The Olympic Peninsula holds an allure for me that I’m not sure I fully understand. Something about the disconnectedness of it. The vastness. I look out at that misty land over the water with its wild woods and those Olympic Mountains jutting up from it like a row of jagged teeth and I feel them calling to me. The whole mass calling me to action. I want to pilot a boat from Union to Port Ludlow. I want to hack my way through the Hoh Rainforest. I want to dig oysters up out of those frigid waters and slurp the life from them.
One out of three isn’t bad…
The Hama Hama Oyster Company is splayed out like a campsite where the Hama Hama River empties out into the Sound. Shells. Shells everywhere, stacked up in piles like the bones of fallen enemies at the mouth of a bad-ass villain’s lair. You will find no villains at the Hama Hama Oyster Company, though. Unless you’re an oyster. Then maybe stay the fuck away from this place.
I am not an oyster, so I never miss an opportunity to sneak out to that alluring peninsula and punch oysters into my face.
This weekend was a “family in town” weekend. My father was up from California and my wife’s brother was over from New York and it was one of those two day stretches of running all over the state with people you love, trying to introduce them to the places you love so that they will all learn to love one another. In some families, that means baseball games. In some families, that means theaters. In this family, though, it means food.
And since they aren’t oysters either, it was off to the peninsula.
We coasted into Hama Hama Oyster Company’s parking lot after a savage hike up the Lena Lake trail. Savage, not because the trail itself is particularly brutal (most of the descriptions put it at medium difficulty) but because my brother-in-law Ryan was made in a lab by scientists who hate averageness. He powered his way up 800 feet of elevation gain at a pace that left the rest of us jogging and by the time we were back down at the bottom, slathering and gasping like freshly broken horses, he was barely sweating.
A chill had settled on the waterfront. A low hanging fog laced with winter huddled up around the road and the hills and the beach. Crept down into the dampness of our clothes and tired in our bones. Cold like that is not uncommon in the winter in Hama Hama, though, so the outdoor-only dining area was fitted with plenty of heat and cover. Three-sided shacks to keep the wind out and a fire pit made of oyster shells. Twinkly lights stretched overhead and smoke climbing into the sky.
We ordered at the counter, regrouped at a pockmarked table beside the propane love of a space heater. All of us huddled over our beers in the misty cold with the water stretching out around us, waiting. Waiting on grilled cheese and salmon chowder. Waiting on grilled oysters and crab cakes. More than anything else, though, waiting on fresh oysters. 3 dozen of those beautiful, briny, bastards. Balled up in our coats, making small talk out on that wild stretch of land to the west, trying to act like we weren’t desperate for the shucking to be done. For the eating to commence.
The food hit the table with a clatter that was seconded only by the clatter of us eating it. Cacophonous, exasperated eating of hungry people who had climbed 80 stories in haunting cavernous woods. The eating of hungry people in a wildland with nothing to lose. My grilled cheese was exactly the kind of thing you want to fire back on a dreary day in the northwest. Measured, fill the gaps food that pairs well with beer and cold weather. My wife’s soup was fantastic and my brother-in-law’s crab cakes were the best I’ve ever eaten. But this place isn’t called the Hama Hama grilled cheese, soup or crab cake company, and those oyster shells aren’t scattered around for decoration. They’re scattered around because the oysters here are BANANAS.
Sweet, briny oysters. Salty, garlicky oysters. Raw oysters and grilled oysters, plucked from frigid waters and shucked in a shack, dribbled carefully with mignonette and squirted with lemon beneath an alabaster sky. Sitting at that pockmarked table with my family by blood and by choice on the banks of a silty river, all of us eating oysters from their shells, tasting the flavors of the water they grew in, making our caveman noises together. We slurped and the wind howled through the trees and the Puget Sound burbled up against the sand and it all came together like a chorus. Like something calling out.
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