Ye Olde Union Oyster House
41 Union Street, Boston, MA
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Diana, Diasala, Zit
The building itself is so old that there is no record of its construction; the street it sits on, Union Street, is known to have been laid down in 1636. Back then, the wharf was literally at the back of the building, which made docking and unloading goods and such a simple thing, as well as supplying ships in need of whatever the building's proprietor had been selling. We do know that oysters were not sold to the public till 1763, but that was in New York.
We don't usually extol the virtues of the building in a restaurant review, but this building is rather outstanding. The second floor was used as a pay station for the rebellious Continental army, and then was home to the exiled King Louis Phillipe of France, who taught French to fashionable young ladies of the day to earn a living.
The first toothpick was used here; the importer of this newfangled post-dining device apparently hired Harvard men to ask for them, to create a market for the things. The round oyster bar was put in place in 1826. Such men as Daniel Webster and John Kennedy dined here; the latter's favorite booth has a plaque dedicated to him; ask for table #18. It's upstairs having the tables to dine upstairs seems to be a Boston tradition (and throughout New England, too). It's a little weird thinking that the exiled King of France once lived here ...
But we came primarily for the food, despite being history buffs either our own or that of others'. We figure that any place which can claim to have been opened for 180 continuous years of business in the same location must be living on more than its history and good looks.
We love that you get slabs of cornbread when you sit down to peruse the menu, accompanied by pats of butter. A cup of chowder is assumed; we had thought we weren't that hungry and that should suffice for a light lunch, but one of us ordered a fish sandwich, then another decided that sounded good, then another ... one of us stuck to our order of oyster stew, since that is a sort of obsession. And we asked for more cornbread, too.
The chowder came, and it was really good creamy, thick not roux-gritty like some other chowders. You know the one, they are more like clam gravy. By the time it came, we were so hungry for it that we forgot to take a photo of the full bowl! It didn't have any vegetables in it other than potatoes, which is more a Boston thing, we think. But it was good and is considered a classic.
The oyster stew which is not really a stew, in that it's not cooked for a long time came out with a breadplate both under and over it. As a stew, it's a concoction that is created by searing oysters in butter, then putting milk, salt, pepper, and possibly sherry over it all. The oysters were small and overcooked they'd become hard, instead of meltingly soft. The flavor was good, and it's very rich. It's all one of us ordered for lunch.
The fish sandwich was tasty, and it was a full portion size, despite being ordered from the "For Children" section of the menu. (No, we weren't embarassed! Let's face it, a good fish sandwich is worth risking many things for!) We think it was scrod, which is a young cod, battered rather than breaded, and served with fries, cole slaw, and tartar sauce. It was curious that they gave us two half-sized tartar sauce tubs rather than a full one, but maybe they normally give one for kids. We are considerably bigger, so rated a bigger portion?
One of us also ordered other Boston classics: Indian pudding, and Boston baked beans. The beans are sweetened with dark molasses and salt pork. They were good, but none of us are molasses fans and we found the flavor very dark, almost burnt. The beans were tender, not overcooked, and they were good on white bread as a sort of sandwich, if you're into that! The Indian pudding was a disappointment, in that it tasted like over-spiced pumpking bread, with a texture like instant grits. It was very soupy and served under a rosette of cream, reminiscent of store-bought spray cream.
Overall, lunch cost about $14 per person. When we were seated, they gave us big and small versions of the menu, and they explained the smaller one was for lunch, but they had dinner offerings, so we got both. But they looked identical in offerings, so we were kind of confused.
While we waited for our food, we got to look around at the place. On the walls were hung patriot themed period-style paintings, and the plastered walls showed off the dark stained exposed beams. Windsor-style chairs were at the hardwood tables, and there were booths all over the space. People were murmurring, happy with their food, perhaps. Downstairs, the oysterman was plating up some beautiful sea creatures, including a big, big lobster with a big ramekin of drawn butter between its huge claws! We even managed to inspect their lobsterpound, where the live bugs awaited their fate for the sake of a diner's happiness.
The environment reminded us of our years living in New England, and made us nostalgic in a positive way. It made the food sweeter as we argued and reminisced like when were younger and knew less, but the world had seemed so big, then! We're all older and know better these days (we hope), but it's good to have a place that lets you have a vacation from too much wisdom, now and again.
Like other famous seafood places, they don't offer tons of things, and they cook the seafood simply. The only non-fish offerings were in the "For Children" section, where spaghetti could be found, and chicken tenders. Shame on you, no matter what your age, if you ask for these! Though spaghetti tossed in red sauce to accompany fish cakes might be an acceptable compromise ...
Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!