Grand Central Oyster Bar Turns 100

A Yonkers residents’ historic impact on the legendary restaurant.

When longtime Yonkers resident Janet Poccia boarded a Metro-North train down to Grand Central one day in 1990, she didn’t know it was the first step in a career that would span 23 years at one of the City’s most iconic gustatory landmarks. Poccia was on her way to a job interview when a man approached her and said, “You look like you’re interviewing. I have the perfect job for you.” 

A little creepy? Sure, but when the scheduled interview fizzled, she called the mystery train man, who turned out to work at Classic Personnel, and ended up landing a job in the Accounts Payable department at Grand Central Oyster Bar. There, she revolutionized their inventory system by computerizing their files. 

Today, Poccia is president and CFO of the restaurant, which is celebrating its centennial this year. But just because the Oyster Bar is old doesn’t mean the crowd is. Poccia and her team started an Oyster Hour during the week, featuring $1.25 oysters and special Martinis. “We’re getting a really nice crowd,” she says. “The younger generation seems to be really, really enjoying it.” 

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As part of its centennial menu, the Oyster Bar will be featuring weekly specials for $20.13, as well as occasional items, like cheesecake, at 1913 prices ($0.19 for the slice of cheesecake). 

To help spread the oyster love north of Manhattan, Poccia has kindly teamed up with Executive Chef Sandy Ingber and General Manager Kevin Faerkin to provide these expert oyster tips. (Incidentally, for bivalves in the County, Poccia likes Blue Hill at Stone Barns.) Happy shucking!

On the longstanding notion that oysters should only be eaten between September and April: This is an old wives’ tale. Most oysters are farmed these days, and you can get great oysters in the summer months. Oysters spawn at different times, and with the large amounts of varieties available, there seem to be plenty not spawning in the summer. 

On what to look for when selecting oysters at the market: Oysters must come from certified waters and be tagged as per the USDA. When you buy oysters at a market, ask to see the tag that accompanies them. If they won’t show you the tag, then don’t buy the oysters. Also, make sure your oysters are completely closed, and, if not, if you press down on them, they must stay closed. If they gap, then they are dead, so discard. There should be no ‘off’ odor either. Oysters should have an aroma of the sea.

On oysters for cooking versus for eating raw: Larger oysters are good for grilling, because they tend to shrink once you cook them. A lot of our customers, however, really love the extra-large oysters to slurp. East Coast/brinier oysters stand up better after being cooked, as West Coast oysters can lose their integrity, though people from both coasts have their opinions on this. Eating oysters is such a personal experience, so there really isn’t any right or wrong way to eat them. Try eating the first oyster ‘naked,’ to get its flavor profile, before adding cocktail sauce or shallot mignonette.

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On alcoholic beverages for pairing: Go for Champagne and dry white wines like Sancerre, Muscadet, or even sake with oysters. For beer, try lighter-style, milder beers like Allagash White, and for West Coast oysters, try Guinness or an oyster stout to complement their creamier texture.

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