St-John's | 334 Water St. | 709-722-7222 | learn.goinfinitus.com/oyster-house
Steve Vardy is having fun again. A decade spent leading high-pressure brigades at such gastronomic heavyweights as Beckta in Ottawa and Atlantica in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, nearly broke him; he quit the game a few years ago to teach hot yoga. Now he’s back, doing things his way. That means taking over a narrow location on Water Street that used to be an adult boutique, playing Talking Heads as loud as he pleases from monster speakers and filling a menu with pretense-free terms like taco, guacamole and fried chicken.
Roll your eyes at yet another kale Caesar salad all you want. Vardy doesn’t care. His version is loaded so heavily with smoked albacore and capers and something called “sunflower granola” that we ditch our forks and hoover it up with a spoon. And the scallop ceviche with mango and fresh passion fruit is so sweetly satisfying that I’d order a second bowl for dessert.
Vardy’s crew mixes blueberry juleps in frosty metal cups and pours tastes of Kung Fu Girl riesling into shot glasses. The atmosphere emboldens my local friend to say yes to bivalves – she’s never eaten a raw oyster in her 50-odd years. I point to a chalkboard behind the busy shucker who’s bobbing along to a Hot Hot Heat track. It reads OYSTER VIRGINS: 308. “Let’s keep this our little secret,” she whispers.
Pickle Points from PEI and Black Pearls from Quadra Island show up with nine garnishes in tow. “I’ve tried a thousand different toppings – even powdered beef jerky,” says the gnarly server dude in the backwards cap and the surfer necklace. His advice: a dab of housemade mango-Scotch-bonnet sauce on the briny East Coasters, and one squeeze of lime on the fatty West Coasters. Our verdict: a dozen empty shells. Time to update the chalkboard to 309? “You only live once,” my friend smiles.