Oysters: A shell-shucked field guide

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
WiAnno Oysters at Rivage Atlantique

Oysters. Back when folks harvested the slimy, salty, creamy (and delicious) mollusks from the wild, the best way to avoid toxins from algae blooms was to eat them only in cooler, R-ending months. Now that they're commercially grown, we can enjoy them any time of the year and, as it turns out, in any style. Here, we've grabbed a few of our favorite bivalve finds.

Rivage Atlantique // Farmers Market Style

Rivage Atlantique showcases a different direct-from-Boston oyster (via a semi-regular exchange somewhere in Pennsylvania) every Saturday at the Worthington Farmers Market. Ask them about the oysters, and they're happy to tell the story. Ask them about their supplier, and their bivalves are sealed.

Pro Tip: Ask if they have WiAnno Oysters on the menu. Harvested in the calm waters of Cape Cod (close to where Billy Joel lives, say the folks at Rivage), they grow quickly, which accounts for their large size.

Rigsby's Kitchen // $1 Oysters

Owner Kent Rigsby gets a weekly Saturday delivery to stock up for his popular Monday $1 oyster nights. Dishwashers, bartenders and Rigsby himself shuck and display oysters each week. "It's a communal effort," he says, adding, "It's an oyster orgy." The painstakingly displayed mollusks are often a gateway to the rest of the Short North menu. (And to another drink. Because, why not?)

89 Fish & Grill // Oyster Sliders

Order a mixed platter of oysters at this Downtown restaurant, and the server will plate 'em up so they're directionally accurate: West Coast oysters to the west and East Coast to the east. Those trepidatious about the aphrodisiacs should pick up the Oyster Sliders: two fried oysters served alongside celery apple slaw. It's easy to persuade your guest it tastes like soft and briny chicken.

Windward Passage // Oyster Remick

When the owners of Windward Passage got their hands on Julia Child's Oyster Remick recipe in the early '70s, they made their own rendition. The holy trifecta of condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise and horseradish) comes together atop a bed of oysters topped with a slice of melted Swiss cheese, with no extra charge for the kitsch. 4739 Reed Road, Upper Arlington, 614-451-2497

The Pearl // Hot N'Awlins Style Baked Oysters

The Pearl offers five fresh oyster choices daily alongside individually wrapped saltine packets. Highbrow, meet lowbrow. The star of the Short North menu, though, is the Hot N'Awlin's Style Baked Oysters. Garlic, parmesan and fresh parsley go oyster-side, while half a baguette makes it almost a full meal.

12 West // Oyster Taco

This Southwest-Midwest mashup in Delaware runs oyster tacos as a semi-regular special, so call ahead to time your visit right. It'll be worth the trouble for the buttermilk-dredged, cornmeal-fried oysters topped with red cabbage and brown-sugar Sriracha. Like a gift, the large oysters pop with bright salinity in every sweet-heat bite.

Before you slurp, a few oyster facts to know:

  • Oysters are alive until shucked, so if "alive" meets your definition of "fresh," then all oysters that make their way to your table are good to go. That said, the restaurant should be able to tell you when and where your oysters were harvested.
  • You don't chug a great wine, and you shouldn't down an oyster. Give it a little chomp to experience the flavor. Otherwise, you're dumping a dollar-or five-directly down your throat.
  • Condiments are about math. When salty meets sour (think lemon and vinegar), the oyster's natural sweetness surfaces.
  • West Coast oysters are smaller and sweeter, with a more jagged shell. East Coast oysters are larger, smoother and have a brinier flavor.