“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” - Jonathan Swift
I have read that Louisiana produces one third of all seafood consumed in America. However, when I've shared that fact with people from Boston or Seattle, they have responded, "Yeah, we say the same thing." I do know that we estimate 50,000 oysters are eaten in New Orleans restaurants...every day.
There are many ways to eat oysters, fresh shucked and raw being the favored one. In New Orleans, shuckers like "The pride of Uptown," Thomas Uptown T Stewart, the longtime shucker at Pascale Manales, or Mike Rogers, the five-time oyster shucking champion (yes, we have such an award) are often as well known as noted chefs.
Oyster Rockefeller is perhaps the most famous of all oyster dishes. The recipe includes minced fresh spinach leaves, onion, parsley, bread crumbs, Herbsaint or Pernod, hot sauce, and, of course butter and more butter.
Originally invented at Antoine’s by owner Jules Alaciatore. the story is the dish got its name because it was so rich, Alaciatore decided to name it after the richest man in America at the time, John D. Rockefeller. Ironically, the Oyster Rockefeller was originally a poor man’s escargot. The dish was created in 1899 as a substitute for Snails Bourguignon, hugely popular at the time, when it had become increasingly difficult to source French snails.
Oyster Bienville is another well-loved baked oyster dish created by Antoine’s Chef Auguste Michel and later popularized by the owner of Arnaud’s Restaurant, Arnaud Cazanave. It is named after Jean de Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans. Here, oysters are combined with milk, onions, parsley, egg yolks, white wine, bacon, and butter with back up butter.
A third baked oyster dish, Oyster Fonseca, is a bit harder to find. Bourbon House is known for their version. Here, oysters are complimented by red bell peppers, peeled tomatoes, red onions, jalapeño pepper seeds, thyme, white wine, flour, bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, finely ground tasso, heavy whipping cream, and, of course, butter. Bourbon House also serves oysters topped with champagne mignonette and a small spoonful of local Bowfin caviar.
Charbroiled Oysters are relatively new, created in 1993, when Tommy Cvitanovich, manager of Drago's, was experimenting with a sauce of garlic, butter and herbs. He brushed it on a fresh oysters, then dusted them with Parmesan and Romano cheese and cooked them in their shell on a flaming grill. They became Drago's signature and hugely popular dish. Drago's grills more than 900 dozen Charbroiled Oysters a day. Drago's also serves oysters wrapped in bacon skewers, then broiled, then fried and served over a signature Jack Daniel’s glaze and horseradish sauce.
More commonly, you can order oyster stew, oyster loaf, or oyster po'boys pretty much all over town.
In addition to the restaurants already mentioned, New Orleans is dotted with oyster houses. Acme is probably the most popular because of their convenient French Quarter location and relaxed atmosphere. If the line is too long at Acme, Felix is right across the street and every bit as good. They just need a more aggressive PR agent or a neon sign to compete with Acme's "Waitress Available Sometimes." A half block away are Bourbon House and Red Fish Grill, both known for their oysters. Bourbon House has a way to consume oysters I have frankly never tried. Their Oyster Shooter is a single shucked oysters in a shot glass and bloody mary mix, cocktail sauce, vodka, horseradish.
For many New Orleanians, Casamento's is THE oyster house of the city. Located in Uptown on Magazine Street near Napoleon, Casemento's has been serving oysters since 1919. They still close during months without R's from back in the day you wouldn't eat oysters during the summer. Casamento's may be the least romantic restaurant in which you'll ever eat. Writer Calvin Trillin compared eating amongst their white title walls and fluorescent lights to eating in a drained swimming pool. But their relatively sparse menu is all excellent. I think their gumbo has healing powers. And Linda Gerdes and her staff are delightful locals.
If you happen to visit in early June, the Oyster Festival is held in the French Quarter the first weekend. You can learn more about the festival by reading there press release here. In addition to sampling oyster dishes from top restaurants and hearing live local music, each festival features the oyster shucking competition on Saturday and the oyster eating contest on Sunday. The world record for oyster eating was set during the festival a few years back. Professional eater, Sonya Thomas, aka The Black Widow, can't weigh more than 110 pounds. She scarfed down 47 dozen...in 8 minutes. If I had not been there to bear witness, I seriously doubt I'd believe what I just wrote. Standing there, in a mixture of awe and disgust, I felt Michael Jordan with a basketball or Muhammed Ali in the ring had nothing on Sonya Thomas in front of an oyster tray.
If you want to test your own skills, Acme has a policy that if you can eat 12 dozen oysters, they'll place your name on their wall of honor. Personally, I think they should give you the oysters for free like the Big Texan in Amarillo does for eating their 72 ounce steak with sides, but that's between you and the Acme staff.
You can sample oysters, gumbo, po'boys, pralines, and other signature New Orleans food on NOLA Tricentennial Tours culinary tour., "The Flavor of New Orleans Tour." Or, with notice, we can create an actual oyster tour on boat where you'll harvest oysters off the side and, returning to dock, shuck and devour the freshest oysters you will ever have.
THE CITY THAT CARE FORGOT REMEMBERS - MOMENTS IN NEW ORLEANS HISTORY
With our 300th anniversary upon us, each new blog will highlight important or improbable dates.
July 1, 1929
July 1st was the first day of the extended and bitter Streetcar Strike. When strike breakers tried to restart service, the car was overturned and set on fire. Workers would not return to work for another four months. The age old story is that during the strike, retired rail workers, Bennie and Clovis Martin, now running a grocery store, saw their old workmates weathering the extended strike and said, "Get them po boys some food." Their gravy on French bread is said to be the first Po'Boy. There is growing evidence that the tale of the first po'boy adheres to the Mark Twain quote, "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story."
July 13, 1978
During their 1978 World Tour, the Rolling Stones appeared at the Superdome. The 80,173 in attendance marked the largest indoor crowd in history. They outdrew the Pope in the same venue. Warm up acts for the Stones that night were Van Halen followed by the Doobie Brothers.
July 26, 1896
A few years ago, I listened to a story on NPR where they were commemorating the first movie house in America, the Nickelodeon, which opened in Pittsburgh on June 19, 1905. Normally, I trust NPR more than most news sources. But this day I thought, "Hey, doesn't 1896 come before 1905?" Vitascope Hall was actually the first permanent home for showing movies in the United States. They opened at 623 Canal Street. I think a Voodoo Mart selling cold drinks, cheap luggage, and even cheaper souvenirs sits there today. Back then, cost for admission was 10 cents. For an extra 10 cents, you could peek into the booth where the man was operating the vitascope. If you really wanted to go wild, for another 10 cents you could take home a frame of discarded film.
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