Sean Huggard

Blue Island Oyster Bar Now Open In Cherry Creek

By Elizabeth Woessner | Online Editor

Serving up Coastal Comfort Food

The much anticipated Blue Island Oyster Bar {2625 East Second Avenue, Denver; 303.333.2462}, a new oyster-centric restaurant from Concept Restaurants—the group behind Humboldt :: Farm Fish Wine—is finally open in Cherry Creek. Inspired by the food found in small New England coastal towns, the 100-seat Blue Island Oyster Bar is a casual, unpretentious, “dock-to-dish” eatery, serving up affordable clam shack favorites.

Sean Huggard, Director of Operations at Concept Restaurants, sums the restaurant up as “a cross between what would happen if an oyster shack was taken over by a chef or a gastropub was taken over by an oysterman.” Here’s a peak at what you can expect to discover at the soon-to-be Cherry Creek favorite.

It’s All About the Oysters

Oysters are front and center here, as is reflected by the raw bar, the décor, the menu, and even the management team. Chris Quartuccio, owner of the renowned Blue Island Shellfish Farm off the coast of New York’s Long Island, is a financial partner and co-owner, making Blue Island Oyster Bar the first oyster farmer-owned Colorado restaurant.

Guests can sit at the oyster bar and interact with the shuckers while slurping down the earthy, toothsome East Coast Naked Cowboys, or the plump, sweet West Coast Shibumi oysters. Quartuccio is responsible for all of the restaurant’s oysters, which he meticulously sources from both coasts. Many of the oysters are exclusive to Blue Island Oyster Bar, flown in daily, and change with the season. In addition to raw oysters served with cocktail sauce and mignonette, guests can enjoy roasted oysters with garlic butter, Parmesan, and Ritz cracker crumbs, or cornflower-crusted fried oysters with Chef DJ Nagle’s housemade tartar sauce.

Inside Blue Island

Touches throughout the space harken to the New England oyster shack theme with modern, sophisticated flair. The entrance wall was designed to mimic the interior of an oyster shell and the restaurant boasts a full-wall nautical rendering of Long Island’s Great South Bay (if you look closely, you can see the submerged Blue Island Oyster baskets just off the coast of Sayville, NY).

The centerpiece of the restaurant is the oyster bar adorned with fresh oysters on ice displayed in traditional shucker’s baskets just waiting to be shucked and slurped. The enormous custom-made ceiling installation floats above the bar and resembles giant wooden oars. The far wall depicts underwater photographs of oyster divers collecting their treasures.

The Menu

Executive Chef DJ Nagle’s menu is inspired by the East Coast beachfront meals of his childhood. The Stuffies are giant clamshells packed with a seafood stuffing of scallops, clams, charred corn, and Linguica sausage—warning: order your own plate, you will not want to share.

The Fried New England Surf Clams are perfect for sharing and are served with Chef Nagle’s housemade tartar sauce. The Clam Pasta is as good a linguine and clams as you can find. Nagle tosses fresh pasta with a generous amount of chopped clams, crushed chile, garlic, white wine, butter, and fresh herbs.

Clamshack cooks throughout New England are known to use Ritz crackers in their crumb toppings and with good reason—they taste delicious. Nagle’s Baked Sea Scallops are served in an individual casserole and topped with a buttery Ritz cracker crumb crust.

The Chef and Shucker—Blue Island Oyster Bar’s version of a charcuterie plate—is a two-tiered dish perfect for sharing with four Blue Island No. 9 oysters, four Long Island Little Neck clams, seafood salad, peel and eat shrimp, artisanal cheese, garlic salami, tuna poke, salmon rillettes, and grilled ciabatta.

Coastal Libations

No one wants to sit by the ocean eating clam shack comfort food without something wet and cold to quench their thirst. The bar team at Blue Island Oyster Bar has put together a simple yet refined beverage program of seven specialty cocktails, nine beers—two of which are brewed exclusively for Blue Island—and a well-curated wine list.

The Diver’s Punch is a deceptively light, beach-pounder of Monopolowa Dry gin, Exotica tequila, and muddled blueberries, fresh lime, and bitters. The Fall Mule is made with St. George spice pear liqueur, Monopolowa vodka, vanilla, ginger, and lemon.

