The Thames Street Oyster House is the kind of seafood restaurant Baltimore needs. Imagine if Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal had a younger, hipper sister who lived in a funky neighborhood. Well, she would be the Thames Street Oyster House.
On a recent visit for lunch, the raw bar (which also includes clams and other seafood) featured sixteen oyster choices—all sold individually and described on a separate menu which changes almost daily by origin, size, brininess, saltiness, and finish. They are accompanied by a choice of four mignonettes from traditional black pepper shallot to orange-ginger lemon, or horseradish, and Old Bay cocktail sauce.
I sampled some Rocky Shore oysters ($2.50 each) from Prince Edward Island: they were salty up front with a sweet finish, just as the raw bar menu described them.
If you’re not a fan of the raw bivalves, there are plenty of other options. The bulk of Thames Street’s lunch menu is devoted to cooked regional seafood with a strong New England influence—clam cakes, clam roll, a grilled Portuguese chouriço sandwich, several seafood salads—and oysters prepared a variety of ways.
For lunch, the soups are a stand-out. Their Rhode Island quahog chowder ($6/$7, available only on weekends), made with clams bigger than the palm of your hand, is creamy but not dairy-heavy. The broth is the star of the show, with the potato, bacon, and tender clams taking the backseat.
What’s the difference between a quahog and other clams? Taste-wise, they are saltier. One of the servers said that “eating a quahog is like getting punched in the mouth by Poseidon—but in a good way,” and that is an apt description.
Thames Street also serves a Maryland crab with short rib ($6/$7) soup with shredded beef, a pleasant alternative to the too-often-one-dimensional Maryland crab soup, and especially nice on a cold day.
Thames Street’s Cast Iron Crab Cake ($15)—made with East Coast if not Chesapeake Bay crab, I was informed—is pan-fried and served on a roll with remoulade and two exquisite roasted plum tomatoes and a side dish. It’s not your textbook Baltimore crab cake, but who’s complaining.
With its large dining room upstairs, outdoor seating with a fountain out back, and tables right on the sidewalk, Thames Street is a large place and as good a choice for cocktails as a business lunch or a family dinner. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The bar has a well-priced cocktail menu and prices go even lower during “Local Happy Hour” on weekdays. At the bar only, local and regional microbrews such as Dogfish Head, Heavy Seas, and Flying Dog are $4, and local wines and the Oyster House Hot Toddy are $5.
Bloody Mary drinkers, take note: Thames Street infuses its own horseradish vodka—as you can deduce by the gallon-size jar of booze and steeping horseradish root behind the bar.
The horseradish Bloody Mary, which I did not see on the bar menu but was told is a local favorite, was ordered by a regular with great delight—just as I was paying my check.
Thames Street Oyster House, 1728 Thames St., 443-449-7726, www.thamesstreetoysterhouse.com
by Danielle Sweeney