Grays Harbor, on Washington's central coast, is oyster country. The grey tidelands, covered twice daily by the cool, plankton rich waters of the Pacific Ocean, were practically designed to host the wholesome oyster. Like Willapa Bay, roughly twenty miles to the south, the long, unpolluted mudflats are prime oysterland.
The Blue Buoy Restaurant is a rustic cafe, placed across the street from Westport's docks. Its sea-blasted facade hunkers for shelter amid charter fishing outfits and sand dollar-selling souvenir shops. There aren't many places to eat in Westport, and during the summer, the Blue Buoy commands a captive audience.
I've arrived on a gray August morning. I am a bit surprised that there aren't more people about. During the summer months, Westport, with its handy beach access and sport fishing, tends to draw the crowds. But I am lucky. Today is an off day and I am able to find a table in the Blue Buoy without a wait.
Once again I am struck with how unfair any comparison with other oyster burgers will be. The Blue Buoy's menu clearly states that the source of their oysters is a large grower—Brady's Oysters—down the road near the bottom end of the South Bay. If the Blue Buoy wanted, they could probably call down to Brady's, and a boy in a pickup truck could run freshly-shucked oysters up for every order. I doubt if this is their system, but the point is that the oysters should be fresh, living at the moment they are shucked, breaded, and tossed into the fat. The Blue Buoy's proximity to fresh oysters gives them a homecourt advantage.
In other words, the burger better be great.
I place my order, along with a request for my standard glass of ice tea. Nothing goes better with an oyster burger, in my experience, than a glass of unsweetened ice tea. The ice tea is strong, in an intense, tongue-curling way.
The Blue Buoy boasts a rustic ship-lap interior. A ship's wheel is mounted over the door to the kitchen, between a large Japanese glass fishing float and a blue Coors beer sign.
The oyster burger, upon its arrival, fills its plate. It is presented, open-faced, on two hoagie rolls. I would call this a classic oyster burger: the inner surfaces of the roll have been toasted on the grill. Their faces were then slathered in tartar sauce. The left side of the roll supports a layer of iceburg lettuce that is topped with a layer of tomatoes. The right side featured five pan fried osyters, each of which is about the size of two thumbs placed together. Naturally there is the obligatory pile of french fries crowding the right side of the plate. As always in my reviews, the best french fries won't bring my rating up, but poor french fries will pull a review down. These fries are average; neither great nor banal. A serviceable potato stick, filler to cleanse the palate between bites of the main course.
So how was it?
Not as good as I had hoped. The oysters were marvelous, as expected. They were lightly breaded, and just short of crunchy, with a delicious, creamy interior. The tomatoes, on the other hand, were a bit of a let-down. They tasted as if they had been picked green, and left to ripen in a California warehouse. By the time they reached my plate, they were still a bit on the chewy side, and I fear that they pulled my overall evaluation of the burger down.
Naturally, there is an existential question that must be considered: do tomatoes belong on an oyster burger? Iceburg lettuce is hard to get wrong, and it adds a bit of texture. But a chewy tomato detracts from the overall oyster burger experience.
I had hoped to find the mythical oyster burger (the MOB) at the Blue Buoy. Unfortunately, they aren't quite there yet. If in Westport, on a long weekend, I would recommend their oyster burger, but I certainly wouldn't make a special trip out to Grays Harbor hoping that the MOB was to be found at the Blue Buoy.
The Verdict: 8/10. The Blue Buoy's oyster burgers are recommended. High quality oysters that are let down by their supporting cast.