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Climb The Treehouse At Oyster Club For A Summertime View Of Mystic

Oyster Club has earned its reputation as a haven for sea-to-table cuisine in its nearly seven years in Mystic, with national press and a loyal following. But when Memorial Day rolls around, its seasonal magic begins.

Climb the stairs to the restaurant’s Treehouse, a dining area tucked under trees with multi-level decks, its own bar and table seating overlooking river views. The space is a destination in itself during the summer months, with a dedicated outdoor kitchen making use of a wood-burning grill.

“We wanted to have a ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ feel,” says Oyster Club owner Dan Meiser.We want it to feel very natural. Everything kind of works with the terrain.”

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The Treehouse is celebrating its sixth summer season. After Meiser opened Oyster Club in September 2011, he and his team would head up to the elevated area after busy dinner services to drink beers and unwind. “We were always in agreement [that] this was such a cool spot,” he said.

The following year, he hired a landscaper friend to clear bramble, realizing how much room there was to create a potential second-level offering atop the restaurant. Originally, they intended to use it as overflow seating for guests waiting for a table at Oyster Club, but soon realized they had a diamond in the rough.

“As it started to evolve, we said: ‘This is crazy, it’s beautiful, we’ve got this amazing view, you can see downtown Mystic, and there’s always this incredible breeze that comes up off the river,’” Meiser says. “You get the shade and the trees; it’s magical.”

This year, the Treehouse employs a new counter-service method, where guests order food and drink at the bar and then take a seat with a table number holder. Servers bring out the food and also float between tables, taking extra drink orders on iPads and processing payments on the spot. The system has been successful and efficient so far, Meiser says.

THE ATMOSPHERE: The outdoor space, decorated with string lights and vibrantly colored hanging plants, is shaded by tree branches and yellow umbrellas. Seating is available for about 60, with a lounge area by the bar featuring a cushioned bench strewn with throw pillows.

“Whether you’re having a full meal or just a beer, you’re outside, there’s almost an island-time, casual feel to it, which I know our guests appreciate,” Meiser says.

FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: The food at Treehouse leans more casual than its fine-dining sibling, but features the same fresh, local ingredients.

“By no means is it a step down from Oyster Club,” Meiser says. “It’s the same quality product, same wonderful staff, but this is our take on the classic New England summer shack. It’s outside, it’s red and white paper-lined baskets, it’s lobster rolls, it’s hush puppies, it’s fried fish sandwiches, things like that.”

Chef Renee Touponce heads up the outdoor kitchen, where seafood dominates. A buttery warm lobster roll with apple butter and crispy shallots ($24) is a top seller, along with a fried sea scallop roll ($18), sweet and sour fried squid with sesame and lime ($13), beer-battered Stonington fish and chips ($20) and mussels with sofrito, lime and cilantro ($13) Raw bar items include daily oysters and littleneck clams, which are $1 apiece during daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m.

For the carnivores, burgers ($12) are made with 21-day dry-aged beef, ground fresh daily at Grass & Bone, its sibling restaurant/butcher shop down the road in Mystic. They’re served on Martin’s potato rolls, enhanced with cheddar, red onion jam, farm greens and smoked garlic aioli. A classic Rhode Island Saugy dog ($9) gets pickles, onions and dijonaise. Tacos ($8) are sold in portions of two on flour tortillas or lettuce wraps, with choice of chicken tinga, crispy fried fish or fire-roasted veggies.

The menu also offers plenty for diners looking to eat lighter, or plant-based meals: wood-fired seasonal vegetables ($12) from the restaurant’s partner farm, Stone Acres in Stonington; a crispy tofu po’boy ($12) and a roasted mushroom “sandy” ($10) with curry yogurt, radish, cabbage and sesame. A daily local fish “a la plancha” entree ($25) offers an ever-changing seared fresh fish alongside a brown rice salad with veggies and salsa verde.

Sides round out the meals, like fries, coleslaw and macaroni and potato salads. Treehouse’s cornbread and hush puppies are made with Indian flint cornmeal from Pawcatuck’s Davis Farm, a product Meiser calls “extraordinary.” For dessert, that cornbread gets slathered with maple butter and griddled on a flattop, served with fresh whipped cream and seasonal fruit.

The menu also features specials, a chance for Touponce to experiment and highlight the best of seasonal ingredients, Meiser said.

“The concept and the menu planning up here for Renee is going to be similar to what she learned to do downstairs and what she’s done at [Hartford’s] Firebox in the past, which is: Let’s wait for the farmers and the fishermen to tell us what they’re really excited about, and let’s build a dish around it.”

THE BAR: The 2018 season brings a more curated cocktail program, Meiser said, with rum-based drinks (a classic Painkiller with coconut, a Jungle Bird with Real McCoy 5-year rum, Campari, lime and pineapple, a Cuban Kite with mint-infused Real McCoy, house lime cordial and lime bitters) and a light, refreshing Forget Me Not, with Lillet Rouge, citrus and cava. The Christopher Robin features mezcal paired with lemon and fresh ginger honey simple syrup.

The “Bird of the Week” cocktail changes weekly, a chance to show off bartenders’ creativity, like the recent Green Parrot with Real McCoy 3-year rum, fresh-squeezed cucumber juice, pineapple juice, mint and ginger and lemon simple syrup. All cocktails are $12.

The Treehouse bar also offers beer on draft and in cans and bottles, and wines by the glass, including white, red and rosé keg wines.

HOURS AND LOCATION: Treehouse at Oyster Club, 13 Water St., Mystic, is open Monday through Thursday from 3 to 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Weather permitting; no reservations. A daily happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. with $1 raw bar items, $2 off draft beers and $6 wine specials and Fishers Island Lemonade. 860-415-9266, oysterclubct.com/treehouse-at-oc-1.

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