Hatchery Oyster Truck Now Open

The Hatchery waterside eatery

Half-Shell Education: The Hatchery waterside eatery on Gwynn’s Island marries dining and aquaculture tours

By Mary Scott Hardaway

A two-lane bridge and serpentine road connect the Mathews County mainland to Gwynn’s Island, leading the hungry—or serendipitously lost—to The Hatchery waterside eatery.

Oyster Seed Holdings, Inc. (OSH) owner Mike Congrove hopes that those who find themselves on the four mile long, ¾ mile wide island will be satiated, both mind and body, by his team’s half-shell offerings. 

Located right behind OSH headquarters—and facing sunsets over the Milford Haven—The Hatchery food truck launched in June 2023, a natural evolution of the facility tours Congrove started in 2022. 

“The food truck gives people more of an appreciation for what we do here,” says Congrove. “Hopefully it goes a long way in building grassroots support and community around aquaculture.”

The food truck’s second season is set to launch the first weekend in May 2024 and will run “hopefully pretty far into December,” says Congrove. 

The concept is simple enough: every Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon folks can belly up to the sleek black food truck and order raw and charbroiled oysters served on the shell and fried oysters in the form of po’ boys, banh mis and tacos. There are also pork-based options for the landlubbers, rotating dessert specials and a smattering of local and domestic wine and beer. 

“I’ve frequented a lot of nice oyster restaurants in cities like New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah, so I had an idea of what we wanted the food truck to be,” says Congrove.

The charbroiled oysters, served with three butter sauces, are inspired by the house specialty at Drago’s in New Orleans, while the tacos are reminiscent of Congrove’s favorite fried oyster tacos served at Casa Pearl in Williamsburg.  Raw oysters are served with three mignonettes: lemon dill, hogwash and ginger rose. 

“I wanted to serve them in an approachable way so for people who are hesitant, it can be a gateway to enjoying oysters,” says Congrove. 

Congrove is luring in both bivalve lovers and shellfish neophytes with his stellar menu and charming outdoor dining room—red umbrella-adorned picnic tables line up next to a semi-circle of waterfront Adirondacks. But he’s hoping they leave with more than a full belly and a killer shot of an oyster shell set against the late September dusk.

“I think what we’re doing is a really unique take on farm to table,” says Congrove. “We’re taking it one step farther—it’s hatchery to farm to table.”

All the oysters The Hatchery serves were once microscopic seed grown in the OSH facilities. The tiny babies are born from brood stock (parent oysters), which OSH gets from the breeding program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Three to four thousand brood stock will produce around 100 million seed every year.

OSH offers facility tours every other Friday during the season. Tour guests will learn how the seed is nourished and grown to size before being sold to oyster farms up and down the East Coast. OSH sells seed to around 80-100 customers a year, with 50-60 larger farms buying most of the seed. 

In its inaugural year, the food truck focused on sourcing oysters from Virginia customers, but this year Congrove says they’ll bring in oysters from farther-flung clients, ranging from family-run operations in Florida to well-developed operations in Maryland and New Jersey.  

In addition to serving up a wider variety of oysters, The Hatchery plans to feature a QR code on the picnic tables that will take diners to a PBS “Victory Garden”-inspired video of featured oyster farms. 

Congrove says they’ll produce bi-weekly episodes, with each episode highlighting “a small aspect of the hatchery,” plus an interview with the featured oyster farmer on their farm and a finale shot of the oysters—all grown up—being served at the food truck. It’s like a seminar on aquaculture, but deliciously palatable. 

“It’s a simple education—we’re letting people enjoy the fruits of the process,” says Congrove.  

Also new this year, OSH is teaming up with Mathews Deadrise Charters to offer boat tours on the alternating Fridays when they’re not hosting aquaculture tours. 

Learn more at oshoyster.com or @thehatcheryculture.

Mary Scott Hardaway
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