By Ed Staskus
“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.” King James VI and I
“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.
“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.
“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”
“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.
“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.
A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.
“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”
“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”
“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”
“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”
“All right, but what about dinner?”
“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”
“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”
“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.
“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”
The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.
“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”
“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”
It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.
There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.
“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”
Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.
“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”
“Who’s they?” asked Frank.
Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.
She wondered, how could you tell?
“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.” It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”
“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”
“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.
“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.
“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.
“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”
“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”
“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”
“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.
Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.
“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.
“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”
“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.
“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”
“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”
“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.
“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”
“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.
“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”
“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.
“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”
“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.
“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.
“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.
“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”
“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.
Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.
“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.
“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.
“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”
Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.
“From the wide end,” said Kieran.
He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.
“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.
“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”
“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”
“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.
“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.
“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.
“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”
“Blackberry Point was very salty.”
“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”
“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.
“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.
“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.
“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”
“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”
“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”
“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.
“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.
“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”
“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.
“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.
“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”
“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.
“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”
“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”
“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”
“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.
“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.
“Do you have carrot cake?”
“It’s made here.”
“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”
As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.
“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.
“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”
“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”
Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.
“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.
“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.
“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”
“Where You Are.”
“I know where we are,” said Vera.
“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.
“Aha, I see,” said Vera.
“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”
They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls,” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.
“How could you even tell?” she wondered, as the lights went down and the show started.
Photograph by Vanessa Staskus
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.