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Thursday, June 5, 2014

An Oyster Stout Shout Out

Vintage Guinness Ad for Oysters and Beer

Have you noticed oyster stouts popping up on bar menus?  The oyster craze shows no signs of slowing … and oyster stouts are what's trending now.

First things first: I didn't know that oyster stouts were actually brewed with oysters. I thought it was a clever name, piggybacking on the resurgence of oysters. Nope. As it turns out, most oyster stouts are either brewed with oyster shells or steeped with an oyster meat teabag. (In my defense, a few beers call themselves oyster stouts [Marston's] but aren't made with oysters. They just taste good WITH oysters.)

So back to oyster stouts. Why in the hell would someone brew beer with oysters? 

It started like the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials: "Your chocolate got in my peanut butter. No, your peanut butter got in my chocolate." (Please stop and watch this classic commercial. You may pee your pants a little.)


Back, back in the day, shucked oysters were served in every tavern like a bowl of peanuts and stout was the beer of choice. Pop in an oyster. Sip stout. Repeat. They just seemed to work.

The first formal oyster stout is believed to have been brewed in New Zealand in 1929, though I can't find any real evidence of it. (Kids, if you are writing a research paper on oyster stouts, do not use this post as a resource.) A few breweries in Australia, Ireland and the UK rolled out their own oyster stout. Then, as trends go, stout was replaced with pale ales and oysters found themselves out of favor. Bye, bye oyster stout.

Thank goodness trends come back around (watch the Reese's '80s video again). Oyster stouts are baaaaacccccck. Microbrewers are teaming up with the biggest names in the oyster business (Hama Hama, Hog Island, John Dory) to create new award-winning stouts. Here's a few to try:

  • The folks at Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD, aren't messing around with their oyster brew. They toss in whole Rappahannock River Oysters into their Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout near the end of the boil, according to head brewer, Ben Clark. As if the lure of brewed Rapps aren't enough, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Pearl Necklace benefits the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which helps restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. 
  • Upright Brewery in Portland, OR, tries to do one better, using both oyster liquor and whole oysters from Hama Hama Oyster Company. Oyster Stout (no marketing gimmicks at this brewery) was a 2012 World Beer Cup Bronze medal winner. Special bonus: On the last Friday of each month, Oyster Social, a mobile oyster raw bar, sets up shop in the tasting room at the brewery. 
  • HenHouse Brewing Company in Petaluma, CA, brews its stout with oyster shells from our friends at Hog Island Oyster Co. The shells are bagged, thrown into a vat, and boiled for a half hour to leach out the minerals. Brewers then fish out the shells. For now, HenHouse Oyster Stout is only a West Coast thing. (Psst.: Sources say that retired Marooned on Hog Island from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Fran may show up again in a year or two.)
  • John Dory Oyster Stout from Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn is made exclusively for The John Dory Oyster Bar in NYC. Yep, there's only one spot to enjoy the brew. 
  • A microbrewer from Charleston, SC, is getting props for brewing a stellar oyster stout. Coast Brewing Company brews a seasonal Bulls Bay Oyster Stout using local oysters from Jeff and Carrie Spahr at Charleston Oyster Co. The stout is available at the brewery as well as at Charleston-area bars and restaurants.
  • Ireland has jumped on the oyster stout bandwagon as well. Notably, the Porterhouse Brewing Company in Dublin, Ireland, gets rave reviews. Fresh oysters are shucked directly into the conditioning tanks. Surely, someone fishes them out …??

Absent from this list is Island Creek Oyster Stout from Boston's Harpoon Brewery & Beer Hall, an early marquis entrant into the oyster stout market. The beer has been retired and there are no current plans to bring it back.




BTW, if you find an oyster-like substance in your beer, it could be a "beer oyster," which isn't an oyster at all … and really gross. The kids at TYWKIWDBI blog write a first hand, really *explicit* account of a beer oyster. Don't say I didn't warn you.



Photo from Upright Brewing
Cheers to a dozen oysters on the half shell and a cold oyster stout!

You foam within our glasses, you lusty golden brew,
Whoever imbibes takes fire from you.
The young and the old sing your praises,
Here's to beer,
Here's to cheer,
Here's to beer!


