Oysters make people happy. That’s a simple truth that resonates deep, and goes beyond satisfying an appetite or even a craving. It’s something as visceral as the raw oyster itself, bursting with the essence of the tides. It can instill a sense of well being bordering on euphoria.
In New Orleans today there are many more ways to chase this bliss. As the number of eateries serving oysters has increased, so have the variety of oyster bar types in which to partake, depending on your style, your mood or your budget.
It means there are more ways for the oyster obsessed to express their love, either by finding that just-right spot, or perhaps embarking on a grand oyster tour. That’s a pretty handy excuse to get holiday visitors out of the house too.
There’s the old school New Orleans classic, the stand-up oyster bar, which offers no seats but does promise something else, as you can witness as Pascal’s Manale, at Felix’s in the French Quarter, at Casamento’s, and at Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Fish House in Metairie, which looks new but actually inherited the mantle of the old Bozo’s restaurant, and traditions going back generations. At each spot, the stand-up counter engages all the senses as you see the oysters on ice, hear the clatter and clank of knives, shell and lead, and taste the oysters mere moments after they’re opened and slid across the counter to you.
Then there’s the modern New Orleans oyster bar. These are more fancy and offer greater variety, which is new. At New Orleans oyster bars, variety used to mean alternately eating oysters with cocktail sauce or without it. But that’s changing.
For instance, Curious Oyster Company, the crescent-shaped oyster bar inside the St. Roch Market food court, serves an all-star assortment from all three coasts. Order by the oyster and you can taste the differences from St. Bernard Parish to New Brunswick, Canada across one iced platter.
Pêche Seafood Grill was an early adopter of local oyster variety, especially those grown using off-bottom cultivation, a technique producing intensely flavored specialty oysters. And at Borgne, chef Brian Landry now has a new oyster bar showing off those amazing regional varietals too.
Somewhere in the between the old and the new is the neighborhood oyster bar, places where oysters are simultaneously the center of the attention and no big deal at all. You get a sense of that at Seither’s Seafood, where the oyster bar feels like a clubhouse for foodies out tucked into its Harahan neighborhood. K. Gee’s Oyster Bar in Mandeville serves a similar role, and, these days, so does Frankie & Johnny’s. This vintage Uptown joint only added its oyster bar in 2013. But it fits right in. Walk inside from the gravel lot, listen as the sounds of the riverfront and railway are replaced by oldies on the jukebox, order a quick dozen and wait for that oyster glow to rise within.
It’s a dressed-down indulgence, comfort food on a half shell, and proof of that powerful current of oyster culture running through New Orleans, ready to give us oyster lovers a charge.
For commentator Ian McNulty's list of oyster bar happy hours around New Orleans, click here.
The oyster bars noted above:
279 Hickory Ave., Harahan, 504-738-1116
2534 Florida St., Mandeville, 985-626-0530
321 Arabella St., 504-243-1234
Classic Oyster Bars
1838 Napoleon Ave., 504-895-4877
4330 Magazine St., 504-895-9761
Felix’s Oyster Bar
739 Iberville St, 504-522-4440
3117 21st St., Metairie, 504-833-6310
Modern Oyster Bars
2381 St. Claude Ave. (at St. Roch Market)
800 Magazine St., 504-522-1744
601 Loyola Ave., 504-613-3860