Not everyone likes oysters. Jasmine Norton wants to change that.
In spring 2017, the self-taught chef burst onto the city’s farmers market scene with her Urban Oyster stand. She char-grilled bivalves and loaded them up with cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce, like oysters Rockefeller for the 21st century. She fried them up into tacos. She even served them raw, for those who wanted them that way.
Earlier this year, Norton opened her first brick-and-mortar restaurant in South Baltimore’s McHenry Row complex. The Baltimore-born chef says it’s the first black-owned and woman-owned oyster bar in the state. For Baltimoreans, it offers a place to get a new twist on an old staple.
First impressions: Located next to a juice shop and near a tanning salon, fast-casual Urban Oyster is a refreshing addition to the mixed-use McHenry Row. Inside, the space is bright white and modern, with impressionist blue paintings of oysters on the walls. Hip-hop blasts on the speakers. After ordering from the cashier, you can take your order to go or sit at one of a few tables available. Board games like Jenga are available to pass the time while you wait.
Must-tries: For some of us, it’s a point of pride to eat oysters without any adornment. But don’t let that stand in the way of trying items like the delicious, grilled “BBC” oysters, topped with bacon, barbecue and cheddar.
We also enjoyed the crunchy fried oyster tacos ($16.50), packed to the gills with oyster meat and topped off with honey cilantro slaw, and a side of chicken wings ($11) seasoned with honey and Old Bay.
Special touches: The Urban Oyster seems destined to become a happening happy hour spot. After-hours diners can choose from an array of cocktails, including a pineapple daiquiri made with pineapple liqueur ($10). Wednesday evenings are buck-a-shuck nights, when customers can buy raw oysters for just $1. From Thursdays through Saturday evenings, the menu offers two different steamed seafood pots, such as the $30 Level Up, made with snow crab and lobster tail.
Pro tip: The oysters may be designed for the masses, but they’re still oysters. They’re not cheap. The one entree-sized salad on the menu is $21.50. It’s a good value; for that price, you get a crab ball and a salmon filet surrounded by jerk shrimp and Parmesan crisps, all on top of your lettuce. Still, regulars may wish for some more economical options. My dining companion and I had no problem spending nearly $100 for lunch, including tax and tip.
The bottom line: At this creative new venture, oyster fans can whet their appetites, and oyster naysayers may be converted into fans.
1704 Whetstone Way, Locust Point. 443-948-5898. theurbanoyster.com. Serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday; open until 6 p.m. on Sundays. No reservations.