"The Bartered Bride"

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fresh, Funky, and Foolhardy Oyster Recipes

I like my oysters straight from the sea. But I've noticed a bounty of unusual recipes lately starring oysters in some surprising dishes. Heck, Oysters Rockefeller was a shot in the dark … maybe one of these will someday be a classic. 





OYSTER NACHOS



Oyster Nachos and Oysters Supreme, Ouzts' Too Oyster Bar
Photo: Florida Sportman

I tweeted (@OysterBuzz) about these oyster nachos awhile back. It's so outrageous it has to be tasted at least once. Ouzts' Too Oyster Bar in Crawfordville, Florida, is known locally for fresh shucked oysters. In addition to oyster shooters, they have two other oyster dishes on the menu: Oyster Nachos and Oysters Supreme. Here's the recipe as Tommy Thompson 
at Florida Sportsman wrote:


Oysters Supreme/Oysters Nachos
Arrange a dozen or so small or medium shucked oysters (save the large ones to eat raw!) on a microwaveable plate or platter. Take care to free the oyster from the bottom shell when you’re shucking as that makes eating easier. Put about a half-teaspoon of butter on each oyster, and then add either a teaspoon of chopped cooked bacon or a slice of pickled jalapeño pepper. Top with some shredded cheddar cheese and microwave on high power for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how well done you like your oysters. Serve with cold beer—of course!




OYSTER CATSUP



In the late 1800s, oysters were everywhere. Rich or poor, everyone ate them. The 1887 White House Cookbook has dozens of recipes for oyster stews, casseroles, and more. Oyster catsup always stuck out at me for its originality. Here's the recipe exactly as it appears in the cookbook:

One pint of oyster meats, one teacupful of sherry, a tablespoonful of salt, a teaspoonful of cayenne pepper, the same of powdered mace, a gill of cider vinegar.

Procure the oysters very fresh and open sufficient to fill a pint measure; save the liquor and scald the oysters in it with the sherry; strain the oysters and chop them fine with the salt, cayenne and mace, until reduced to a pulp; then add it to the liquor in which they were scalded; boil it again five minutes and skim well; rub the whole through a sieve, and, when cold, bottle and cork closely. The corks should be sealed.


Find more White House oyster recipes from 1887 at www.harborislandoyster.com.



OYSTERS TOPPED WITH PASSION FRUIT CAVIAR

Fruit Juice Caviar
Photo: Lexie's Kitchen

We've talked about flavor pairings before (kiwi and oysters were a delicious treat). Paste Magazine took it one step further and suggests oysters topped with passion fruit caviar. The inventive food blogger, Lexie, from Lexie's Kitchen gives us the 4-1-1 to make passion fruit "caviar."

Ingredients:
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/3 c passion fruit juice puree
1/4 t agar agar powder

Directions: 
Chill the vegetable oil in a tall glass. Mix passion fruit juice and agar agar in saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes or until agar dissolves. Let agar/juice mixture cool for 5 minutes. Fill a straw with the cooled mixture and let droplets of it fall from the straw, one at a time, into the cold oil. The caviar pearls will form on contact with the oil. Strain the caviar out of the glass and rinse with water. Until you’re ready to use them, store them in water. When you’re ready to top your oysters with the caviar, simply take them out of the water and place them on a paper towel. Pat them dry and top your oysters. Note: Agar agar powder is available at Amazon.com and in Asian grocery stores.





OYSTER STUFFING CAKES


Move over blue crabs … oyster cakes are in the house. I found this recipe by chef Peter Woods in The New York Times:

INGREDIENTS:

Oyster Stuffing Cake
Photo: Jay Paul for The New York Times
1 pint freshly shucked Eastern (virginica) oysters and their liquor, finely chopped. 
12 oz stale bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 oz (1/3 c) freshly grated Parmesan
1 stick unsalted butter
3 slices bacon, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, plus extra for binding
2T fresh oregano, chopped fine
2T fresh thyme, chopped fine
6 fresh sage leaves, minced
2t ground coriander
course salt
black pepper
canola oil

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a large bowl, combine oysters and their liquor, bread and cheese. Set aside.
2. In a heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add bacon and let cook 3-5 min., until fat has rendered and bacon is cooked through but not crisp.
3. Add celery and onion, stir to coat, then add stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until vegetables have softened, 10 min. Add herbs and coriander, mix well and turn off heat.
4. Add vegetable mixture to bread mixture in bowls. Toss well, season to taste with salt and pepper, then refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours, or overnight.
5. When ready to cook, form chilled mixture into 3 1/2 oz patties, about the size of a clementine. Let patties come to cool room temp. Heat oil in a skillet and working in batches pan-fry patties, turning once, until browned on both sides and hot all the way through. Serve hot. 

