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Jeanna Shepard

6.10.19

The Oyster Bar 02557 Makes Three

The Oyster Bar 02557 is chef Ben DeForest's latest restaurant in Oak Bluffs, an addition to his current restaurants, Red Cat Kitchen and the Cardboard Box.

Chef-owner Benjamin DeForest is expanding his presence on the Island restaurant scene with the May 24 opening of The Oyster Bar 02557 at 6 Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Located above Ben’s Cardboard Box restaurant and bar, which opened in the spring of 2018, The Oyster Bar 02557 occupies the space long held by the Lampost nightclub. The back doors of both eateries are just across Kennebeck avenue from his flagship eatery, Red Cat Kitchen.

Anything Ben does with food is well worth sampling. Just ask Barack and Michelle Obama, repeat customers at Red Cat Kitchen, where Ben changed the menu more than 100 times last year to keep up with local harvests and his own imagination.

To create the menu for The Oyster Bar 02557, Ben has been collaborating with Joe DaSilva, who he asked to be the new restaurant’s executive chef. Well-known for his cooking at the former Standby Café in Oak Bluffs and the Lambert’s Cove Inn, Joe first worked with Ben years ago at the former Dry Town Café in Vineyard Haven.

“I have his trust. He has my trust,” Joe said.

Jeanna Shepard

The kitchen at The Oyster Bar 02557 will focus on the highest quality seafood, simply prepared with top-of-the-line ingredients, Joe said. Ben also promises a chicken dish with arugula salad and a flatiron steak. But the rest of the menu is fish and shellfish. “It’s very New England seafood driven,” he said.

Inside the restaurant, which is licensed to seat 175 people, a wrap-around oyster bar fitted with custom-made ice troughs will allow customers to belly up to the counter for shucked-to-order bivalves from local and regional waters.

“We’re going to source great oysters from here, the Cape, the Chesapeake,” Ben said. The restaurant will be open seven days a week.

Uncompromising quality and fresh, local ingredients are at the heart of Ben’s cooking, but it wasn’t a love of food that first drew him to the restaurant world – it was the excitement he sensed as an Island kid, riding his bike to Menemsha on summer evenings when the Home Port restaurant was in full swing.

“The energy, the buzz, the roar – when you came down the hill, you could hear the Home Port,” he said. “It’s something that was special.”

Years later, Ben rediscovered that “frenetic energy” at Raymond Schilcher’s Oyster Bar, which occupied 57 Circuit avenue in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“It was this huge party,” he recalled. “Raymond had this real knack for creating a buzz. The food, the beverages, the vibe – he was good at that, and that’s something that I have carried with me through my career.”

Ben has also carried the lessons he learned in the kitchen of Aujourd’hui at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston.

“That was my education for almost four years,” he said. “That’s where you learn how to do things properly and how to serve people.”

While learning his trade at Aujourd’hui, Ben absorbed the wisdom of the Four Seasons’ general manager, Robin Brown, now a well-established real estate developer.

“I still remember things he said daily,” Ben said. “‘One thing soup is never supposed to be is warm.’ It’s silly little things like that that shape you.”

In creating his own restaurant experiences, Ben expresses both sides of his background: That meticulous training at the Four Seasons as well as the “champagne and cocaine” party atmosphere of Schilcher’s place – “minus the cocaine,” he said.

“Now I get to do it my way, and that’s exciting.”

Jeanna Shepard

Part of the excitement for Ben is seeing how his customers make their mark on a place. It requires keeping an open mind and being willing to change and adapt, he said. “You can start a restaurant with what you believe it’s going to become, and once the public comes in and starts pollinating the place, the identity of the restaurant then presents itself,” he said.

“I think that energy steeps in a place like tea.”

That’s more or less what happened after Ben launched Cardboard Box early last May. Over the summer, the restaurant developed “some funk and some soul and a flavor and tone of its own, and once we recognized that, we tailored and flavored the room to what it had become,” Ben said.

At the end of the season, he ditched the room’s original cool, neutral-toned decorating scheme for more vibrant colors and textures.

“We warmed it up. Everything was grey,” Ben said. “It feels more like me down here than it had in the past.”

And if customers also take The Oyster Bar 02557 in a direction he hasn’t anticipated, Ben is ready to make changes.

“That’s the beauty of collaboration,” he said. “When you open a restaurant, you end up collaborating with the dining public.

“You hope that, like any great thing, it stays great, and evolution has to become a part of that.”

 

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