Pond to Plate Perfection at Walrus and Carpenter Oysters’ Farm Dinner

oyster farm dinner in pond

Set on a remote sandbar in Ninigret Pond, Walrus and Carpenter Oysters’ farm dinner in Charlestown is a spectacular event.

Discerning shellfish eaters love Walrus and Carpenters’ oysters for their briny, buttery taste – they’re a must-order from any menu. Eating them on site, however – and I didn’t think this was possible – makes them even better. The farm offers small group tours, but when owner Jules Opton-Himmel’s mom suggested adding a dinner in the field – or pond, as it were – in 2013, a magical experience was born. Today, the Charlestown, Rhode Island–based operation hosts a handful of multi-course, pond-to-plate dinners each summer, each hosted by a different regional chef with wine and beer pairings by Bottles Fine Wine.

Here’s the thing about oysters: They take on the flavor of the place where they are grown, and Rhode Island’s diverse coastal geography means we’ve got amazing variation in taste. More than 50 oyster farms have popped up throughout the state; each with its own “merroir.” Walrus & Carpenter Oysters secured its prime location in Charlestown’s Ninigret Pond – the largest of nine saltwater ponds in the state – in 2009. With fresh water from natural springs and salt water flushing in from a breach way, the pristine location, which backs up to a national wildlife refuge, offers a shallow, sandy spot that’s the perfect environment for oysters to thrive.

Walrus and Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner getting out of the boat

I was lucky enough to get tickets via lottery last spring, and when I arrived with a group of friends for our dinner in July, the sky was heavy sky but our sprits were bright. A school bus transported us from a church parking lot to a beach, then down a bumpy dirt road. Disembarking, we were invited to grab a local beer (some was even brewed with Walrus and Carpenter–grown kelp) before hopping aboard the small boats that would ferry us across the pond on our tour of the oyster farm. A little nervous about rain, passengers were giddy with excitement, big smiles across our faces as we introduced ourselves to new friends who would soon be our dining companions.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner raw bar

A short trip brought us to the 6-acre farm, where oysters are grown using a rack and bag system that allows farmers to tend to each oyster, ensuring quality and consistency. The boats were beached on a sand bar, and the curious crowd of a few dozen gathered among the marsh grass. We listened to our guide explain the inner workings on the farm, then barraged him with a slew of questions, from where they got their name (Alice in Wonderland) to how long the shellfish takes to mature (up to three years) to the environmental effects of growing oysters (it’s not just low-impact; it’s beneficial to the ecosystem).

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner shawn

The people make the party! My longtime friend Shawn Connell enjoys oysters at the in-water raw bar.

Walrus & Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner half shell
When time was up, we simply turned 180 degrees and were greeted with cups of prosecco; a few more steps and we were at a makeshift, in-water raw bar filled with the very oysters we had just learned all about, plus a bucket of tender littleneck clams on ice, which the farm grows but doesn’t yet sell. As a palate cleanser, we waded further across the pond and down a path to beautiful East Beach, a remote, unspoiled 3-mile stretch facing the open Atlantic.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner table scape

Back at the pond, Chef James Mark, owner of North and North Bakery in Providence, was preparing our alfresco dinner over a wood-fired grill made of nothing more than cinderblocks and a grate. (Every item for the dinner had to be carted in and out by boat; that included the portable restroom, which floated atop a small barge.) A table set up on a sandbar was dressed with white linens and made all the more charming with small vases of wildflowers. A passing rain shower left our glasses and plates dewey, but no one seemed to mind; in fact, it felt sort of refreshing and right. Plus, this was a group that came dressed in boat shoes and board shorts (or, in my friend Laura’s case, quick-drying tennis clothes) with the expectation of getting wet. We sat atop benches built from orange plastic oyster bins and long gray wooden boards.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner fluke sashimi

Fluke caught off Point Judith was served as sashimi for the first course.

As the wine started flowing, the first course was served – tender Point Judith fluke sashimi, served with a mild vinaigrette. Juicy heirloom tomato salad followed, along with fire-roasted corn. Vibrant herbs elevated the freshness of each dish. Of course, the setting didn’t hurt either.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner table set up

Pop-up tents were erected to thwart the rain; luckily they weren’t badly needed.

When we learned that bluefish would be the main course, a few of us were surprised and, admittedly, trepidatious. Bluefish can taste oily and deep. But when cooked within just a few hours of capture, it yields flaky, mild, succulent meat. Chef Mark served his deboned but with heads in tact (eyes, too) and baring their sharp little teeth.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner bluefish head

Stomachs stuffed, we crowded around a bonfire, sipping more wine, grinning till it hurt, and somehow making room for a dessert of cookies and berries. Shortly before we boarded our boats for the return trip and just before the sun set, the clouds parted and the sky lit up. It was a magical exclamation point at the end of an extraordinary feast.

Photography by Jonathan Clancy / Clancy Creative

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner laura nestor

Newport resident and coho USA founder Laura Nestor was among the guests.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner little neck

Littleneck clams from the farm are a special treat.

oyster farm to table dinner table setting

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner tomato salad

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner bottle fine wine

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner corn salad

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner clamcake

Clamcake the dog, who comes to work regularly, loves boats, but hates to swim.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner wading

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner chef james grilling

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner bonfire

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner seedlings

Oyster seeds are ordered from hatcheries then carefully grown in the pond.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner elliott talking

One of our hosts answers all of our questions about oyster farming. The racks behind him are where the oysters grow.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner dessert

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner chef washing

Chef James Mark washes dishes en plein air.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner crew

This is the super hospitable crew that made dinner possible.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner crepescular rays

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner bar

That’s my kind of bar.

Walrus&Carpenter oyster farm to table dinner sandbar

You might also like: The Art of Loving Oysters

Want to see more of this event? Check out our Instagram and Facebook pages, where we’ll be sharing more photos!

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

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