Makes 12 patties.






WATERMELON MARGARITA OYSTER SHOOTERS


Vodka oyster shooters. Snooze. Watermelon Margartia Oyster Shooters? Hello! Chef Ben Pollinger at Oceana Restaurant in NYC creates oyster shooters that make you want to dance. Thanks to Food Republic for the recipes.

Place freshly shucked oysters in the bottom of a tall shot glass. You choose how many.
Watermelon Margarita:
  • 1 oz. fresh watermelon juice, or muddled chunks of watermelon
  • 3/4 oz. tequila
  • 1/4 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • garnished with pickled watermelon rind
Bellini:
  • 3/4 oz. white peach purée
  • 1/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. Thai chili simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz. white rum
  • Float of sparkling wine





OYSTER AND MUSHROOM TAPAS



The Cooking Channel has become a dumping ground for weird cooking shows that would never make it in the Big Leagues, but has the draw of watching a bad car wreck in slow motion. As a result, it's also a mecca for unusual recipes made with just about anything. This recipe from Graham Quayle looks good enough to actually eat.

Oyster and Mushroom Tapas
Photo: Cooking Channel
Ingredients:
4 oysters
4 pieces thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1t peanut oil
2 oz soy sauce

Directions:
Place oysters on grill until shell opens. Remove top shell and place a piece of shiitake mushroom and green onion on oysters. Heat the peanut oil, then add soy sauce. Pour oil/soy sauce liquid over oysters for a sizzling effect.






CRISPY OYSTERS ON YUCCA ROOT CHIPS



Crispy Oysters on Yucca Root Chips
Photo: Food Network
I am not a fan of fried oysters. I've eaten famous fried oysters across the South, and I just can't warm up to them. But, yet, these fried oysters on yucca root chips with harbanero honey aioli sound intriguing. Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas from Jeffrey's Restaurant in Austin, Tex., may just change my mind. 


INGREDIENTS:
Habanero Honey Aioli
2T Dijon Mustard
2T honey
1/2 c washed and chopped cilantro leaves
1 habanero chile, seeded and chopped
1T lemon juice
4 egg yolks
1c salad oil
1/2t salt

Yucca Root Chips
1 large yucca root, peeled and thinly sliced
soybean oil
1/2c fine sea salt
4 lemons, zested

Crispy Oysters
1c buttermilk
1c all purpose flour
20 fresh plump oysters
1/2c pico de gallo

DIRECTIONS:
In a blender, blend together mustard, honey, cilantro, habanero and lemon juice. Puree this into a smooth paste. Add egg yolks and blend briefly to incorporate. Remove the clear plastic piece from the center of the blender lid. With the blender running, gradually add the oil in a thin stream until the mixture thickens into a light emulsified mayonnaise. Season with salt and set aside.
Soak the thinly sliced yucca root in hot water. Add 3 inches of soybean oil to a deep-fryer or deep skillet and preheat to 375 degrees F. Evenly mix the fine sea salt and the lemon zest and set aside. Remove the yucca root slices from the hot water and pat dry to remove any excess moisture. Place the dried yucca slices in the hot oil and fry for 1 to 2 minutes until lightly brown. Shake them gently when removing them from the fryer so that they don't stick together. Place chips on absorbent paper and dust with the lemon salt while they are still hot. Set aside.
Maintain the 375 degree F of the frying soybean oil. Pour buttermilk into a shallow bowl; in separate shallow bowl add flour. First drop oysters into buttermilk and then transfer to the bowl containing the flour. Toss oysters in flour just enough to lightly coat them. Transfer oysters to a frying basket and lower into the hot oil. Fry oysters for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light brown. Transfer oysters to a paper towel or absorbent paper. 

To assemble, place a yucca root chip on plate, place crispy oyster on top of chip, spoon a dollop of aioli onto the oyster and then sprinkle with pico de gallo.






