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Taking in brunch at Petaluma’s The Shuckery on Washington Street

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Petaluma seems to be smitten with brunch. There are no less than a dozen choices, although unlike the traditional buffet offering, our restaurants, by and large, stick to the menu. And why not? With such great cuisine on our regular menus, a buffet could leave a bit to be desired, especially at a restaurant like The Shuckery, which securely holds a niche when it comes to our city’s unique culinary choices.

Petaluma’s first oyster bar in the past half century, The Shuckery opened its doors two years ago, and has become a go-to choice for fresh local and sustainable seafood. With seafaring roots, it was a natural fit for sisters Aluxa and Jazmine Lalicker to start a brick and mortar seafood restaurant after spending the prior decade running their Oyster Girls catering business.

The sisters originally came up with the idea while visiting New Orleans, which is famous for oysters and oyster bars. They saw a lot of similarities between the dining scenes of New Orleans and Petaluma, most noticeably that although the cuisine can be quite elegant, sometimes even served by tuxedo-clad wait staff, the atmosphere is a mixture of communal and jovial.

Aluxa still runs Oyster Girls, while Jaz handles the day to day at The Shuckery, as well as its satellite bar, Shuckery Parlor. Located directly next door, Shuckery Parlor offers beer and wine, along with appetizers from the restaurant’s menu, in the swanky yet comfortable restored lobby of the Hotel Petaluma.

With direct ties to local fisheries, and an acute understanding of aquaculture, Jaz is a wealth of information. Combining that with her youthful enthusiasm, she has trained her staff well and all can answer just about any question diners have in regards to what they are eating, where it came from and how it was raised or harvested.

Staffing has become a constant issue at Petaluma area restaurants, but after two years, Jaz feels like she has a solid foundation to continue developing the business.

“We are finally at a point where I can start building the culture I’ve always wanted,” says Jaz. “Petalumans have been so supportive, but the day to day operations of a new business can be all encompassing. I’m remembering why we wanted to do this, which was to offer a vibrant and fun dining experience.”

With an excellent staff, including chef Parker Staring, a former kitchen manager at the Jaded Toad in Cotati, the experienced staff adds to the appeal of dining at The Shuckery.

Our server, Sara, was no exception, she was an absolute delight. With dietary restrictions and as many approaches to ordering as there were people at our table, an impatient or less experienced server may have been overwhelmed. Sara handled our table with grace, poise and humor, which was much appreciate especially because nobody had their morning coffee yet.

I was relieved to learn that the frog legs and waffle on The Shuckery’s online sample brunch menu was not much of a hit here in Petaluma, because I would have had to order it to quench reader curiosity. Chili-maple glazed or not, I am not a fan of frog legs, and it is unlikely anyone else at the table would have shared in my journalistic inquisition. However, the rest of the online menu is pretty much in line with what you will find at the restaurant currently.

We started with drinks, which ran the catalogue, from sparkling wine and fresh squeezed mimosas, which are available by the pitcher, to coffee from Petaluma Coffee & Tea, to the alleged “hangover curing bloody Mary” and michelada, made with the house favorite Miller High Life. The oyster shooters offered the fresh, sweet and clean flavor of Tomales Bay oysters, and were a refreshing way to start the day. The Shuckery also offers excellent wines and well-rounded rotating tap list, which included local favorites such as HenHouse’s Oyster Stout, Fort Point’s Kolsch and Berryessa Brewing’s Propaganda Pilsner.

With plenty of standard egg dishes, and at a reasonable price ranging from $12 to $16, The Shuckery’s brunch, much like its dinner, is approachable to non-seafood fans. All the egg dishes come with French fries, which is definitely a nod to New Orleans, where fries seem to go hand in hand with everything from burgers to tanks of gas. You can find old standbys, like a two-egg breakfast, egg white scramble and the Thistle Benedict, made with Thistle Meats’ bacon. True to California, avocado toast is also available, topped with a poached egg. Belgian waffles and a fruit parfait, using Straus Family yogurt, also make the menu.

However, we were not just out for brunch. We came for the seafood. Twice winning the title of “Best Seafood at a Local Restaurant” in the Petaluma People’s Choice Awards, as well as runner up in 2017 for “Best New Restaurant,” The Shuckery is the pearl in a semi-coastal community with plenty of seafood restaurants.

First up was The Shuckery Plateau ($48), a two-tiered service of raw oysters, wild white shrimp, house-smoked trout, ceviche and a very light gazpacho. This was a great way to ease into what would essentially be a seafood breakfast, although truth be told, our crew did not make it out until roughly noon.

Oysters are always on the menu, with an ever-revolving selection from West Coast to Gulf and East Coast water, although Tomales Bay’s sweet crustaceans always holding center stage. Prices vary depending on the market.

Next up were the fish-heavy favorites on the menu. During this non-Dungeness time of year, the menu goes lobster centric, which due to its sweet flavor, is a perfect brunch accompaniment. The lobster BLT ($13.50) is exactly what it sounds like, and although I am sure it is excellent, with only so many stomachs to fill, we saved that one for later. Instead, we set our traps for the lobster enchiladas ($17), with verde sauce, black beans, mango salsa, salad or home fries; and the lobster salad benedict ($17), both of which were hits.

Po’ boys ($12) are available in both fried shrimp or oyster, and are topped with remoulade and an excellent cheek-puckering house-made slaw. The toast and smoked trout ($15) comes with capers, whipped cream cheese and a side salad, and sources fish from legendary McFarland Springs trout farm, which is well respected for their sustainable aquaculture practices. The Louie salad ($14) was also a crowd pleaser, due in large part to the poached rock shrimp.

Although everything was excellent, especially considering the reasonable prices, the Korean pancake ($14) was my favorite, not only for its unique flavors but also because it was simply delicious. This dish starts with scallion pancakes, made with wheat and rice flour. Atop this comes shrimp pouched in coconut broth, a poached egg, and the house-cured kimchi. I’m not normally a fan of the fermented flavor of kimchi, but theirs is perfectly spiced with an excellent pickled flavor, which added a tangy spice to an already exquisite dish.

Although brunch came about to placate Saturday night rabble-rousers, it has grown to appeal to anyone looking to start their weekend days off at a slower pace. Jaz and Aluxa’s love of seafood shines through in their bright and festive restaurant, and certainly gives Petaluma another great option, whether looking for standard or special brunch fare.