North Carolina seafood wholesaler opens a casual seafood restaurant inside Transfer Co. Food Hall
by Jason Frye | photography by Taylor McDonald
On the wall, a school of mullet swims toward the Carolina coast, the silhouette of barrier islands and the undulating line of mainland stark against the aqua sea. Where I’m standing would be just beyond the western edge of the map, at the newly-opened Locals Oyster Bar in Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall, which has slowly been rolling out new vendors. And I’m ready for seafood. Standing in line to order, I’m tempted by the classic fare flying out of the kitchen—shrimp po’boys, fish and chips, ceviche—but it’s the constant motion of the shuckers that has me mesmerized: Working in near-silence, they grab shell after shell: In less time than it’ll take to read this sentence, they’ll study one for for the briefest of moments, insert the tip of a shucking knife into the hinge, twist a wrist and drop a perfectly shucked oyster onto a bed of pebbled ice.
Locals Oyster Bar is the first foray into restaurants from the lauded fish wholesaler Locals Seafood, which will continue that part of its business as usual, including selling its oysters to some of the area’s finest restaurants and keeping up its fish market locations at farmers markets. The Locals Seafood team partnered with Person Street Bar to launch this new outpost with a full menu of wine, cocktails and local craft beer to go with that mouth-watering slate of seafood, plus a fish counter with whole fish, primal cuts and prepared food.
This new venture turned out to be a natural extension of what they were doing. “When we got involved with the Transfer project, we started with a fish market, then added an oyster bar, then it just got bigger and bigger,” says marketing manager Sarah Grace Smith. As it evolved, the feel of the space coalesced. “We wanted a spot that would channel the authentic, salty coast,” says Smith. “This is meant to be a spot to kick back, relax and hang out.” An adjacent dining room will also be opening with an entirely different look, feel and menu. “It’s a great outpost for Locals Seafood!” says Brian Habeeb, general manager of Locals Oyster Bar. “We hope the fish counter will inspire customers to pick up some fresh fish, go home and make something delicious.” Habeeb feels that “with seafood this fresh coming through the market and the kitchen, it would be a natural fit.”
Working with more than two dozen oyster farms, fishmongers and fishermen along the coast, Locals Oyster Bar offers the sort of outstanding seafood that gives Chef Eric Montagne culinary goosebumps. “I grew up in Miami and spent a lot of time fishing in the Keys, and I couldn’t be happier with our selection of fish,” he says.
The chef and his team are constantly experimenting and improvising, both as a way to reduce waste and to keep the menu fresh. “The last time I was there, they had fish bones, fish bellies and fish guts everywhere, and were emulsifying them for the charcuterie plate—I’m not sure that’ll make it to the menu,” laughs Smith. One week Montagne made a patty from striped mullet fat and tuna bloodline (a part that’s usually thrown away) that tasted “just like” an all-beef hamburger; another he created a “fish chop” from an unusual cut. Even the Bottarga Green Goddess dressing that dresses the wedge salad (recipe p. 70) originated as a way to reduce waste: “We use a bunch of fresh herbs and are constantly producing stems, so we modified our ranch recipe to include them,” says Montagne.
Already, some of their more inventive offerings, including Oyster Poutine (fries smothered in oyster gravy and fried oysters) and Bottarga Fries (topped with shaved salt-cured roe), are finding a welcome home in Transfer Co. Alongside the simpler fare like raw oysters and clams, the near-perfect shrimp roll and specials like a roasted fish, they’ve put together the perfect mix of ocean-born eats to pick over on a date or with a table full of friends. And we’re happy to partake in the bounty.
500 E. Davie St.; visit localsoysterbar.com for hours and more information.