FLOUNDER FILLETS WITH LEEK AND OYSTER CRUST



What's going to be the new umami flavor this year? Oyster liquor. From our friends in New Zealand at The Great Food Race comes a heightened appreciation for oyster juice. (The recipe calls for using oyster liquor, cream and lemon to moistened the crumb and oyster stuffing.) Hoping to see more recipes starring oyster liquor. Click here for the full recipe. 









OYSTER OMELETTE



Photo: Taiwan Duck
Got the late night munchies in Taiwan? Oyster omelets are on every street corner. These omelets aren't new, but to my American's senses, it is funky. Ingredients include ketchup, peanut butter, plum powder, eggs, sweet potato flour, fish sauce - and oysters. 












Bravo chefs! Keep the innovation going. I truly believe that everyone can like oysters and adding new flavors can only help widen the appeal. Have a recipe for a weird or unusual oyster dish? Please let me know at kim[at]harborislandoyster[dot]com.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

All the Oyster Ladies Please Stand Up


I don't know why the oyster industry is dominated by men. Perhaps it's the manual labor, the mud, the "ick" factor  … whatever it is, it's time the oyster chicas had their say. March is Women's History Month and as we say goodbye to the worst month of weather ever, there's no better time to celebrate a few of the women who are making their mark on oyster culture.  



ERIN BYERS MURRAY
Author, Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm
Journalist & Editor

I've written before that I have a girl crush on Erin Byers Murray, author of Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster FarmA few years ago, Erin took a giant leap of faith, quit her fabulous job at Daily Candy, and froze her way through a year at Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury, MA. Shucked is an in-depth, first-hand account of what it's like to slog it out on the oyster fields, in the mud, in the cold. Her book is raw, funny … and she isn't afraid to let it all hang out. Dozens of women work everyday on oyster farms across America. Shucked gives those women (and men) the credit they deserve. 


When I reached out to Erin for this post, she wrote back (like all cool chicks do) and said she'd be glad to help. Here's an excerpt from my interview:


What was your favorite part of oyster farming?
During the summers, I was in charge of the oyster seed, which in and of itself was a grueling job since it meant lifting 50-pound boxes of seed out of the water, dumping the seed into various containers and cleaning it by hand, then grading it by size. But, the task of grading itself was so satisfying - watching the oyster seed progress from week to week gave me an appreciation for just how much energy goes into creating consistent oysters. The task also helped me slow down, put my hands in the water and focus on the work at hand. Now that I'm back behind a desk, I would give anything to spend a day grading oyster seed. Another favorite activity was hand-picking oysters out on the lease on a low, low tide. This usually happened at dawn or dusk and I loved being out in the middle of the bay in the early hours, watching the world wake up around us. 
Reading your book, I could feel how hard the work was. I think MY muscles hurt at times. While men, in general, may be more suited to some of the most physical parts of oyster farming, in what ways are women more suited for the work?
I think, in most instances, I found that the women on the farm worked very efficiently. The men did, too, but often, the women would remain focused on the task and on keeping the workflow of the farm on pace. The women I worked with took a lot of pride in how they sorted the oysters, how efficiently they could cull, and how their work reflected on the greater team. I think Island Creek Oyster that farmer/founder Skip Bennett intentionally hired women for that reason -- we were great motivators for some of the guys on the team. 


Erin is currently the managing editor of Nashville Lifestyles and is a freelance writer for several national publications. She is also writing a cookbook with chef Jeremy Sewall (Island Creek Oyster Bar). Look for it in October 2014. You can purchase Shucked now.












KATE ORFF
Founder, SCAPE
Assistant Professor, Columbia University


Kate Orff may be the most notable oyster person you may have never heard of. Orff, founder of SCAPEproposes using the innate properties of oysters to solve some tough problems. SCAPE, an environmental landscape architecture firm based in NYC, pioneered the idea of oystertecture - using oysters to protect shore lines AND clean the water. In its simplest interpretation, she wants to build artificial oyster reefs in the New York Harbor to clean the water, lessen the wave action during severe storms, protect the coastline, and, in a long term plan, re-create the oyster bounty that once proliferated New York City. Worldwide, coastal countries are taking note of her progress. Leave it to oysters, and girl power, to someday save NYC. 

