True oyster lust does not stop -- not when you're full but there are still a few oysters on the tray and not in summer, despite that old adage you may have heard concerning months spelled without the “R.” The romance of the oyster cannot be so primly constrained.
Still, though, as winter arrives and as our Gulf oysters inch closer to their seasonal prime, the anticipation gets keener and the pleasure of oysters grows sharper. If you’re the sort of oyster eater whose interest perks up as the weather cools down, it's time to catch up on some changes around New Orleans since last season.
First, there are simply more oyster bars. Between the endless stream of new restaurants opening and some interesting renovations at older spots, there are now raw oysters at the ready in more neighborhoods.
Some of them are showcasing new oyster farming techniques. Just a year ago, the off-bottom cultivation method was little known along the Gulf Coast. But the specialty oysters it produces have quickly drawn a following and put entirely different local flavors in rotation.
These specialty oysters taste distinctively briny and rich. They have different shell shapes. They look a little more streamlined, more elegant, and, naturally, they come with higher price tags too. They have place-based brand names like Beauregard Island, Caminada Bay and Champagne Bay, all from Louisiana, or the alarmingly evocative names Murder Point and Massacre Island, both from Alabama.
Where to find these new Gulf oyster types? There’s a mix of old and new names putting them in the spotlight, the likes of Peche Seafood Grill, Borgne and Seaworthy, all downtown, Bourbon House in the French Quarter, Station 6 in Bucktown, Kenton’s Uptown and Elysian Seafood in St. Roch.
For all the new styles though, the city’s classic oyster bars still endure, and New Orleanians have strong loyalty and personal connections to their trusted old favorites. These can’t be replaced.
What’s interesting is how some newer oyster bars have emerged to channel the same spirit of the old ones. Some are vintage restaurants that have added oyster bars, like Deanie’s on Hayne out by the lakefront in New Orleans East, or newer remodels, like Tracey’s Irish Channel Bar on Magazine Street. Others are new but feel like they could have been in their neighborhoods forever, like Mr. Ed’s in Mid-City and MeMe’s in Chalmette, which has finally brought an oyster bar to St. Bernard Parish, the place where so many Louisiana oysters start out.
Oysters are just everywhere these days. There are even oyster bar pop-ups that set up shop at a few bars throughout the week.
Wherever you’re opening oysters in this town, you’ll have people’s attention. It’s how they look, that rough, rocky tumble that you know hides something delicate and delicious. It’s their briny smell. It’s even the sound of the shucker’s knife, that wet scoop and flick under the shell and the crunch of opened oysters hitting a marble bar top. Oyster are about more than making a meal. Oysters make people happy, and today we can chase this bliss all around town.
New oyster bars for 2016:
7350 Hayne Blvd., 504-248-6700
2381 St. Claude Ave., 504-323-9123
712 W. Judge Perez Dr., Chalmette, 504-644-4992
301 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-872-9975
2604 Magazine St., 504-897-5413
630 Carondelet St., 504-930-3071
105 Old Hammond Hwy., 504-345-2936
More oyster bars serving regional oyster varieties
601 Loyola Ave., 504-613-3860
144 Bourbon St., 504-522-0111
5757 Magazine St., 504-891-1177
800 Magazine St., 504-522-1744
Revisiting some classic New Orleans oyster bars
4330 Magazine St., 504-895-9761
739 Iberville St, 504-522-4440
1838 Napoleon Ave., 504-895-4877