hostess' stand. Brick and mortar with more windows than you would expect and located on a corner of a now bustling street and a side alley, it is truly a sight to behold.
Entering the establishment and you will be either greeted by the helpful gift shop employees or the large and historical bar that wraps around most of the first floor, depending on which entrance you take. There is also a small oyster bar that overlooks Congress street and the live schucking to dazzle the guests. But don't be fooled or dismayed by the slightly cramped downstairs, upstairs is where the action lies. The large dining room is filled with low lighting, giving it an almost candlelight appearance. Every table is its own private vehicle, guiding its occupants to culinary satisfaction.
Upon being seated, ice water and fresh, hot cornbread and butter were offered. An unusual choice but delicious nonetheless. The bread was soft and gritty, as it should be, with the butter slowly seeping into the pores and crevices, creating a mouthful of childhood delight. The waitress was prompt and knowledgeable, even offering a suggestion and answering some menu questions as needed.
Starting off with a half dozen oysters was no question. They came served on the shell with a side of lemon, Tabasco, and cocktail sauce (plus extra horseradish). Dress them to your palate and enjoy. I personally do a dab of cocktail sauce and light squeeze of lemon, perfectly blending with the creamy and smooth texture of the oyster. Or if you want to save room for the main course, share a plate with a friend. Even if you don't like oyster, try at least one. They are famous here after all!
For the main event, the Union Special Lobster is sure to impress. Although be forewarned, "market price" can fluctuate from $35-55 for the meal. So you may want to ask your server what the price is that day. However, if your stomach, and wallet, can handle it, go ahead and order. It comes chock full of seafood stuffing and topped with its own claws for effect. It is served with a baked potato side. The fluffy stuffing overflows and is crammed into every piece, including the tail. Eat the stuffing, pull out the juicy lobster meat, and enjoy slowly.
Another option you could also enjoy is the Seafood Newburg, although the sherry sauce may be a bit rich for some customers. A wonderful mix of all the favorites: lobster, scallops, and shrimp surrounding a puff pastry, where the sauce pools from and served with a side of rice pilaf. The creamy sauce engulfs the plate and plunges the brain into a fog of deliciousness. The rice gives a nice counterweight to the heavier meat portion and the puff pastry adds a bit of flair and crisp texture, both add a unique quality to the plate.
Both dishes are wonderful and the other menu options leave little to be desired as well, unless of course you're not big on seafood. In which case, how did you end up at Union Oyster House to begin with? There are a couple of turf choices but this writer can't vouch for any of them.
Overall, the experience was worth having. The names on the wall of famous visitors, the nostalgia of another era, the Sox playing ball; all of it culminated in an enjoyable and tasty night out.
Now, for the few things I didn't like. Even on a good night, or so I'm told, the wait for Union Oyster House can be over an hour long (sometimes two!), and that was definitely the case when I went. The hostess' manners left something to be desired and the system of logging new guests and tracking reservations for seating was rather antiquated. Pen and paper is no longer the norms in restaurants and I highly suggest that America's oldest restaurant try to keep up with the changing times. Old you may be, but you don't have to be outdated. Also, while Sam Adams and Harpoon are fantastic (and Boston brewed) beers, the tap selection should at least include some seasonal selection. Not a Shipyard Pumpkinhead or even Harpoon Pumpkin to be found.
Union Oyster House does what it does well: seafood, in its many forms. And I would recommend going and would also recommend a reservation, planning ahead never hurts. Enjoy the history, enjoy the food, enjoy the experience.