Oysters are legendary in Virginia, prized since the days of the earliest settlers, and a menu staple today in Williamsburg seafood restaurants. None other than John Smith, leader of the Jamestown Settlement in the 17th century, spoke of the bounty of James River oyster beds and led his group in making oysters a crucial part of their diet. In addition to their storied culinary past, oyster shells served another unique purpose. After converting the hard oyster shells into lime and plaster, colonial-era builders ingeniously repurposed them, forming the foundation of many buildings throughout Williamsburg. Ever since, oysters have continued to be a celebrated part of our culture, landscape, and way of life.
Since the heyday of oysters along the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia peninsula – the area produced over 160 million pounds of oyster meat annually in the 1800s – the Crassostrea virginica, or eastern oyster, has come back into vogue, along with a dedicated effort to restore their habitat in our local waters.
Indulge your taste buds and tap into this local culinary tradition at Berret’s and Casa Pearl, both part of the Virginia Oyster Trail of restaurants, and where the oysters are unlike any you’ve ever had.
Consistently voted as the best seafood restaurant in town, Berret’s has been serving and specializing in seafood dishes for 40 years. Just two blocks from our historic Williamsburg bed and breakfast, anchoring a corner location on Francis St. with a beautiful patio, it’s one of the more popular eateries nearby. In addition to their famous crabcakes, their oyster selection is unrivaled, with various preparations and options for baked, fried, and raw oysters. To taste their wide-ranging seafood options, start with the appetizer sampler, which includes delicately fried calamari, crispy crab puffs, and your choice of baked oysters.
Move on to the standalone oyster section of their menu, featured at lunch (11:30 am - 3 pm) and dinner (3 pm - 8:30 pm), which has an option for every palate. To dive into the flavors of local oysters, choose from a half-dozen of the York River or James River raw oysters, each with nuances reflecting their harvest locations on opposite sides of the Virginia peninsula. Their version of oysters Rockefeller, a quintessential dish, is incredibly decadent with the added touch of mozzarella cheese. To mix it up even more, try one of their unique baked oyster dishes – one comes with crabmeat and ham, while another has a “southern” twist with sausage, tomato, and pimento cheese.
They are open for lunch and dinner daily, so squeezing your oyster outing at Berret’s into your schedule while in Williamsburg is convenient. And with their center-of-town location, plan your meal during a day of shopping at Merchants Square or after touring the Colonial Williamsburg historic area. Reservations are a good idea on weekends, but patio tables always are available on a first-come, first-served basis – and even if there’s a wait, you can relax in their cozy back bar and sip on a local microbrew while you wait for your table.
Although relatively new to the Williamsburg restaurant scene, Casa Pearl has quickly developed a reputation as one of the most popular places to indulge in creatively-prepared oysters.
Their hip space is on the Merrimac Trail (just a 5-minute drive from your Fife and Drum Inn room) in a converted gas station, with a husband-and-wife team running the kitchen and front-of-house, bringing their extensive culinary experience to every oyster, taco, and cocktail they serve. Head chef Mikey Maksimowicz apprenticed and cooked in restaurants up and down the eastern seaboard, developing a love for oysters in Charleston and an appreciation for tacos while in South Florida.
It all comes together in a flavorful fusion menu at Casa Pearl, starting with their raw bar, with Virginia oysters prepared with red wine mignonette, cocktail sauce, and lemon. Oysters and pearls – a nod to their name – showcases Minnie Pearl oysters, harvested in the nearby York River and known for their perfectly round shape and clean taste. Minnie Pearls are a great introduction, even if you’re an oyster newcomer or hesitant to try them raw. Their char-grilled oysters are a favorite, too, prepared with lemon-parsley butter and parmesan.
It wouldn’t be a complete visit to Casa Pearl without trying the Oyster Po-Boy Tacos, made with cabbage, salsa, and remoulade, merging unlikely flavors and traditions delightfully and surprisingly.
Stay with us in Williamsburg, where oysters have been on the menu for centuries!