Wareham, Massachusetts, an old oyster town on Buzzards Bay with excellent oyster lineage, will be offering its first-ever oyster festival April 21-27, with the main event taking place April 27. Special restaurant menus, oyster dinners, a 5K run, and more. Sounds like a fun spring day on the water!
Check back here for new oyster tastings and reviews of oyster bars and festivals.
For those who’ve been wondering why I’ve been referring to the Southeast as the slumbering giant of the oyster world, meet Dan Lewis:
Dan is chef and proprietor of Coastal Provisions, a market and oyster bar on North Carolina’s breezy Outer Banks. Dan is a superb chef, and Coastal provisions would be an essential stop on any Outer Banks jaunt even if it didn’t serve oysters, but Coastal Provisions does serve oysters. Serious oysters:
Do not adjust your picture; those really are wild Maine Belons, the first I’ve seen in a rawbar south of Grand Central Station. And, to balance out their extreme flavors, there were ultra-briny Katama Bays from Martha’s Vineyard, Bluepoints from Long Island Sound, and a who’s-who of Virginia oysters: Shooting Points, Seaside Salts, Lynnhavens, James Rivers, Chunus, Ware Rivers, and more. Even more impressive, the local NC oyster, Crab Slough, was on hand, along with its domesticated cousin, Bodie Island, grown just a few miles south, near Oregon Inlet, by this guy, Joey Daniels:
Joey and his family has been fishing out of Wanchese for generations, but a few months back Joey decided to start farming oysters, which he could harvest year-round, instead of the few months the wild season is open, and keep more folks in Wanchese working on the water. He is now the first oyster farmers in the northern Outer Banks, which, like the rest of the Southeast, has traditionally stuck to wild harvesting. My point is that things are changing FAST in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and the Northeast should be shaking in its boots. The Southeast can grow oysters faster than the Northeast, and, as a quick glance at a map will tell you, it has an abundance of estuaries sporting rich, brackish water, high water quality, and low population density–perfect oyster criteria.
What it hasn’t had is a culture of appreciation to match, say, Boston and New York. To be sure, there is strong oyster affinity here, but generally the appreciation has been for one’s local oyster, which was often the only kind available. People in the Outer Banks love their Crab Slough oysters, and even prize the tiny pea crabs usually found inside–which them makes more sophisticated than most denizens of Gotham–but they never saw many oysters from out of state. Until now. What’s amazing is that the Outer Banks is way, way off the beaten path, and until recently the only places where you’d see 6-12 varieties of oysters on the chalkboard were major cities. Expect to see them everywhere in the next few years, as more and more restarateurs catch on that their clientele will eat this up (literally). With guys like Dan Lewis, and Mike Lata at The Ordinary in Charleston, leading the charge, the Southeast is going to become a leader in both making oysters and making them disappear. Dan just offered a six-course oyster blowout as part of the Taste of the Beach festivities (menu below), and it sold out so fast he’s thinking of upping it to two nights next year. Catch it if you can, and savor the taste of a cultural awakening.
Celebration of Oysters
Friday, March 14, 2014
Naked on the Half
A guided tour of oysters from various waters by oyster authority and author Rowan Jacobsen
Fred Loimer Gruner Veltliner ‘Lois’
Oysters & Ice – Local Bodie Island Oysters with Shaved Ices: Pickled Ginger, Horseradish Lemon, & Hog Island Mignonette
Heidsieck Monopole Brut Champagne
Frito Chunu Oysters fried three ways:
Panko Crusted on Wasabi Mashed
Potato Crusted with Sour Cream & Onion
Cornmeal Crusted with Grits & Greens
Marques de Caceres Albarino ‘Deusa Nai’
Oyster ‘Chowder’ with Tender
Smoked Pork Belly
Tiefenbrunner Chardonnay Alto Aldige
Braised Veal & Oyster Risotto
Fava Beans, Pancetta & Oyster Mushrooms
Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore
Steak with Oyster Sauce – our Prime NY Strip Steak with Savory House Oyster Sauce, Mashed Soybeans & Potatoes, Fried Scallion
Charles & Charles Cabernet/Syrah (WA)
Join me and Dan Lewis of Coastal Provisions for a six-course oyster dinner extravaganza as part of the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach festival on Friday, March 14. 6:30-9:00 pm. In addition to sampling the Southeast’s best bivalves, we’ll try Olympias and Shigokus from the Pacific Northwest, and who knows what else? All while the briny scent of the Atlantic wafts indoors and tickles our tastebuds.
When was the last time you saw an oyster like this:
For me it’s been a few years. It’s the size of my friggin’ hand. Deep, deep cup, incredibly strong shell (but easy to shuck). You see oysters this nice only when you get slow growers that are bottom-planted in a spot they like. And that spot has to be blissfully unaffected by boring sponges (which will turn the shells into swiss cheese), meaning the mid-Atlantic is out. New England is pretty much the only game in town for these kinds of oysters. But even then, most growers generally want to keep the cash flow, well, flowing quicker than it takes to grow these babies (30 months, minimum), meaning oysters like these are now very, very rare. These are Johns Rivers, grown by Dave Cheney in the Johns River estuary of Maine (near Pemaquid Point), and they are like no other oyster on the planet. To go with their robust physicality, they possess a unique flavor, which Dave attributes to the Johns River. (His other oysters, grown in cages in the Damariscotta River, display a more traditional light brine.) Johns River oysters deliver intense fruitiness, sweetness, and brine all at the same time. My wife thoight they had a note of banana/strawberry yogurt; I think it’s more like the banana/clove scent of wheat beer. Whatever the case, it’s really unusual, and it’s followed by a mouth-filling clammy umami taste. What it reminds me of most of all is Totten Inlet Virginicas, the eastern oysters farmed in Puget Sound by Taylor Shellfish (and not seen on the market in a few years). Combine all that with the oysters’ prodigious size, large adductor muscles, and firm flesh, and you’ve got an almost overwhelming experience, though an overwhelmingly positive one. Now the bad news: These are very hard to find. Dave only grows a few thousand a year, though he’s hoping to ramp up operations. Best bet to find them is Mine Oyster, Ralph Smith’s seasonal oyster bar in Boothbay Harbor, right around the corner from Dave’s grounds.