From Virginian-Pilot By Patrick Evans-Hylton
Driving across the Lesner Bridge in Virginia Beach, it’s easy to let your eyes wander to the expansive Chesapeake Bay on one side, and the bucolic Lynnhaven on the other.
While it’s hard to picture, with rising condominiums, noted restaurants and the comings-and-goings along Shore Drive, this was the space that helped define America’s idea of oysters.
A day after landing at Cape Henry, a number of the initial English explorers, who came ashore on April 26, 1607, made their way across the area. An expedition entered the Lynnhaven, and their diarist George Percy, who would later become governor, wrote:
“We came to a place where they (the Native Americans) had made a great fire and had been roasting oysters. When they perceived our coming, they fled away to the mountains (the very large sand dunes present then) and left many of the oysters in the fire. We ate some of the oysters, which were very large and delicate in taste.”
It was the first acknowledgment of how special those oysters were.
Lynnhavens have been lauded over the centuries. Napoleon relished them for their pure taste. Oyster houses near and far featured them; they were favorites of noted businessman James “Diamond Jim” Brady’s in New York during the 1800s. President William Howard Taft ate more than 10 dozen when visiting the region in 1909. And more.
The oysters have been special, too, to brothers Bay, Bruce and Craig McLaughlin, born and raised on the shores of the Lynnhaven. In 2021, they founded First Landing Seafood Company to capture the memories of their childhood, and to share the love with others.
“We found it incredibly hard to find Lynnhaven oysters consistently,” says Bay. “(We wanted to create) a delicious, fresh, and clean Lynnhaven oyster (available) anytime and anywhere.”
Along with waterman Joey Carmack as operations manager, the McLaughlin brothers began their project on 70 acres of prime oyster leases in Broad Bay. They worked the water daily, growing and harvesting native Lynnhavens and working with groups like Lynnhaven River Now and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation to insure the bivalve’s future.
“(We began) selling our first oysters during Thanksgiving 2021,” Bay says. “Consumers were incredibly happy to have the Lynnhaven oysters back on a regular basis.
Bay notes that the first oysters are called Lynnhaven Legacies, a tribute to the brother’s father, uncles, cousins and grandfather.
They “helped build the foundation for the business on the Lynnhaven. These are the oysters that your daddy’s daddy, and your daddy’s daddy’s daddy, knew and loved,” Bay says.
The Lynnhaven Legacies are wild-caught, just like the ones enjoyed by the colonists more than 400 years ago. Bay notes the balance of salty and sweet in the shellfish, a flavor profile sought out worldwide.
Some of the Lynnhaven Legacies are allowed to grow a bit longer, and are between 4 and 6 inches. Bay calls them Lynnhaven Monsters.
Now, in June, the company launches Lynnhaven Fancies, noted as America’s First Oyster.
Bay says the name derives from a description by Queen Victoria. The distinctive, plump, oyster, which is cultured, lives up to its name.
The Lynnhaven Fancies are a flavorful offering with medium salinity and a high meat-to-shell ratio.
“They are crips, salty, and sweet with hints of floral,” says Bay.
Look for the oysters in restaurants across the region, including The Atlantic on Pacific, Dockside Seafood Restaurant, Tin Cup, Orion’s Roof, Steinhilbers and Yiannis Wine and Food Bar in Virginia Beach.
Folks can pick up some from noon until 3 p.m. Fridays at Browning’s Marine and from 9 a.m. until noon Saturdays at the Shore Drive Farmers Market.
Want to shuck and slurp some at home? Consider serving them with a classic topping. Local Chef Chris Boehme shares a recipe for Strawberry Mignonette.
3/4 cup capped, washed and finely diced strawberries
1/2 cup peeled, finely diced baby cucumber
1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1-2 tablespoons chopped mint, optional
In a medium, nonreactive bowl, add strawberries, cucumber, shallot, vinegar, and, optionally, mint. Whisk to incorporate and allow sauce to rest for five to 10 minutes for the flavors to meld.
Spoon atop a freshly shucked oyster
Patrick Evans-Hylton, PatrickEvansHylton@gmail.com