Briny bivalves: All about oysters

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Johnny Jackson makes quick work of shucking a dozen oysters to be slurped off the half shell at the Blue Light Grill. (Photo by John Robinson) Johnny Jackson makes quick work of shucking a dozen oysters to be slurped off the half shell at the Blue Light Grill. (Photo by John Robinson)

Oyster purists insist on consuming their sea creatures unadorned and straight from the shell, but the uninitiated might want to work their way up to a slurpfest with these half dozen cooked versions—from poached to broiled—on restaurant menus around town.

Rhett’s River Grill serves Oysters Rockefeller—they’re topped with spinach, garlic, cream, Pernod, and breadcrumbs and then broiled ’til browned. Invented by a New Orleans restaurant in 1840, the dish was named after the wealthiest man in America at the time because of its rich, luxurious sauce.

For an addictive, down-home start to your meal, try Maya’s crunchy cornmeal-crusted oysters dipped in the house rémoulade, which is fancy French talk for a spiced-up tartar sauce.

Tempo poaches three plump oysters in a sauce made from muddled raspberries, shallot, lemon, sherry vinegar, grainy mustard, and cream and then perches them atop rounds of confited potatoes. A spoonful of the delightfully pink poaching liquid and a scattering of microgreens finish the dish.

Oysters go ethnic at Mono Loco, where crispy oysters are combined with shredded pork and jalapeño crema in the Nola Loca Burrito.

The creamy oyster stew at Tastings of Charlottesville is loosely based on a recipe from New York’s Grand Central Oyster Bar with Worcestershire, celery salt, and plenty of butter. A sprinkle of Westminster oyster crackers add some salty crunch.

At the Ivy Inn, fried oysters top a grits cake which comes alongside grilled local trout with pinto beans and kale, all sauced in a smoked bacon butter sauce.­—Megan J. Headley

A festival of mollusks
At last year’s inaugural Blue Ridge Oyster Festival, organizers Justin Billcheck and Nick Attaway knew they had a hit on their hands when 1,800 people showed up at Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nelson County. This year’s festival is on Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 7pm and promises to be better than ever with plenty to eat (look for Ward Oyster Company’s raw, steamed, and grilled oysters harvested from nearby Mobjack Bay and The Rock Barn’s hot dogs, brats, and andouille sausages), plenty to drink (like beer from Devils Backbone and Starr Hill and wine from Blenheim and Cardinal Point Vineyards), plenty to listen to (four live musical acts), and plenty to win (two dozen silent auction items with proceeds benefiting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Blue Ridge). There’ll be an area for kids to play (under 12-ers get in free) and a tented area called the Mobjack Lounge for VIPers who want to splash out a bit more in exchange for all-you-can-eat steamed oysters, four concession tickets, and a commemorative glass.

General admission tickets cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Attaway sums it up best: “Everyone will enjoy beautiful scenery, good food, and great beer and wine with friends and family—aren’t those all the best things in life?”—M.J.H.

Shuck off!
At the festival, you’ll see sister shuckers and world champions Clementine Macon and Debra Pratt in action, but we’ve got our own speed shucker here in town. Johnny Jackson at the Blue Light Grill’s raw bar shucks anywhere from three to five hundred oysters every evening where they celebrate Happy Hour Sunday through Thursday from 4:30pm to 7pm with a half dozen oysters for $10. Pratt’s record is 26 oysters in one minute, so we challenged Jackson to a shuck off. The pressure was on, but by entering through the hinge instead of the lip (a Southern secret), he had an impressive 15 open and ready for a-slurping.

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