Both of these cocktails are included in the seven $5 cocktail offerings during happy hour, which runs Monday through Friday, 3-6pm. Happy hour also features $4 draft beers, and $6 or $7 wines. Happy hour bites range from $2 for a Blue Island No. 9 oyster to $8 for a Knuckle Sandwich, made with lobster knuckles, of course.

 

 

The World Is Your Oyster at Blue Island Oyster Bar

Swim over to this new Cherry Creek eatery for dock-to-dish seafood.

BY Callie Sumlin

 

Thanks to restaurants like Sushi DenJax Fish House, and Stoic & Genuine, Denver has been shedding its reputation as a seafood wasteland. Not only have these spots put their sourcing practices in the spotlight, they’ve also managed to challenge the “myth of coastal superiority,” along the way.

The Mile High City’s current appetite for fresh-from-the-ocean oysters is at a fever pitch—so what better time for a local hospitality development group to partner with a Long Island-based shellfish farm for a Denver eatery? Concept Restaurants (the team behind Humboldt Farm Fish WineStout Street SocialRialto Cafe, and others) and the Blue Island Oyster Company are seizing the moment with Cherry Creek’s sparkling new Blue Island Oyster Bar. The oyster farm-linked restaurant model is relatively novel. According to Blue Island Oyster Company CEO Chris Quartuccio, this is only the second partnership of its kind in the United States—and it's the first to open in a landlocked state.

This is one restaurant that truly puts the bivalve front and center, as evidenced from the moment one steps foot in the pearlescent entry way, which director of operations Sean Huggard designed to feel like stepping inside an oyster. One wall boasts an oversize map of New York’s Great South Bay, where the Blue Island team harvests many of the oysters daily. Along the bar, metal oyster baskets brimming with ice display the shellfish front and center.

Even if you’ve sampled oyster offerings all over town, you’ll find some proprietary selections to slurp at Blue Island. The slightly vegetal Blue Island #9, for example, which comes straight from the farm, as well as the trademarked Naked Cowboy, a briny variety that grows wild in the Long Island Sound. My favorite, however, was the Shibumi, a petite, deeply cupped oyster that’s farmed to Quartuccio’s specifications in the Puget Sound. Its smoky, complex finish might give one of Denver’s West Coast favorites—the Kumamoto—a run for its money.

The best way to experience the breadth of Blue Island’s menu, executed by chef DJ Nagle, is to order the “Chef & Shucker” (pictured), a smart marriage of charcuterie board and seafood tower. This two-tiered stunner houses some of those Blue Island #9 oysters, Long Island littleneck clams, and peel and eat shrimp on the bottom. On the wooden board above, you’ll find salmon rillettes, grilled bread, garlic salami, tuna poke, seafood salad, and cheese drizzled with local honey. For $49, the tower is enough to serve three to five people—and make everyone else in the room say “I’ll have what they’re having.”

Blue Island Oyster Bar opens daily at 11 a.m., 2625 E. Second Ave., 303-333-2462, blueislandoysterbar.com

Blue Island Oyster Bar Starts Shucking Tonight

by Andra Zeppelin

Cherry Creek North just got groovier with this classic oyster bar. 

"I have wanted to open an oyster bar for a very long time," said manager Sean Huggard, a chef and restaurateur who made Denver his home for the last decade. An East Coaster, Huggard knew that the only way to make the goal a reality and maintain the standards that he grew up with was to partner with someone who had first dibs on great oysters, clams, and more.

Enter Chris Quartuccio, who is not only bringing the goods but also the name of the new restaurant. A Long Island oyster diver and partner at Blue Island Oyster Bar, Quartuccio is the founder of twenty year old Blue Island Oyster Company. His operation is the number one oyster and clam distributor in the New York area and has expanded to restaurants in Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. 

The Cherry Creek North restaurant Huggard, Quartuccio, and their partners created brings the highest quality seafood in a casual and laid-back environment. Chef Dj Nagle, formerly of Humboldt, created a menu that is interesting and approachable, comforting and challenging at the same time. There is something for everyone from burgers to salads, but the highlights center around the classic and modern East Coast comfort food: the stuffie, the chowder, the lobster and crab risotto, and the crispy black cod, among others.

