Fresh off a huge James Beard Award win for best chef in America, the demand for Rob Rubba’s polished vegetarian menus in Shaw is expectedly off the charts — with Oyster Oyster dinner seatings all booked up through September. But a casual new counterpart opening Thursday, July 20, offers walk-ins an accessible (and more affordable) snapshot of the acclaimed dishes and drinks being served next door (1440 8th Street NW).
Oyster Garage welcomes 20 guests at a time into a color-soaked space packed with vintage pinball machines, animated (oyster) mushroom murals, and old-school skateboarding videos on loop. A dressed-down menu to match includes hefty square pies topped with peak produce, Mid-Atlantic oysters on the half shell, carefully curated natural wines, and beers made from Virginia grains, yeast, and hops. Oyster Garage opens 30 minutes before its Michelin-starred parent, in part, to cater to nearby residents getting off work right at 5 p.m.
Rubba puts vegetables on a pedestal at Oyster Oyster, which makes the 28-seat dining room ideal for diners who don’t eat meat but still want to enjoy an avant-garde meal for $95 (plus $60 wine pairings). Rubba, who first attracted D.C. critics’ attention as the former chef at Hazel, partnered with restaurateur Max Kuller on the pandemic-era venture that opened in fall 2020 and continues to source from hyperlocal farms and mills.
“Oyster Oyster has been received so well,” Rubba tells Eater. “It’s been a blessing to have [Oyster Garage] on the back burner to finally showcase something extremely accessible for everyone.”
Oyster Oyster’s environmentally-friendly mantra carries over to its new pint-sized sibling. To cut down on excess water use, oysters aren’t served on ice. Instead, bivalves balance on chilled plates pulled straight from the fridge. (Fun fact: one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.) Oysters, sent out in sets of three ($9), six ($18), or a dozen ($34), arrive with an optional chili-mushroom XO sauce.
Grandma pizza slices ($8 each) are “inspired by the big Sicilian slices I got when I was a kid in New Jersey, dressed with the best of season’s bounty,” says Rubba, who’s a big bread buff.
He says each square-shaped pie, which can be prepared vegan (cheese-free) or not, acts as a canvas to showcase the “same high quality ingredients” sprinkled across Oyster Oyster’s prix fixe menus, producing a “trickle-down effect from the dining room.”
A whimsical wine list by the glass or bottle bounces around various regions and varietals, with the common thread being a knack for biodynamic and organic practices. Try Lightwell Survey’s riesling from Shenandoah or Day Wines’ skin-contact L’Orange from Oregon, plus a Beaujolais on tap from French winemakers Rémi and Laurence Dufaitre.
A small section of rotating beers on tap ($10) kicks off with a saison collaboration with Black Narrows Brewing Co., which also supplies an umami-flavored wheat beer made with Chincoteague oysters. Wheatland Spring’s lager comes from barley grown in fields next to its Waterford, Virginia brewhouse.
The unused garage entrance was originally created as a grocery pick-up point next to Dolci Gelati. “In the very early days of COVID we were trying to figure out how we were able to use it,” he says. Activations inside have included a RĀKO Coffee pop-up to private pizza parties under a “2-Hour Parking” moniker. “Now it’s evolved into an open concept available for everyone to stop in,” he says.
The space itself plays up some of the partners’ favorite hobbies. Kuller happens to be an avid pinball machine collector, and two throwback games find a home in Oyster Garage: White Water and Seawitch, which “ties into the ocean theme of Oyster Oyster,” says Rubba.
Retro TVs air tricks of the same skateboarding legends Rubba used to follow growing up, and the backbar is made of recycled skate decks.
Top street artists flew in from Bogota and Mexico City years ago to douse the walls with trippy murals of blue Smurfs and Super Mario-styled mushrooms. A corner area was left blank for Rubba and his also-artistic sous chef to contribute brushstrokes of their own on a recent Sunday afternoon.
More seats could eventually spill out onto the sidewalk, but for now, the small setup with a nice breeze fits around 15 to 20 standing or sitting on slick bar stools.
“We’re going to keep it fun and interesting — just whatever the vibe we’re feeling that day, with no real rules,” says Rubba. “Pop in, have a snack, play pinball, and listen to music.”