What would you eat if you were stranded on a deserted island? That’s what Sailor Oyster Bar co-owner Scott Herbst asked himself when he came up with the concept for this adorable Naptown newbie that’s been serving up oysters—and other fruits of the bay and beyond—since last August.
Set inside an early 1900s rowhouse in the heart of historic Annapolis, SOB (their acronym, not ours!) has no ovens, no stoves, no microwaves, not even a kitchen. Just a toaster oven, a blowtorch, and ingredients that get prepped in the intimate bar area.
Herbst, who also co-owns Tsunami, a popular sushi spot down the street, accomplishes a lot with the limited parameters he has set for himself, and there’s tons of ingenuity at work here. In less able hands, this concept could easily be nothing more than gimmickry, but Herbst is a real pro.
The menu, featuring oysters from both coasts, various types of crudo, and ceviche, is a celebration of seafood. Highlights include a nod to what sailors ate on their voyages in the 18th and 19th centuries, in the form of trendy Jose Gourmet premium tinned fish, including crème de la crème Bemka white sturgeon caviar (to the tune of $75) served with salted butter, toast, and greens. Salads, “sammys,” snacks like torched octopus, and artisanal toasts round out the menu. (Okay, it’s likely that no one ever ate this well after a shipwreck, but we’re willing to give Herbst a little poetic license here.)
On an early May visit, we sampled a good cross section of the menu, including a seasonally inspired kale salad with goat cheese, strawberries, and spiced walnuts, and a wow-worthy charcuterie board piled high with mortadella, coppa, manchego, spiced nuts, and dabs of fig spread and avocado purée. A standout among standouts was the escolar crudo, a type of mackerel that Herbst describes as the “Camembert of the sea” because of its creamy quality.
The crudo was served with a cucumber-avocado chimichurri that cut the richness of the fish and delivered a rush of fantastic flavor. Another favorite dish was the torched salmon toast, a novel take on lox and bagels featuring whipped cheese, Norwegian salmon, and dill topped with salmon roe on slices of baguette.
Everything about the experience was intimate, from our jovial server, Frank, who told us, “My job is to make you happy,” to the vintage vibe—including black-and-white photographs of Herbst’s father and other family members who served in the Navy—and the classic Vargas-style pinup girls papering the bathroom walls.
If we ever find ourselves shipwrecked, we can only hope that Herbst is on the manifest.
SAILOR OYSTER BAR 196 West Street, Annapolis, 410-571-5449. HOURS Tue.-Sun. 4-11 p.m. PRICES Snacks: $4-16; crudo: $14; tinned fish: $12-75; toast: $10-15. AMBIANCE Steampunk sailor.