But if you only get the oysters and clams, you will still leave happy. Some nine rotating oysters will be available on a daily basis from the signature Blue Island No. 9, a farmed Long Island briny oyster with a smooth finish, to the well-marketed Naked Cowboy, a meaty wild oyster diver-harvested in the Great South Bay. Another highlight is the Shibumi oyster, a Puget Sound creation grown using tidal tumbling techniques to yield deeply cupped oysters that have a distinctive smoky finish.

The space, created by Arch11, is contemporary and inviting with sea-related elements throughout from the entrance that is meant to remember the interior of an oyster shell. There is an attractive mural of oyster divers behind the bar,  a large rendering of the Great South Bay lines, light fixtures that are reminiscent of the under-water world, and real oyster-harvesting baskets in which the goods are displayed. The dominating oar installation over the bar adds another dimension to the space.

Seating for up to 100 guests varies from banquette tables along the west wall to counter seats around the oyster bar and a posh booth right by the door. The restaurant opens tonight for dinner and will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week.

First Bite: Blue Island Oyster Bar Brings Dock-to-Table Concept to Cherry Creek

 Trenton Reed

What: an accessible seafood and raw bar concept that balances New England oyster shack tradition with modern Cherry Creek sophistication.

Where: 2625 E. Second Ave., Denver

Neighborhood: Cherry Creek

When: Opens September 22. Regular hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11– 12 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Note: Kitchen closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. 

Opening a "dock-to-dish" concept in landlocked Denver may raise some eyebrows. Despite endless discussions over the sourcing of seafood and an ongoing raw bar trend, diners still seem preoccupied over the Mile High City's sea-less status. To combat this, Blue Island Oyster Bar—the latest from Concept Restaurants, whose recent endeavors include Humboldt Farm, Fish and Wine—takes its fresh seafood ethos seriously.

Not only does Blue Island fly in seafood daily, and source many of its oysters from Long Island's Great South Bay, the Cherry Creek concept has teamed directly with Chris Quartuccio, founder, and CEO of Blue Island Oyster Company to cut out the middleman. When asked about logistics, Quartuccio details a remarkable half-day journey, starting at 5 a.m. in the Great South Bay with a fresh shucker's basket full of oysters, and ending on the restaurant's bar, in a similar basket, in time for dinner.

What does this mean for Denver diners? The real deal when it comes to wild-harvested, diver-foraged oysters. 

THE CONCEPT

Blue Island has deep east coast roots and is heavily influenced by the food and culture of New England and New York. In addition to Quartuccio's Long Island connection, Sean Huggard, Director of Operations, grew up south of Boston and cooked in Nantucket, and Executive Chef DJ Nagle—formerly of Humboldt—was raised, and got his professional start, in New York.

What started as a mutual love of oysters, blossomed into a restaurant. The idea began when Huggard met Quartuccio through a mutual friend about 18 months ago at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston. Huggard had always wanted to open an oyster bar with a farmer; Quartuccio had always wanted to open an oyster bar with a restaurateur. And while Concept Restaurants has raw bar elements on other menus, Huggard wanted Blue Island to be perfect. Having Quartuccio on board was the missing link:

"It was important if we were going to serve raw, living animals to people that we really understood what went into it. We wanted to know where [the oysters] were coming from and that we could control the source and serve the best. Not just the best in the city, but the best in the country," Huggard explained.

While Cherry Creek was not Concept's first choice, the team is excited to open its doors in the recently revitalized area. "I think we need to attract a certain demographic that understands and finds value in fresh seafood," says Huggard. "Cherry Creek just works."

THE SPACE

The Diners are greeted by Blue Island's opulent oyster shell entrance. Gray woods and muted blues envelop the expansive 100-seat space. The focus is the lavish raw bar and bordering open kitchen. While the restaurant features an installation above the bar that resembles oars and chairs that are seemingly constructed with driftwood, the coastal influences are lighthearted and refined. Blue Island is equal parts beachside oyster shack and Cherry Creek elegance.

What truly sets Blue Oyster a part from other seafood joints, however, are its subtle reminders of the origins of its sister farm. A detailed, full-wall rendering of the Great South Bay lines the western wall. Photographs of Quartuccio and his team of divers—including a shot of Dave Gum, a guy who Quartuccio tells me was one of the first divers on Long Island—are dispersed throughout the space. And the oysters are displayed directly on the bar in traditional shucker's baskets.