Check out her talk about oystertecture at the TED Conference






DR. KIRSTEN BENKENDORFF
Mollusk Researcher, Southern Cross University
Vice President, Australasian Malacological Society


Dr. Kirsten Benkendorff
Researcher, Southern Cross University
Dr. Kirsten Benkendorff thinks oysters can one day save human lives. Her ground-breaking research includes developing ways to reduce disease in oyster aquaculture, using oysters to predict the effect of global climate change, and most exciting to me, extracting anti-cancer agents from mollusks. Dr. Benkendorff's research has found that the oysters produce chemical compounds as defense mechanisms against marine pathogens. (Who knows what kind of crap filter through oysters everyday?!) These compounds may one day be used to fight cancer in you or in me. In 2011, she received the prestigious Dorothy Hill Award from the Australian Academy of Science for her research on anti-cancer extracts from Australian whelks. She currently teaches at in the School of Environmental Science at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia.


TRY OYSTER WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION
Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa


Women work together in The Gambia to raise and harvest oysters
for sale in the local market. Their techniques not only help themselves,
they are helping save the environment.
Oysters are helping some women of The Gambia, West Africa, find a way out of poverty and into financial independence. I get goosebumps every time I think about this program.  TRY Oyster Women's Association (http://try-oysters.com) started in 2007 with 40 women in a single village; they have now grown to more than 500 women in 15 villages around The Gambia capital, Banjul. Women have been harvesting oysters (Crassostrea tulipa) for decades in the mangroves near Tanbi National Park. Eager to find ways to be less destructive to the mangroves and to increase production, the West African government and international groups funded several projects to find the best ways to grow oysters. First, they started with rack systems and then moved to the hanging method.

Want to get involved? TRY is always seeking people to work with the women at harvesting sites and to teach basic business skills. For more information, call 220.991.1162 or email tryoysters@gmail.com. You can also donate money at  http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/gambian-women-become-entrepreneurs/



KAHREN DOWCETT
Board Member, World Oyster Society
Director, International Oyster Symposium
Kahren Dowcett
World Oyster Society

Kahren Dowcett founded the Living Arts Institute to "spotlight social and environmental topics highly relevant but not so visible nor in mainstream public discourse." Lucky for us, her current cause is oysters.
The Living Arts Institute has created a unique way to educate the public about oysters. Cirque de Sea: An Oyster Tale Extraordinare is a stage play featuring Sammy the Spat; Oyster Cabaret is a dinner theater; and Oysters to the Rescue is an education program geared toward middle school students. All of these programs will be featured at the first ever Cape Cod Week (Oct. 18 - Oct. 15, 2014) - a week-long celebration of oysters beginning with the Wellfleet OysterFest and ending with the Bi-Valve Beach Bake and Bonfire at the Sea Crest Hotel. The Living Arts Institute is also the official producer of the International Oyster Symposium, a global event supported by the World Oyster Society. The 2015 event is being held for the first time in the United States. Dowcett is the only female officer on the executive or steering committees for the World Oyster Society, and now she's in charge of its most high profile event. 



OYSTER WOMEN ON THE FRONTLINES

In 2009, Tommy Leggett, a Virginia oysterman, conducted an informal survey of his contacts on the East Coast, to try and determine how many oyster farmers were women, excluding those who work in hatcheries, sorters, shuckers and researchers. Here's a quick glance at his results:


There are more than 1,000 small clam and oyster farms on the East Coast 
  • Maine has 5 women oyster farmers 
  • Massachusetts has 6 women oyster farmers
  • Connecticut has 3 women oyster farmers 
  • New York has 4 women oyster farmers 
  • New Jersey has 1 woman oyster farmer 
  • Virginia has 2 women oyster farmers 
  • North Carolina has 3 women oyster farms
I know this number has grown by a few but the story is the same. Fortunately, women who are looking to get into the oyster growing business have several role models to look to. In fact, some of the best oyster people in the country are women, including:
  • Barbara Scully, Glidden Point. A Canadian-based TV producer I spoke to said when offered to make a show about oysters, she declined, saying it would get in the way of the work. 
  • Barbara Austin, Wild Wellfleets. A 30+ year veteran who the weathered oystermen of the area call "a legend."
  • Abigail Carroll, Nonesuch Oysters. A relative newcomer to oyster farming, Ms. Carroll is innovating, growing slowly, taking her time, and finding out what works.   


