It’s Always a Good Time for an Oyster Roast

The near lifelong friends Alexa Brazilian, Aaron Dickson Millhiser and Courtney Broadwater met in the late 1980s as children on Nantucket in Massachusetts, where their families would spend time each summer. They’d ride their bikes together and pass the days at Siasconset Beach, at the far eastern end of the island. In the years since, each has followed her own creative path: Brazilian, 43, is a writer, consultant and T contributing editor based in Little Compton, R.I.; Dickson Millhiser, 43, is a creative consultant, and a former head of men’s and children’s wear design at J. Crew, who lives in Manhattan; and Broadwater, 43, is an illustrator and artist based in Brooklyn. But the friends still keep in touch daily, often via a group text filled, alongside the usual news and jokes, with recommendations for things — from the best hot water bottle to an easy margarita recipe — that they love too much to keep to themselves.

Over the years, the trio talked occasionally about sharing these finds with a larger audience and, last summer, “we all had a window of opportunity where we were finally able to focus our energies and actually do it,” says Brazilian. The result is The Perfect, a monthly newsletter of items that range from the newly discovered to the generations old. Since the project’s debut last August, tips have included nostalgic patterned socks from the French hosiery brand Bonne Maison; buttery anchovy-and-scallion biscuits from the Brooklyn bakery The Rounds; and a shark-shaped brass comb by the Brooklyn-based company Siren Song that evokes the scrimshaw versions carved by 18th-century whalers. There’s also an emphasis, says Broadwater, on “stuff we loved when we were younger, in our teens and 20s.” After the friends reminisced one day about a cap with a long waterproof bill that their parents wore in the ’80s, Dickson Millhiser tracked down the original, from the heritage brand Quaker Marine Supply, and it earned a spot in the September edition.

The Perfect also has an online shop, offering small batches of vintage items, like worn-in tote bags and denim shirts, embroidered with the newsletter’s name. The pieces were available at a pop-up shop that Brazilian, Dickson Millhiser and Broadwater opened in Newport, R.I., last summer, and the friends plan to host more events. “We’ve known each other through all sorts of chapters of our lives. But professionally, we’ve never really worked together before,” says Dickson Millhiser. “It’s exciting to learn about your friends in a way you didn’t think you could.”

Last month, the three women decided it was time to finally celebrate their collaboration and landed on a meal that would hark back to their Nantucket childhood: an outdoor oyster roast. Though the sky was gray and threatening rain, this tradition of cooking oysters over a fire, one most commonly associated with the coastal Lowcountry region of the Southern United States, reminded the friends of summer clam bakes. Brazilian hosted at her home, a shingled 1820 Cape-style house, set amid fields and woodland just three miles from Little Compton’s South Shore Beach. When the small group of guests, a mix of family and old friends, arrived early in the morning to help set up — the day began with a trip to the shore to source table decorations — they were greeted by the smell of fires set for both cooking and keeping warm, and the nostalgic feel of summers gone by.

The attendees: Heading up the food was Gavin McLaughlin, 45, a chef and the owner of the catering and specialty foods company Portage Foods. His twin brother, Brazilian’s husband, Callum McLaughlin, 45, a co-owner of the Grey Lady oyster bar in New York, oversaw the drinks and played sous chef, and Brazilian’s mother, Suzanne Cavedon, 76, a Rhode Island native, shared stories of growing up in the Ocean State as each course emerged. Other guests included the interior designer Kate Marshall, 36, who is Gavin McLaughlin’s wife, and the Nantucket oyster farmer Terry Ruggiero, 38, who distress washes denim in oyster cages in the ocean for his clothing brand, Luna Salt.

The table: As is traditional for outdoor oyster roasts, the guests ate standing — around an old wooden table covered in brown craft paper and adorned with rockweed that Brazilian, Broadwater and Dickson Millhiser had gathered from the beach. Paper plates and napkins were arranged in wicker holders that once belonged to Cavedon. “Typically,” Dickson Millhiser said, “the things we love most are old.” (Both she and Brazilian were wearing wool fisherman sweaters passed down by their mothers.) Charcoal-infused baguettes from the boulangerie Le Bec Sucré in nearby Middletown doubled as a centerpiece before the rest of the food was served.

The food: McLaughlin stuck mostly to classic Rhode Island dishes and ingredients. Lunch began with johnny cakes, cornmeal-based flatbreads, from Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Usquepaugh, served with homemade crème fraîche, chives and Kaluga Grand Cru caviar from Portage Foods. Cove oysters from the Sakonnet River, which were poured ceremoniously onto the table for the second course, were accompanied by lobster rolls made with lobsters from the family-owned local supplier Sakonnet Lobster, as well as hot dogs from Rhode Island’s beloved Saugy brand, topped with shavings of French black truffle. A semihard cheese, named Peach Fizz and similar to raclette, from the Little Compton dairy farm Sweet and Salty was melted over roasted potatoes from the nearby Wishing Stone Farm. And dessert consisted of roasted apples served with wild blueberry ice cream from the scoop shop Gray’s in Tiverton.

The drinks: The bar was set up in a stone structure once used as a milking shed. Alongside local beers, the hosts served a celery margarita inspired by the celery-infused Easy Wind cocktail at the restaurant Lowland in Charleston, S.C., which Brazilian discovered on a recent birthday trip and included in the March edition of the newsletter. Also in rotation was the Grey Lady Oyster Bloody Mary, made with briny oyster-distilled Ostreida vodka and now, after receiving rave reviews at the party, on the menu at the Grey Lady in New York. Adding color to the bar were pink-and-white tulips and yellow daffodils from the local flower stand Little State Flower Co.

The music: In lieu of a playlist, there was the cracking of oysters being shucked and laughter from the children, who ran laps around the fields and organized a race between two lobsters whom they named Fred and Sally.

The conversation: In addition to the sharing of memories, talk centered on oyster-eating technique. Ruggiero, a onetime champion of the Grey Lady’s biannual oyster eating competition, told the group that the trick to winning is the bulk approach. “Put as many as you can fit in your mouth — then swallow,” he said. “I put in five at a time.”

Two entertaining tips: Brazilian acknowledges that punch bowls are often considered old-fashioned but defends them as “vastly underrated.” For first-time buyers, she recommends this one, featured in the December edition of the newsletter. “You can put ice in it, a signature drink, whatever,” she said. “It’s like a more beautiful version of a cooler.” McLaughlin also shared some advice: If you’re buying lobsters for rolls, ask for ones with missing claws. They’re a cheaper option, he explained, for a dish “that doesn’t need the showmanship” of displaying the whole crustacean.

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