Although it’s been around since 1994, those who haven’t stopped by Tom’s Oyster Bar in a while are in for a surprise. A new chef is in the kitchen and he’s shaking things up. There’s a new menu based on upgraded ingredients and re-imagined classics.
You can’t mess with dishes like New England clam chowder and cole slaw, nor should you, but you can make them better. And that’s what executive chef Norman Fenton is doing, lightening the chowder broth and adding a few kernels of corn, a touch of bacon and chives, and putting shaved Brussels sprouts in the slaw instead of cabbage.
He also has added some imaginative new seafood dishes to what was a basic fish-and-chips and fresh oysters menu, all without changing the character of the oyster bar or rattling the loyal regulars, who may still have their fish-and-chips — but this time around, beer-battered and served with malt vinegar fries — and of course, oysters on the half shell from both east and west coasts on a daily changing basis.
It is, after all, an unpretentious drop-in kind of place, and people have always appreciated that. There’s still happy hour with its $1 oysters, but there could be a few raised eyebrows when confronted with some of the new dishes. Fenton was previously the sous chef at Bistro 82 in Royal Oak, and some of his plates reflect that experience.
One example is lupe de mer, oven-roasted sea bass, elegantly presented in a big white bowl topped with a subtle tomato-olive mixture, a scattering of capers and pickled wax beans, a market-priced dish and one that wouldn’t be out of place in any of the area’s upscale restaurants. There are plenty of less expensive choices, of course, like the lobster taco and crab cake, both available at lunch and dinner.
Fenton has not ignored desserts. There are currently three tempting choices, all made in-house: an elegant chocolate tart with caramel and sea salt, goat cheese panna cotta with a touch of basil and key lime bar on a graham cracker crust
Next on the chef’s to-do list is the menu at Tom’s next-door sibling, Ale Mary’s which shares the kitchen and will undergo a makeover too.
This is the only restaurant left of the mini-empire established by Tom Brandel with his first Tom’s Oyster Bar in Grosse Pointe Park in 1985. Nick Fitts is the current owner.
Tom’s Oyster Bar
318 S. Main, Royal Oak
Call: (248) 541-1186
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 11 a.m.-midnight Thurs.-Sat. Bar later
Prices: Lunch soups and salads $6-$13, sandwiches $8-$12, dinner appetizers (hot and cold small plates) $7-$20, mains $21-$29, desserts $6-$8.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar, good wine list and a revolving list of tap beers
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Nearby structure or street
Wheelchair access: No barriers