KERSTIN WASSON
Adjunct Associate Professor, USCS
Research Coordinator, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve


Kerstin Wasson is not afraid of the mud, or the cold, or the looming task of saving oysters one at a time. Kerstin and her team of researchers are nursing wild Olympia oysters from the brink of extinction. Olympia oysters were plentiful until the 1920s. Middens (oyster shell piles) found in the area date back at least 7,000 years. Kerstin, through her work with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, hopes to bring back the Olympia oyster to it's previous levels. The Elkhorn Slough is a critical piece of the Olympia oyster because it connects the oyster beds in San Francisco to Mugu Lagoon. Using shell necklaces (oyster shells tied onto strings) and reef balls (oyster shells attached to domed shaped cement blocks), her team is hoping to find slowly bring back the native Olympia population. It's tedious work. Some areas of the Elkhorn Slough estuary have less than 100 Olympia oysters. The threat of extinction is real every day. 


VOICES FROM THE PAST
"The energy of these women is prodigious. There are children, cattle, a vegetable garden and everything else to see to before and after eight hours of oystering … Yet there is hardly a women who doesn't find time to grow flowers." - Eleanor Clark
Throughout history, it has always been the stories of love, suffering, and lessons that have bonded women. In 1964, Eleanor Clark wrote The Oysters of Locmariaquer, a subtle, romantic, jarring, beautiful book about the small town of Locmariaquer on the Breton Coast of France that grew Belon oysters. At the time, women outnumbered men ten to one. Clark artistically wove the stories of these oyster women with the fabric of the town and the oysters themselves. 


(Sadly, the native Belon population in Locmariaquer was wiped out in the 1970s. Oysters now grown in the area are Japanese Gigas.) 




Happy Women's History Month. To all my oyster girls out there, I hope you find time to grow flowers. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Ordinary (Charleston Oyster Tour)



I love when people have a sense of humor, especially ironic, dry humor. Even the most abrasive people endear themselves to me with a bit of comic wit. Which is why I loved The Ordinary before I even stepped foot in the door. For a restaurant that quickly rose to the top in a traditional culinary town to call itself "ordinary" is self-deprecating (another of my favorite traits) and pretty funny. 

In a great mood before I arrived, I couldn't wait to see what oysters they had on tap, so when I showed up in the pouring rain at noon for lunch, I was crushed. (Note: The Ordinary is not open for lunch, even on the weekends.) No worries. I decided to end, not begin, my Charleston oyster tour at The Ordinary




When I returned that evening to the Oyster Hall, it was packed and I was ready. We plopped (again) in front of the oyster bar and chatted up Evan Gaudreau, a newbie oyster shucker from Boston. Along with veteran shucker Sean Norton, the two shuck more than 800 oysters a night to the hippest crowd in Charleston. On the recommendation of our waitress, we paired a half dozen oysters with a Pepiere Clos de Briods Muscadet (Loire Valley, France): my new favorite oyster wine.



Boston transplant Evan Gaudreau
Oyster Shucker, The Ordinary
Charleston, SC


Veteran Shucker Sean Norton
The Ordinary, Charleston, SC
The Oyster Bar in the Oyster Hall
The Ordinary, Charleston, SC



We ordered an assortment of Coosaws Cups, Wallace Bays, Pickle Points, and Standish Shores. While waiting, I tried not to stare at the trio of celebrity TV chefs - in for the Food + Wine Festival - who were also getting a piece of The Ordinary, incognito. Oysters arrived. I stopped staring and reverted to furtive glances.




Coosaw Cups (Beaufort, SC)

Coosaw Cups
Beaufort, SC
  
You gotta see the cups on the Coosaws - we're talking Double Ds. They are huge! These South Carolina natives are briny, meaty and restaurant ready. Grown at the mouth of the Coosaw River, south of Charleston, I expect Coosaws to start showing up on oyster menus up and down the coast. Too much rain killed much of the harvest in 2013. Let's hope they continue to rebound. Great job Coosaw! Whoot whoo.





