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All words: Dana Bleiberg
All photos: Stephanie Breijo

The moral of Saturday’s field trip out to the Rappahannock River Oyster farm? Eat More Oysters.

Over the weekend, Edens and Union Market were nice enough to put together a field trip to Rappahannock’s aqua farm on the Rappahannock River for a bunch of us writers. It was a food-filled adventure that took roughly an entire afternoon.

The trip started with the finest from Union Market’s vendors: bagels and cream cheese from Buffalo & Bergen, smoked salmon from Neapol Smokery, cheeses from Righteous Cheese, bread from Lyon Bakery, and charcuterie from Red Apron. And, of course, mimosas and bloody marys. It was a great start to the day. After hours of gorging ourselves and a few wrong turns, we arrived at one of Rappahonnock’s aqua farms and the location of their tasting room, Merrior.

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Rappahannock River Oysters was started two generations ago by the Croxton family. The current owners, Ryan and Travis, renewed their grandfather’s river bottom lease out of sentimental value, not planning on being more than just hobbyists. Coming from publishing and the Federal Reserve respectively, neither one had any knowledge of aqua farming but they learned quickly.

Rappahannock River Oysters work on being as sustainable as possible and actually release millions of spat (cute baby oysters) into the wild every year, helping to regrow the wild oyster population. The more demand placed on Rappahannock River Oysters and the more oysters they grow, the more baby oysters get placed in the wild. Oysters are filterers. Want clear, non-polluted water? Eat Rappahannock River Oysters.

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The oysters at Rappahannock begin their growth in plastic bins that circulate water from the river; once these young oysters are large enough they are moved into cages in the river, growing to market size after roughly three years.

Ryan and Travis walked us through the farming process and took us out on their boat to see the river. After a stop at one of their oyster crates, we headed back and Merrior’s chef prepared a feast. All the food at Merrior is crafted either raw or on a grill. The restaurant has 20 seats inside and another 30 outside. The kitchen is outdoors as well, with screens pulled down in the colder months.

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We started with tasting the three different type of oysters grown by RRO. They range from the Rappannock Oyster, being the sweetest, to the Stingray oyster, being the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and then to the Old Salt, being the saltiest of the three. Personally the Stingray was my favorite, eaten with absolutely no garnishes.

Next we had clams, also grown by Rappahannock River Oysters, and lamb cooked with tomato and celery. A version of this dish is also done at Rappahanock’s Oyster Bar in Union Market. Bowls of Old Bay steamed shrimp were brought out next. The shrimp, raised a few farms over, were the freshest I have ever tasted.

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More oysters were brought to the table as well as scallops on top of crab slaw, lamb sliders, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, and lamb curry with couscous. I would recommend all of the dishes, though the scallops were a highlight. Again, grown locally, these were the freshest scallops I had ever tasted; tender, delicious and perfectly seared. The crab cakes were exceptional as well, softer than the crab cakes I’m used to but much more flavorful.

For dessert we had a s’mores doughnut that was filled with marshmallow fluff and smothered in dark chocolate sauce–heavenly.

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Stuffed and sleepy we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus. Most of us fell asleep only to wake up when we were offered cupcakes by Curbside Cupcake and iced tea from Pearl Fine Teas.

Merrior is quite a drive but if you have a day to make a trip out of it, or will be driving to or from Richmond, it is well worth the stop. Just be sure to order the scallops.

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