Youell’s Oyster House

Youell’s Oyster House

By Cathy Kiley

One of the first places Tom and I discovered when we moved to Forks Township in 1980 was Youell’s Oyster House on Easton’s College Hill. Youell’s was THE place to eat if you wanted fresh seafood with an abundance of butter and a choice of side dishes that included pickled beets, spiced cabbage, coleslaw or applesauce. There was no such thing as a reservation so the line sometimes ran up the street on weekends and, because of its location near Lafayette College, it was impossible to eat there on Homecoming, Parents’ and Alumni weekends. However, it was always worth the wait. An added plus for us was that our neighbor was the bartender and he made the best martinis in town.

The eatery was originally founded in the 1800s as Rice’s Oyster House at the original Hotel Easton on Northampton Street. At the time, Easton was not only the County Seat with thriving commercial activity, but home to many hotels and saloons boasting, I understand, some “questionable” activities. Rice’s, which later moved to North Front Street along the Delaware, was famous for its daily shipments of fresh oysters as well as shellfish and steak.

The business was renamed in 1938 when it was purchased by Bob Youell and later relocated to Cattel Street under the ownership of Gene Ricci where it remained a local institution until the late 1980s. The Filipos Family bought the business in 1984 and opened a second  location in 1992 at 23rd and Walnut in Allentown. Two years later, the Easton location was sold and sadly the business shut their doors after a century of business.

In January 2013, Youell’s Oyster House in Allentown was destroyed by a fire but a little more than a year later, like a phoenix, Youell’s Oyster House “rose from the ashes” to begin yet another life of serving fresh seafood in a new and beautiful venue. The facade of Youell’s reminds me of a Nantucket fish house. It’s quaint, charming and welcoming. Inside, clean, well-spaced wooden tables and comfortable metal chairs on shiny wooden floors give it a sleek appearance. I brought a couple of friends with me for a girls‘ night and we loved the understated decor with perfect lighting on soft earth-toned walls displaying tasteful prints. There is a mezzanine upstairs with a seating capacity of 40 for private parties. The openness, along with exposed exhaust pipes tends to make the room a bit noisy but this is a fun place and you’ll get used to it very quickly.

We were seated by Taylor, the hostess, and our very efficient server Jeremy was quick to take our drink order and present the evening’s specials.

We sipped a glass of Pino Grigio as we enjoyed our appetizers. Jill ordered the special soup – a wonderful Smokey Mussel and Chorizo Chowder. The chorizo was plentiful but in smaller bits so that the spiciness didn’t overpower the taste of the chowder which was chock-a-block with mussels, potatoes, carrots and celery all in a rich buttery broth that was delicious. Millie enjoyed her Clams Casino. The fresh clams were chopped and accented with red and green peppers, served back in the shell, topped with crispy bacon, bread crumbs and bubbly hot cheese. It was good to taste this delicious old favorite – one which I had not ordered in years. However, the favorite appetizer at the table was mine – Smoked Trout and Cucumber Salad. This was a very generous portion of smoked trout served over a ribbon of shaved cucumber with accompaniments of whole grain mustard, diced applies, red onions, sweet baby gherkins and crispy baguette. I loved this starter and it would be a meal in itself with a bowl of chowder. It was fresh and very healthy too.

Other choices on the menu included broiled clams with lemon, herb butter and bacon; pan seared gulf shrimp with brown butter sauce; fried calamari and Mussels sautéed with garlic, shallots, white wine and herbs in red or white sauce. The Soup of the Day was a Creamy Mushroom and Watercress in addition to the chowder. Youell’s Crab Bisque and Traditional Oyster Stew are famous in the Valley and remain on the menu. They should be tasted if you’ve not experienced them. Fresh Yellow Fin Tuna tartare with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon served on avocado and wonton chips rounded out the appetizer menu.

We visited with Todd, the General Manager (formerly of Yianni’s Tavern in Bethlehem) while we were awaiting our entrees. He said that Youell’s has attracted a new demographic since reopening with its lively open bar concept offering a dozen beers on tap, 20 seats at the bar and 18 at surrounding high tops. That being said, he further noted that every day patrons from 30 or 40 years ago come in to dine, bringing their grandchildren and their families.

Our entrees arrived. Jill ordered the fresh Soft Shell Crabs which were wonderful. They were sautéed very crisp in aromatic white wine, herbs, garlic and butter. This was a very generous portion and some went home for lunch the next day. She loved them.

Millie enjoyed her Crab Cake which she ordered fried. Youell’s Crab Cakes (broiled or fried) continue to be the Specialty of the House. This huge lump crab cake was delicious with absolutely no fillers – just lump crabmeat. What’s not to love? She ordered a side of coleslaw which we all enjoyed with our meals. I chose an old favorite of Shrimp Stuffed with Crab in lemon butter. This dish was good and full of crabmeat smothered in rich butter.

All entrees that night included sides of delicious roasted potatoes and sautéed asparagus.

Chef Tim Plante, while maintaining some of the traditional “old favorites” at Youell’s, has created a whole new menu of exciting dishes to whet your appetites. My trout appetizer is a perfect example. Deliveries arrive daily bringing only the freshest seafood from which to choose. On the features menu (which changes weekly) were Horseradish Crusted Salmon, baked and served over a white bean puree with roasted baby carrots and Brussels Sprouts; Shrimp Palermo sautéed with fennel, garlic and orange zest served with orzo and broccoli; Tournedos Rossini pan-seared medallions of herb crusted filet mignon, served over truffle oil, mashed potatoes and Sauce Marchand de Vin (reduced red wine sauce); and Citrus Soy Rockfish steamed with citrus and soy served with fried rice cakes and baby bok choy. Chef Plante – a very interesting guy – has been at Youell’s for eight years. Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Middletown, New Jersey where he worked various kitchens along the Jersey shore before being recruited by The Canal House in New Hope. He also ran The Back Stage Restaurant in New Hope for four years as well as Club Zadar. Then came Manors Gourmet Market in Lawrenceville that had the catering contract at the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion for four years under Tom Florio’s tenure. After that exciting stint, he opened The Gryphon Restaurant in Point Pleasant which later moved its business to Sellersville as The Gryphon Tavern thus bringing him to the Lehigh Valley and Youell’s Oyster House.  He’s been here ever since.

We finished our evening with coffee and tasted two desserts. All desserts are house made and are delicious. We thought the Blueberry Carrot Cake with lemon cream cheese icing was about as close to perfect as a dessert can get. I have had this cake before but my dining partners had not. I was glad to see the delight on their faces when the first morsel of this cake passed their lips. It is fabulous. We asked Jeremy to surprise us with the second dessert. He brought us a decadent Chocolate Bread Pudding.

Our visit to Youell’s Oyster House was fun, full of poignant memories and tasty surprises. Our service was professional but very friendly. There are new things in the works here such as wine, beer and dinner pairings and their ever-changing selection of fresh oysters. There are four to six varieties on the board every day and Youell’s has served over 65 different varieties of oysters from all over the United States since opening in March.

If you have never done so, visit the tradition that is Youell’s Oyster House. Other seafood places have come and gone but Youell’s has survived, bringing seafood delights to
generations of patrons.

Youell’s is located at 2249 Walnut Street in Allentown. There is on-street parking in a friendly neighborhood. Dinner is served Monday thru Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sundays 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Check out the Youell’s Oyster House website at: for menu, reservations and other information about upcoming events.

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