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Oyster farm’s eatery a coastal gem

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Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune The oyster po’ boy is a classic Louisiana sandwich prepared at Clausen Oysters in North Bend.
Clausen Oysters on Coos Bay serves signature shellfish alongside other seafood
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Chicken-fried is one of numerous oyster preparations at Clausen Oysters.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Tacos can be prepared with rockfish (pictured), oysters or shrimp at Clausen Oysters in North Bend.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Chicken-fried is one of numerous oyster preparations at Clausen Oysters.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune The oyster po’ boy is a classic Louisiana sandwich prepared at Clausen Oysters in North Bend.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune The oyster po’ boy is a classic Louisiana sandwich prepared at Clausen Oysters in North Bend.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Fish ’n’ chips are a coastal classic at Clausen Oysters in North Bend.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Xavier, 7, loves fried oysters.
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune A pearl is an unexpected souvenir from Clausen Oysters in North Bend.

Oysters tend to play second fiddle on the Oregon Coast to classic fish ’n’ chips. The state’s largest oyster farm, however, is a pearl in the coastal restaurant scene.

An actual pearl lodged in my po’ boy was the unexpected souvenir from a recent meal at Clausen Oysters in North Bend. But more on that later.

Clausen’s story goes back more than 40 years to Max and Lilli Clausen, who first seeded oysters in Coos Bay’s Haynes Inlet. The bay’s twice-daily tidal exchange imparts rich nutrients perfect for cultivating high-quality oysters. Sample these superb shellfish — both raw and cooked — in the Rogue Valley at Ashland’s NAMA Oyster & Seafood Bar.

But Clausen’s own restaurant on North Bay Road, just over the historical McCullough Bridge en route to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, makes a handy stop for off-road enthusiasts and visitors of other persuasions.

Come for lunch on Clausen’s waterfront patio and leave with a few dozen oysters for roasting in their shells over a campfire or grill, or ice them down for the trek back to your home kitchen. Yes, oysters happen to be great travelers.

A coastal native, I don’t consider myself a traveler when visiting my parents in North Bend. But there’s always an itinerary for my kids’ enjoyment. This time, chicken-fried oysters ($16) were near the top of my younger son’s list. And I was craving that po’ boy ($14) — listed on Clausen’s menu as “epic.”

More mainstream in many of his tastes, my older son preferred the Baja-style fish tacos ($12). My mom selected the tacos with shrimp (fried oysters is the third choice). And my grandma ordered that old standby, fish ’n’ chips, featuring local rockfish ($17).

Among Clausen’s signature items are oysters on the half shell with housemade cocktail and mignonette sauces, barbecue oysters with a choice of flavored butters or Rockefeller sauce, oyster dip, oyster shooters and oyster chowder. The piece de resistance is Clausen’s seafood tower ($56) for two, on which the bivalves keep company with a jumbo shrimp cocktail and albacore tuna poke. Diners less enamored of seafood find Face Rock Creamery grilled cheese, all-beef hot dogs from Taylor’s Sausage in Cave Junction and chicken Caesar salad.

Oyster shucking and packaging can be observed from large windows into the warehouse, but menu items are prepared in a mobile unit outside. Dishes were devised by Clausen co-owner, chef Patrick "Paddy" Glennon, also vice president of sales for Superior Seafood. He and Seth Silverman purchased Clausen five years ago and opened the restaurant in 2019.

Seating is outdoors, either at a handful of picnic tables perched atop Clausen’s shell mounds or alongside the warehouse. The latter spot provides a windbreak and one of the warmest spots to eat outside on the coast during the summer. It pays to kick back with a cold beverage because orders prepared by a single cook and counter assistant tend to back up on busy days.

Orders are attractively presented, however, in paper-lined metal trays instead of stereotypical plastic baskets. Tacos repose in metal stands while sauces and salsas are generously portioned.

Cocktail sauce, remoulade and ketchup adorned the plate of fried oysters, french fries and coleslaw. Also slathered with remoulade, my po’ boy had for its side a bag of Deep River sea salt potato chips. An upgrade to fries costs $3.

A highly seasoned batter verging on salty coated oysters and fish alike. Less assertively flavored, the fries were beautiful examples of their genre, assuming diners — like me — prefer their potatoes thin-cut, rather than thicker “chips” traditional in Great Britain.

Although indispensable to fish ’n’ chips, coleslaw so often seems an afterthought. But Clausen’s slightly sweet, perfectly dressed, freshly shredded slaw was among the most enjoyable I can recall in a seafood restaurant — on the coast or otherwise. Clausen recasts the cabbage-carrot melange with chipotle for its tacos.

Begging a bite of my son’s taco, I confessed that much as I love oysters, I love rockfish more. So I was surprised this supposedly local catch tasted of languishing in the freezer. I’m not opposed to properly handled frozen seafood per se, but this unfortunately was no longer appealing to fish aficionados. The same fillets composed the fish ’n’ chips.

Fresher by far, the fried oysters were slightly overwhelmed by their batter. Had they been larger, their succulence would have burst through the breading in delicious contrast.

But the shellfish were trending on the small side, according to Clausen’s cook, who also confirmed that yes, pearls aren’t all that unusual to excise from their oysters. In fact, she thought she felt some in the day’s haul.

I already was chewing carefully after detecting a small flake of shell on the edge of one of my oysters. The next bite of sandwich deposited a smooth, round, solid mass between my molars. Could that really be what I think it might be?!

Yep. Spitting out the wad of food, rubbing off the commingled flesh, starch and grease, I claimed my prize.

I doubt the pearl had much monetary value — maybe not even the price of my meal — but it makes a great story. And Clausen grows some great oysters.

Located at 66234 N. Bay Road, North Bend, Clausen Oysters is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. See clausenoysters.com

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com