If you’re a seasonal eating type of person then a New England summer invokes connotations of fresh seafood and trips to the seashore. I enjoy seafood year-round (let’s face it, most of it is frozen before it gets to us lay people anyway), but somehow it just tastes better in the summer. There are all kinds of places to grab a bite of fresh seafood in New England ranging from the beach-side shacks to the fine dining establishments. I enjoy both equally, but when I’m on a budget, then some simple clam cakes and chowder hit the spot just fine. Matunuck Oyster Bar is a kind of hybrid between fine dining and the sea-side shack. They serve simple fare like lobster rolls and raw oysters, but the preparation is nothing short of gourmet. I had the opportunity to try my first lobster roll from Matunuck at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, RI where they had a booth set up. If you haven’t checked out that earlier post, let me sum it up by saying that their lobster roll blew my mind. Recently, I took a trip to Matunuck Oyster Bar’s restaurant location to try more of their food on their home turf.
Matunuck Oyster Bar
629 Succotash Road
South Kingstown, RI 02879
Service and Atmosphere
It would be an understatement to say that Matunuck Oyster bar is at a beautiful location. It’s not right on the beach, but it sits right on an inlet of water just a short way away from the beach.
The view is breathtaking and the ocean scent of the mild breeze flowing over their outdoor patio heightens the already fresh flavor of their seafood. If you haven’t guessed already, Matunuck has quite a following. People flock from all over to sit and enjoy the location as well as the food. That means that if you try and go during a prime time like dinner, you’re facing a potentially very crowded almost club-like situation. Nonetheless, the long waits for seating are somewhat milder when you’re looking out over the water and chatting with friends.
As far as the service goes, everyone at Matunuck is very friendly and genuinely hoping to make your visit an enjoyable one. When I first walked in to the restaurant where the skilled employees were shucking oysters and clams at a raw bar, an employee came out from behind the bar and immediately asked my girlfriend and I if we wanted to place an order for drinks or oysters. We did, obviously, so it worked out for everyone.
The raw bar at Matunuck is excellent. In fact, we ordered oysters twice on this one visit. Once, to try out all the different kinds and once to eat more of the ones we liked best. They do a great job and the seafood is all very fresh. It should be considering that Matunuck farms their own Matunuck oysters as well as imports other types from the mostly local area. Matunuck’s own oysters are somewhat in the middle range of all areas. They aren’t too salty or too sweet. They aren’t too strong or too mild, and they aren’t very small or very large. If you enjoy a well-balanced oyster then Matunuck oysters are for you. They also offer other kinds that are larger, smaller, sweeter, saltier, etc., so at Matunuck, the world really is your oyster (sorry, I couldn’t resist). If I had one mildly negative comment about the raw bar, it would be that the jumbo shrimp were a little over-cooked and at $3.50 per piece of shrimp, they were over-priced as well (you can get a cup of chowder for the same price!). They had a great, mild, shrimp cocktail-type flavor (which is what they are going for), but I would probably pass on them if you’ve already had the novelty of a jumbo shrimp cocktail. Otherwise, I could park my butt at Matunuck and eat from their raw bar if my wallet could handle it.
Before I move on to yet some more amazing food, let me get this one issue off my chest. At Matunuck, I was happy to pay for everything at the moderate to sometimes high prices for such incredible seafood. On the other hand, I actually blinked and did a double-take when the bartender told me that the 12 oz. plastic cup of Narragansett Beer I just ordered was $5.00. Yes, that’s right, $5.00. If you’ve never heard of Narragansett, it’s a pretty good lager with a 5% ABV. It also usually retails in Rhode Island bars at about $1.50 to $2.00 for a 16 oz. tall boy. In Boston, you can find it for $3.oo. Simply put, there is just no excuse for Matunuck charging $5.00 for such a basic beer. It’s one of those cases where they know you’ll pay if you really want a beer. In any event, that’s my one solidly negative rant. On to happier things!
When we finally got a table and were seated, I knew immediately without looking at the menu that I would be ordering a lobster roll. I loved the first one so much that it wasn’t even a question. My girlfriend wanted to try something new though, so she went with an Oyster Po’ Boy. The po’ boy was wonderful. The fried oysters weren’t overcooked or rubbery and the dressing in the sandwich was just the right amount. I was very impressed with the little I tasted of it. This was right in line with the quality of when I went to New Orleans and had a famous Mother’s Shrimp Po’ Boy. It was far better though than the fried oyster po’ boy I had in New Orleans though and that’s saying a lot.
With the praise of the Fried Oyster Po’ Boy out of the way, it’s on to the main event – the Lobster Roll. I’m not sure any amount of exclamation can really do this sandwich justice. The fresh, giant chunks of lobster were lightly dressed so that the incredible sweetness of the lobster really shined through. The very light mayo dressing complemented the lobster rather than overpowered it. Many lobster rolls of lesser quality need to cover the taste of sub-par lobster with a lot of mayo. If you have fresh, high quality ingredients though, you don’t need to mask the flavors. Another star quality of the sandwich was the over-sized New England-style hot dog or sub roll. The size was perfect for containing the mountain of lobster without giving the feeling of too much bread. The lightly toasted and perfectly buttered sides of the bun deliver the last one-two punch that the sandwich needs to make it such a ridiculously unbelievable experience. The buttery bun adds another layer of flavor to the lobster and the light crispiness of the roll gives some crunchy texture which allows for less lettuce in the roll. At only $16.95, this plate of lobster and fries is a bargain. After this meal, I can unequivocally say that Matunuck’s Lobster Roll is easily in my top three favorite sandwiches of all time. As I write this, I can’t quite think of what the other two sandwiches are in my top three, but I’m just hedging my bets.
Go here. I can’t stress it enough. It’s a local Rhode Island business that supports local ingredients and the high quality of the seafood coupled with the atmosphere make Matunuck a place worth the trip. Expect long waits, loud crowds, and limited standing space during peak hours, but the food is worth the wait. Otherwise, try and go during their less busy times. Also… the Lobster Roll. Do it.