Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oyster Bay on the Half Shell

The crisp seaside air is spiked with the aroma of brine and fried food and there are people everywhere.

For years, I’ve heard stories of the legendary Oyster Festival – the annual autumn ritual in Oyster Bay, Long Island – and this year I’ve decided to witness it for myself. It is a sight to behold - a quintessentially Long Island gastronomic and anthropological event that mixes street food, street fair, carnival, local history, flea market, traffic snarls, crowd control and civic occasion into one giant steaming pot of oyster stew. It’s a bit like Cabot Cove meets the Sunrise Mall, and it’s all in celebration of the exotic oyster.

The hamlet of Oyster Bay, Long Island is first mentioned in the journal of Captain David Peterson de Vries in 1632, and it is probably no surprise that he names the bay after the abundant oysters found there. The Dutch settle here, and later during the Revolutionary War, the British-controlled town becomes a hotbed of espionage. President Teddy Roosevelt is also a favored son of Oyster Bay. But those are stories for another day. I’m here for the bivalve molluscs.

I’m surrounded by the chinking sounds of oysters being shucked and the sizzle of fried seafood competing with a loudspeaker system that is broadcasting in mega decibels. While I’d like to try one of everything on the menu, that would be physically impossible, so I decide to stick to the basics and start with a plate of five raw oysters on the half shell. The guy on line behind me says “Five? I want fifteen!” Never underestimate the insatiable appetite of a Long Islander.

The oysters could be a little meatier, but dressed with a little lemon juice and cocktail sauce, they glide effortlessly down my throat. It took me a while to warm up to oysters, but now I love them. Truth be told, they give me a bit of a buzz, which is kind of a guilty pleasure on an early Sunday afternoon. Now pleasantly wired, I decide to check out the festival. It has attracted all kinds. There are children, hipsters, bruisers in sweatshirts and even a guy in an ascot with a perfectly manicured dog.

I discover some disturbing oceanic sculpture …

… a group of talented teens performing a medley of catchy Fifth Dimension tunes …

… a replica of an historic war ship from 1812 …


… and even a couple of pirates …

And, to think that some people are actually at home watching “Meet the Press” right now! The sight of those pirates has made me hungry, so I indulge in some exceptional fried oysters with cocktail sauce and a dollop of horseradish. The batter fried crust is crisp and peppery and adds just the right touch of heat.




I wash this all down with a pint of creamy New England clam chowder.

Now you may think this is a little excessive, but I feel compelled to point out that I actually PASSED on the fried clams, soft shell crabs, oyster stew, lobster roll, a full lobster dinner, funnel cake and the “Pickle on a Stick.” I am the model of restraint.

I am about to leave for the day, when a little Zany voice in my head says, “Don’t go until you’ve had dessert!” I turn, and there I see the ambrosia of all street food festivals – the infamous fried Oreos.

I’ve never tried a fried Oreo (can you believe it?) but that little Zany voice in my head says, “Do it, and do it NOW!” So, I buy just one, and attack it, raising a cloud of powdered sugar in my wake.

As the pirates would say, “Shiver me timbers!”

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

15 comments:

~~louise~~ said...

Happy Sunday, T.W!

Oh boy I'm one jealous "insatiable" Long Islander right now. You went to the Oyster Festival without me!!!

Lucky for you and the Oyster Festival that the weather cooperated. It sure sounds like you hit all the right spots. I still remember my first deep fried oreo. I should, it wasn't that long ago:) However, to this day I still recall my first oyster at the Oyster Festival too. I was more than apprehensive. But, delighted to partake. Buzz is a good word:)

As I lay my head down to sleep in two minutes, I will be dreaming about the Oyster Festival in all it's grandeur and those little slurps of heaven I so miss.

Thank you so much for sharing...

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

I would have never gotten much further than the raw oysters. I too must have the appetite of a Long Islander. I can't get over the size of the oysters. My husband would have loved them (I prefer the small ones myself). A bowl of chowder and I would have been done for the day.

What a great festival. Too bad Zany couldn't have been there. I would wish you a great weekend, but looks like you've already had one (smile).
Sam

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

That is truly the perfect way to spend a Fall weekend -- gorgeous weather, great seafood, and all the glory of a great festival atmosphere. Thanks for bringing it to life for those of us who couldn't be there. May the spirit of Zany continue to rest on your shoulder!

Gloria said...

all look amazing T.W. and I love them,what nice pictures, i think was so fun!!! gloria

Kat said...

Oh, those oysters looks so good. I love the festive feeling of these types of gatherings. Passed on the funnel cake?; OM-Goodness, you do show great restraint!!! (sarcasm)

veron said...

What a festival! It all looks so fun and the weather looked gorgeous for it. I had to laugh at the sculpture of Jaws....

tasteofbeirut said...

You always make me smile; that "model of restraint" as you describe yourself.. why did you not try the fried pickles? I really wanted to know what those things taste like, sounds so surrealistic; I was answering a questionnaire somewhere and it said what is the one food you hate and I said raw oysters. Can't bear the thought of eating these quivering little creatures. Thanks for a good few minutes reading about your outing.

Catherine said...

Well, I am a fellow Long Islander and I have not been to this event!! I was not watching Meet the Press either!! I hope to make it next time. It looks wonderful and very festive. I am glad that you enjoyed it and all of its delectable treats.
Blessings, Catherine

Diana Leto said...

Fried Oreo! Looksss so delicious! As do those fried oysters. Yummy. Looks like a blast. I am jealous!

Mary said...

OMG, I would have loved to be there. It sounds like wonderful fun and you have put to rest any fears I might have had about starving to death in the diaspora. As to the donuts - I was a really scrappy little girl. "Couth" came to me much later in life :-). Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

nataliadecuba said...

Fantastic post!!!! I wish I had gone (we were out East). Meet you there next year? Natalia

Julia said...

I'm glad you listened to your inner-Zany voice. I've never tried fried oreos either, but if I ever had the chance... Looks like a fabulous day.

Barbara said...

What?!! You passed by the soft shell crabs???? I adore them. When I was pregnant with my third, my poor hubby had to get take out soft shelled crabs night after night. :)
This event looks like so much fun. I like oysters raw as well, but those fried ones look damn good.
As for the fried oreos? You certainly had to have one, if only to please Zany.

sophiesfoodiefiles said...

What a lovely day out enjoying fresh oysters!!! The clam chowder looks so tasty too! Great pictures but I love oysters but I am allergic to them! :(

Greetings!

Velva said...

Great Oyster Festival... It all looks fabulous. Not sure I could pull-off raw oysters myself but, I can appreciate them.

The fried pickles...well those are surprisingly quite good.

Great way to spend the day. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Always,
Velva