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The Urban Oyster’s gleaming backsplash at the bar resembles scallop shells.
Steve Vilnit

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The Urban Oyster’s New Baltimore Space Reimagines the Raw Bar

In stylish Hampden surrounds, chef-owner Jasmine Norton tackles full-service dining for the first time

Jess Mayhugh is the managing editor at Eater and Punch. Living in Baltimore, she prefers her crab cakes broiled and her Boulevardiers with rye whiskey.

In Baltimore, oysters are a love language. They’re a requisite snack when you’re visiting home, the namesake for some of the city’s best restaurants, and the star ingredient at the newly reimagined Urban Oyster in Hampden, which opens on Friday, February 2.

The Urban Oyster has a new home for its freshly shucked Maryland bivalves.
The Urban Oyster

After stints at food hall R. House, the McHenry Row shopping center, and White Hall Mill market, The Urban Oyster is planting permanent roots, fittingly, a stone’s throw both from where its chef-owner Jasmine Norton grew up and where she lives now. Though the standalone space is a bit more upscale than past iterations, her mission has remained the same.

“We’ve taken on this idea of dressing oysters up because not everyone thinks of them as pretty, right?” Norton says, sitting at the marble bar of her restaurant. “But I’ve always found them beautiful. So we are trying to evoke the beauty in this new space, whether it be the music you hear, the art on the walls, the ambiance, what’s on the plate. We are trying to reimagine how people perceive an oyster bar.”

You won’t find buoys hanging from the ceiling or netting lining the walls (914 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, Maryland). Instead, the vision from interior designer Shak Washington and Charles Patterson of SM+P Architects includes subtle nautical details (like a scallop-patterned back bar) and art that combines the grit and beauty of the restaurant’s eponymous oyster. The aquamarine walls of the 2,200-square-foot dining room are dotted with pop art prints from artist Criss Bellini and a rope tapestry hand-woven in India.

The menu reflects this dressed-up approach, as well. In collaboration with executive sous chef Malcolm Sizer, Norton is introducing dishes like a whole grilled branzino atop white bean puree and salsa verde, oxtail lasagna, vegan garden risotto, and a tea-brined Cornish hen.

Debut dishes include Cornish hen, fried oyster-topped deviled eggs, and grilled branzino.
The Urban Oyster

Also expect playful dishes including a lobster corndog, fried oyster deviled eggs, and the eventual rollout of a “IYKYK” off-menu item (hint: a Filet-o-Fish dupe with caviar might be involved).

“It’s no secret that, in some ways, we kind of struggle with elevated dining experiences in Baltimore,” Norton admits. “We want to be able to provide that and make people feel taken care of.”

For instance, finishing touches at the table include spooning salsa verde on top of the branzino, torching creme brulee for dessert, or letting diners taste and approve the wine. Sizer, himself, is a sommelier with years of experience pairing food and wines on the West Coast. The wine list will lean towards California, and naturally include many sparkling options. One of the cocktails is a martini riff called Mother of Pearl with a cheeky pearl onion as garnish.

Gilded artwork overlooks the dining room.
Steve Vilnit

The plan is to go all in on dinner service and cocktails to start and implement a bar-only menu down the line. “One thing about opening a restaurant is you don’t want to make the mistake of implementing three things at once,” Sizer says. “You don’t want to get over-stimulated.”

The Urban Oyster’s namesake offering.
Steve Vilnit

The Urban Oyster’s opening hours are Wednesday through Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday, 3 p.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Though the restaurant is booked for opening night, walk-ins for bar seats are available in the 50-seat space. The team is also planning to roll out a brunch menu, most likely around Easter.

What has made the difference this time around, Norton says, is she has made sure to have a really secure foundation of people around her, but she still has not lost sight of the Urban Oyster’s humble origins. Like always, there will be raw and chargrilled oysters, seafood tacos, and a fierce commitment to the city for Baltimore.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to build a stronger tribe,” she says. “Our agenda all along has been to remind people that, as Baltimore and as Black chefs, we have something to say in the culinary space.”

The chic raw bar sets the mood with flickering candles and orbs of light.
Steve Vilnit
The Urban Oyster’s executive chef Jasmine Norton.
The Urban Oyster
An aquamarine facade leads the way to the Urban Oyster’s new Hampden home.
Steve Vilnit

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