THE FOOD

When asked about childhood tastes, Huggard and Nagle are quick to tell nostalgic stories of neighborhood bars serving fresh-caught baked cod and boardwalk clam shacks cooking up family recipes. A shared memory? "That smell," said Huggard without hesitation, referring to the aromas wafting from Blue Island's open kitchen. "Especially when the clams hit the frying oil."

Capturing this essence is a common theme throughout the menu. While offerings such as the crab cakes and fried oysters stay true to their New England roots—and the menu does include non-seafood fare such as steak and burgers—Nagle's menu is accented by creative interpretations of classics. The shareable Stuffies ($6), a savory Cape Cod baked clam classic, benefit from the addition of scallops, charred corn, and Linguiça sausage. The Fish & Chips ($16) utilize a crunchy cracker crust, and are noticeably lighter than traditional beer-battered versions. And the rotating Chef & Shucker ($49), designed to be shared amongst a table, revitalizes the oft-uninspired seafood tower with eccentric raw bar offerings—the current version features salmon rillette and tuna poke—and chef-inspired charcuterie. Deserts such as Key Lime Pie ($8) and the delectable Chocolate Cake ($10) are unfussy, and are meant to supplement the seafood.

The beverage program, headed by Humboldt's Alex Curry, again emphasizes simplicity. In addition to familiar offerings such as mules and a Dark & Stormy, Blue Island offers colloquial favorites such as the Cap Code and a Daiquiri ($10)—all of which will run for $5 during happy hour. The Diver's Punch ($9), a bold concoction of gin, tequila, muddled fruit and fresh lime, is a party in a glass, but is surprisingly more subtle than sweet. And with its dry cured olive garnish, the salty, aggressive signature martini is your best bet with oysters. Finally, a balanced, focused wine list—featuring an "Interesting Whites" section—and two Boulder Beer offerings, brewed specifically for Blue Island, round out the focused program.

Unsurprisingly, however, oysters are the main show at Blue Island—and Blue Island Oyster Company's farmed and wild-caught options are the backbone of the menu. The signature Blue Island No. 9—a farmed Virginica variety that balances strong salinity with a smooth, buttery finish—will be a staple, and is also featured on the happy hour menu for $2. Naked Cowboys, a wild oyster diver-harvested in the Great South Bay, are noticeably briny and meaty. And while upfront east coast varieties are the star, the menu features a rotating selection of high-quality specimens (priced daily) from around the world for those that prefer smooth, buttery oysters. 

With an approachable menu that aims to highlight a variety of oysters—some of which are farmed or wild-caught in Long Island's Great South Bay by Quartuccio's team—and New England comfort food classics, Blue Island Oyster Bar is an appropriate homage to the generations of divers and dockhands who have long foraged for the perfect oyster. Despite being 2,000 miles from the nearest harbor.

All photography by Danielle Webster.

Surf's Up at Blue Island Oyster Bar Tomorrow

BY MARK ANTONATION

Oyster bars and raw oyster service have become trendy in Denver restaurants, but Blue Island Oyster Bar, which opens tomorrow in Cherry Creek North, is taking shellfish obsession to a new level. The new seafood house next door to the Cherry Cricket is partnering with the Blue Island Shellfish Farm on Long Island, New York, and will offer several proprietary oyster varieties that the company will ship to Denver daily, with mollusks often pulled from Altantic coast waters in the morning that are ready to be shucked for dinner service.

Blue Island Shellfish Farm owner Chris Quartuccio partnered with Denver's Concept Restaurants (owners of HumboldtStout Street Social and Ignite Burgers & Lounge, among others) because he was looking for an experienced restaurant management team in a new market for his oysters and clams. At Concept, he found like-minded East Coasters in director of operations Sean Huggard and chef DJ Nagle. He'll provide farmed and wild-caught oysters for the group while Nagle will oversee the kitchen and menu of classic New York and New England fare.

Some of the oysters, like kumamotos, will have names familiar to shellfish aficionados, while others  — shibumi, Blue Island No. 9 and Naked Cowboy — are new to the Denver market and will be exclusive to the restaurant. The Naked Cowboy variety was actually named for the famed Manhattan street musician, and comes with its own branded hot sauce that was developed specifically to complement the flavors of the oyster.

