I still remember the very first time I had an oyster. It was on my 13th birthday, which means that I was a pretty late bloomer considering I was born and raised here in New Orleans. But for some reason, up until that age, those briny bivalves just intimidated me – I thought they would be too slimy. But then my mother took me to Domilise’s for a fried oyster po-boy, and my life has hardly been the same since.
It took me a few more months to brave down the path of raw oysters, and even then I had to break myself in with a heavy accompaniment of saltines and cocktail sauce. But in the years since, my love for oysters has grown and grown into somewhat of an obsession. Which is why I was particularly excited upon returning home from my brief, three-year hiatus in New York to learn that a new festival had bloomed in my absence – the New Orleans Oyster Festival.
And so here I am again, two years later, salivating over the offerings of the upcoming Fourth Annual Oyster Fest, taking place June 1-2 in Woldenburg Park. And whether you’re enough of an oyster aficionado to jump head first into the festival’s oyster eating contest, or if you’re just like I was all those years ago, slowly venturing into new territory on the half shell, there’s something for every level of oyster eater – and even some treats for those not ready to take the plunge yet.
1. Drago’s Charbroiled Oysters – Famous dishes become famous for a reason – because they’re damn tasty. Those of you fortunate enough to have sampled Drago’s signature oyster specialty know that there are few things quite like it. And those of you who haven’t tried, chances are someone somewhere has told you that you can’t leave New Orleans without a bite. They are divine – hot, garlicy buttery amazingness sprinkled with Parmesan and Romano cheeses and served up alongside crusty delicious French bread. Just take my word – and the word of every other person who will be scarfing them down at the fest – these are not to be missed!
2. Red Fish Grill’s BBQ Oyster Po-Boy – Because New Orleans always likes to do things a little differently, when we talk about BBQ Shrimp, or in this case Red Fish Grill’s BBQ Oysters, we’re not talking about your traditional barbecue sauce. The sauce that coats the flash-fried oysters served atop this po-boy is a buttery, peppery-sweet concoction made with Crystal hot sauce and topped off with creamy blue cheese. Think buffalo wings, only better. Feeling adventurous? Throw back one of their icy Bloody Mary Granita shooters – topped off with a freshly shucked raw oyster. Bottoms up!
3. Galatoire’s Fried Oyster BLT Po-Boy – This combination of a standard American staple and a New Orleans specialty is inspired. Delectable, fried plump oysters, sandwiched between fresh french bread with crispy bacon, lettuce and tomatoes? That’s what’s up. Feeling the need to break from the oysters? Galatoire’s Shrimp Remoulade, also being offered during the fest, is also pretty divine.
4. Elizabeth’s Oyster Fois Gras – I have to admit, I don’t really know how I feel about fois gras. Ethics aside, the few times I’ve tried it, I didn’t fully know what to make of it. But the second I saw this particular dish from Elizabeth’s in the Oyster Fest lineup, I was immediately intrigued. There’s something fun about something that sounds so highbrow being served up on a paper plate at an outdoor festival. Plus I have a hard time walking away from anything involving fried oysters, truffle or an aioli of any kind.
5. Borgne’s Oyster Almondine – We’re wild about John Besh’s relatively new restaurant, Borgne. Their booth is a definite must-stop at Oyster Fest this year. If there’s anything this modern Coastal Louisiana restaurant knows how to knock out of the park, it’s seafood – especially oysters. Their Oyster Almondine, pan fried oysters encrusted in ground almonds, garlic, spices and butter, are sure to be a force of flavor to be reckoned with.
Lagniappe: Of course, it goes without saying that any true oyster lover would be remiss in not throwing back a few of the beloved bivalves in their purest form – salty, briny and raw – served on the half shell from ACME Oyster House.
New Orleans Oyster Festival
Saturday, June 1 – 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 2 – 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.