Wallace Bay, (Nova Scotia, Canada))


Wallace Bay
Nova Scotia, Canada

These wild oysters grow slow in Northern Nova Scotia. They are medium briny, medium meaty, medium taste. They are middle of the road. I give them more credit than other oysters in their class knowing that most of them are harvested in freezing waters with a mask and a snorkel. Some people really like Wallace Bays. I think you can do better.




Pickle Point (PEI, Canada)


Pickle Point Oysters
PEI, Canada

What if Peter Piper picked a peck of Pickle Points? How many Pickle Points did Peter Piper pick? (Hint: an oyster peck is about 20-25 oysters, give or take.) I'm sure it was subliminal, but Pickle Points taste a bit like pickles: briny/veggie-ish. These are some of the best oysters I've had from PEI. I look forward to ordering again. Plus it's so fun to say, "Can I have a plate of Pickle Points?"



Standish Shore (Duxbury Bay, MA)


Standish Shore Oyster
Duxbury Bay, MA



Standish Shores are grown by the Pangea Shellfish Company, a Boston-based shellfish distributor. The fact that they both grow their own oysters and represent oyster farms on both coasts is an interesting dynamic. So is the oyster. Standish Shores burst with brininess, then finish sweet. Not candy sweet like Komo Guays, but fruit sweet. They are tumbled before a final bottom culture, which creates so stellar shells. I like them. It's hard to go wrong in Duxbury Bay.




The oysters are great. The atmosphere is fun. The service is like it should be everywhere, but isn't. The building is extraordinary. Or ordinary, depending on your sense of humor.

The Ordinary is part of Oyster Stew's Ultimate Oyster Tour of CharlestonClick here for details about the two-day tour.






The Ordinary
544 King St. 
Charleston, SC
843.414.7060






Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bowens Island Restaurant (Charleston Oyster Tour)

Oyster cooks at Bowens Island Restaurant
steam local oysters one batch at a time. 
You can't make a reservation. You have to stand in line for food. You often have to share a table with strangers. And your oysters are cooked as fast as a couple of steam pots will allow. In the end, you'll start planning your next visit.

Founded in 1946, Bowens Island Restaurant is a classic Southern seafood dive about a half hour from downtown Charleston, SC. It ain't fancy, but it is familiar … and you can't beat the views. Inhabited by a couple of homes, a kayak purveyor, and the restaurant, Bowens Island hosts a classic oyster and seafood restaurant that regularly makes the Top 25 oyster restaurants in the country. For new customers, the experience can be a little confusing, so Bowens Island offers a list of FAQs. Here's a few excerpts, as they are written:
  • Food orders are taken until 9:30pm
  • Local steamed oysters are served usually between September and April (depends on water temp.)
  • We DO NOT serve raw oysters.
  • Sorry, we do not have melted butter.
  • NO AMEX
  • ALL DRAFT BEER IS LOCAL.
Simple enough. New visitors, here's the drill: doors open at 5p, but the line starts earlier. Find a spot in the willy-nilly parking lot and walk up the large ramp to stand in line to order food. No one in line is in a hurry to go anywhere and everyone's in the mood to chat. In true Southern style, the family in front of you will end up inviting you to their beach house the next time your in town. We arrived around 6p and waited in line for about an hour. The restaurant closes at 10p, and as the rules above state, you have to order by 9:30p. A tray of oysters rings in at $14.75/tray, or take advantage of the all-you-can-eat option for $27.50. 


Customers climb the long switchback ramp
to wait in line to order food at Bowens Island Restaurant.

After you order, stalk a table on the main floor or walk down the stairs to the Oyster Room, where you'll find family-style, well-loved oysters tables. 


The Oyster Room at Bowens Island Restaurant






Oysters are steamed in small batches and served until they run out. Cooks work for tips. You may have to wait in another line to get them hot. 


An oyster cooks steams local oysters
in pots heated over propane tanks.


No matter what you order, time your visit for sunset. It's spectacular to see the sun go down at the end of the earth. Bowens Island is a bit out of the way - but isn't that where you find what matters?



Sunset at Bowens Island


Bowens Island Restaurant is part of Oyster Stew's Ultimate Oyster Tour of Charleston. Click here for details about the two-day tour.





Bowen's Island Restaurant
1870 Bowens Island Road
Charleston, SC 29412
843.795.2757