Oyster buyer and head shucker Cory Egan will manage the prominent raw bar; oysters will be displayed on ice in steel diver baskets set on the bar counter. A Chef & Shucker tower will combine shrimp, clams and oysters served on ice topped with a wooden board of salmon rillette, tuna poke, sausage, artisan cheese and grilled ciabatta. A la carte raw bar offerings will cover caviar, ceviche, crudo and lobster.

Nagle's menu features seafood-shack favorites: clam chowder served with clam cakes; fish and chips made with cracker-crusted cod; clam "stuffies" overflowing with a breadcrumb, corn and linguica sausage mixture; and fried clam strips. "It's just stuff that I like to cook," the Long Island native explains. As a kid, Nagle says, he used to fish off the pier in Sayville, New York that now serves as the headquarters of Quartuccio's seafood company.

Modern dishes include tuna poke, black cod skewers served over Asian noodles with miso sabayon, and charred octopus with chorizo vinaigrette. 

The decor captures the feel of a New England seafood house with updated Cherry Creek influences. Weathered chairs and bar stools contrast with a sleek and clean-lined oyster bar while dim, architectural light fixtures shed a rippling, underwater glow against mural-sized maps and photos. 

The bar program will include seven house cocktails; Diver's IPA and Blue Island Blonde on tap (both made for the eatery by Boulder Beer); and an in-depth wine list that should please the Cherry Creek crowd. Happy hour will be offered from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

Blue Island Oyster Bar opens at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, September 22, and will be open seven days a week. Closing hours are flexible for now until Blue Island settles into the flow of the neighborhood. Keep reading for a look at Cherry Creek's latest catch.

Two new restaurants to open at 250 Columbine in Cherry Creek North

Blue Island Seafood & Oyster Bar and SOL Mexican Cocina are coming to  250 Columbine, the mixed-use development now under construction in Cherry Creek North.

The seafood restaurant is a local company,  Concept Restaurants, which created Rialto Cafe, Spruce, Humboldt, and Stout Street Social. Blue Island Seafood & Oyster Bar will be the company's first restaurant in Cherry Creek.

"We wanted the right space," said Sean Huggard, operations director for Concept Restaurants. "Seafood is not cheap, so we were looking for that higher-end demographic."

Huggard, who once worked as a Nantucket chef, is a friend of  Chris Quartuccio, an oyster diver and farmer on the East Coast who owns  Blue Island Oyster Co.,  which supplies many of Manhattan's top restaurants. Quartuccio is a financial partner with Blue Island Seafood & Oyster, which expects to open in August.

To select the second restaurant, the developers scanned the current restaurant scene and decided an upscale Mexican restaurant would be good. They really liked SOL Cocina, which has restaurants in Newport Beach, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz. — and Deborah Schneider, executive chef and partner at SOL Cocina, focuses on the coastal cuisine of Baja California. 

A visit to the Newport Beach venue captivated Roy Kline, a managing director at Western Development Group in Denver, which is working on the project.

"It's really cool, right on the water in Newport," he said. "They do a great job, and it's really fun because when they sell a shot of tequila, it's presented Mexican-style with a little shooter of tomato juice."

OK, in Denver you won't be imbibing on the waterfront — but SOL Cocina will have a sidewalk patio.

Blue Island Oyster Bar Will Open in Cherry Creek

The oyster bar trend continues to grow in the Mile High City. 

While the Cherry Creek neighborhood has not been at the forefront of Denver's dining boom, 2015 may change that. Blue Island Oyster Bar, a new venture from the team of designers, builders, and chefs that created Humboldt will open at in the new 250 Columbine Project this coming fall.

A self-described "Dock to Dish" concept, the 3,000 square foot restaurant set at 2625 2nd Avenue will bring a constantly changing list of 5 to 10 oysters that will be offered daily, with its very own farmed and wild-diver caught oysters as well as a selection from both the East and West Coasts. 

With this new venture , chef and partner Sean Huggard looks forward to getting back to his New England roots, where he spent many years as a chef on Cape Cod and the islands. His menu will be heavily influenced by kind of seafood he grew up on like lobster rolls and stuffed clams, but will also feature meat, poultry, and other seafood specialties. The raw bar will complement oysters with ceviche, crudo, clams, crab, caviar, and lobster.