“Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. The stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.” -Hector Bolitho
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area seafood caught fresh from the Pacific Ocean was often plentiful and affordable, anyone could dine on Dungeness crab drenched in butter or creamy clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, but it wasn’t so with local oysters. They were saved for extra-special occasions, like whole Maine lobster or Russian caviar. Oysters were a delicacy and quite expensive because they had become so very rare.
But here in New Orleans, I discovered the culinary truth of Shakespeare’s words, “the world is your oyster.” What I had once identified as “white-linen” food was instead available to anyone who could scrounge up a ten-spot for a 12-inch fried oyster po-boy. Oysters are everywhere. I could easily spend an entire weekend, eating oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner…not to mention oyster cocktails, and though I have yet to find an oyster-themed dessert, I would not put it past some crazed, ingenious, New Orleans chef to find a way to make that happen…and make it delicious.
But before we get all gastronomically crazy, let’s start with the basics, and you can’t get much more basic than freshly shucked, raw oysters on the half shell. Although you can find plump briny beauties all over the Greater New Orleans Area, the first place that pops into your head, whether you’re a tourist or a local, can be none other than Acme Oyster House. Since 1924, Acme has been the place to go for local, freshly shucked oysters in the French Quarter, and that hasn’t changed. Lines the length of a block or more trailing from the Iberville Street restaurant is a typical spectacle and there’s no surprise as to why when during the prime oyster season (the colder, fall and winter months), you can score a dozen, plump, salty, fresh-from-the-Gulf oysters on the half shell for a mere $13.50! Considering Acme’s popularity and location, that’s one hell of a deal.
Speaking of deals, what about the ever-present fried oyster po-boy? You can literally point your car (or bike) in any direction and find a gas station or a small mom-and-pop that will provide what you need, but they offer a most delicious incarnation at Crabby Jacks. Located on Jefferson Highway, Jacques Leonardi (owner and chef of the famed Jacques-Imo’s on Oak), serves fried seafood plate lunches, juicy fried chicken and an array of tasty po-boys on Leidenheimer including roast beef, French Fry, fried shrimp catfish, and of course, oyster. For $11.95 you can have a regular, cornmeal-battered and fried oyster “Over-Stuffed Sandwich” and a little left over for some homemade potato chips.
Let’s veer away from the sandwich and head on over to SoBou, the cocktail-oriented eatery that was recently opened by The Commander’s Family of Restaurants. Located on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, SoBou is the perfect spot for a sip and a bite before a night on the town. Bar chef Abigail Gullo is behind the stick whipping up incredible cocktails to pair with Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s mouth-watering cuisine and together they create culinary harmony in your mouth. At happy hour, you can enjoy a $6 Sazerac with a $7 plate of Crispy Oyster Tacos garnished with compressed pineapple ceviche, mirliton and Cajun ghost pepper caviar.
If we take it down a notch and get a little closer to home, there’s the comfortable, family-style restaurant in Harahan called Huckleberry’s. Henry Guste, son of Randy Guste of Antoine’s Restaurant, opened this casual restaurant about a year ago. Located on Hickory, Huckleberry’s offers down-home, classic, Creole fare like Blackened Redfish and Shrimp Etouffee and Pecan Catfish. But, one of the signature dishes happens to be a burger, and this isn’t your ordinary burger. Huckleberry’s dubs it “surf and turf at its best,” the Oyster Burger is ½ pound all-beef patty grilled and topped with crumbled bleu cheese and plump, cornmeal battered and fried oysters, and served on a brioche bun. “I’ll be your Huckleberry.”
*Article originally published in the November 2013 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
*Huckleberry’s is closed