Bivalve Revival

In the early aughts, Rappahannock Oyster Company was revived to critical acclaim by cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton, the grandsons of its founder. Today, business is booming and the pair has been credited with helping to breathe life back into one of the state’s favorite industries. 

Ryan and Travis Croxton

We managed to catch up with the Croxtons somewhere in their busy schedule running their oyster farm and attached tasting room in Topping, two restaurants in Richmond, and three oyster bars in Washington, D.C., Charleston, South Carolina, and Los Angeles. The cousins offered an inside look at Rappahannock’s meteoric rise, and a window into why their oysters taste so darn good. 

What are the most popular varieties of Chesapeake Bay oysters in your restaurants and what differentiates them? 

Rappahannocks are our best seller, but it’s fairly even across all of our varieties. Oysters take on the flavor of the waters they’re in, and the lifestyle they enjoy, whether that’s calm water, rough currents, or the nutrients and minerals they take in. 

 Is Virginia getting recognition for its oysters outside of its borders?

You’d be hard pressed not to find a Bay oyster on just about any raw bar menu in America these days, and it’s probably going to be the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Virginia is the largest producer of oysters on the East Coast, and that title seems firmly held.

How do Chesapeake Bay oysters compare to other oysters around the world?

You really can’t argue taste, but you certainly can be partial. In terms of taste, the majority of the world grows Pacific oysters, which have a subtle mineral flavor, whereas here on the East Coast, we tend to favor the crisp, sweet virginica.

Oysters can be prepared and served in so many different ways. Do you recommend one way over another or does it just come down to personal taste? 

We’ll often say that we don’t care how you eat them, as long as you eat them. Our go-to is just a touch of lemon and a little fresh grated horseradish. It opens the oyster up without really smothering its unique flavor. 

How did your family business evolve from being a harvester of oysters to running multiple restaurants? 

We started with a simple tasting room at our farm, which became Merroir, our first restaurant. We quickly recognized that a restaurant provided us the opportunity to share and expand other people’s oyster stories.  

Where do you see Rappahannock River Oysters in 10 years? 

We see us continuing our commitment to innovation, like with our newest product line, the once extinct Chesapeake Bay Scallop. Ten years is a long time, but we’re confident wherever we are our continued work will be to the betterment of the Bay and our foodways.

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