MM 94.5, Key Largo, 305-852-5956
Took a little trip down to the Florida Keys today to research a story on where to find fish tacos, tuna nachos, burgers and such, and when I got to Snapper’s in Key Largo I just couldn’t resist ordering a half dozen fresh-shucked oysters, especially when the bartender said they came from Apalachicola, the bivalves of wonder harvested in the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle.
The place is a typical sand-in-your shoes place, part open-air restaurant, part tiki bar, sitting on a pretty little marina on the ocean side of the keys where you can dock your skiff or kayak, hop out and join the crowds at the bar, plastic tables or on candy colored Adirondack chairs.
Our oysters arrived on ice, kept perfectly chilled on a metal scallop-shaped tray. They were plump and slightly salty, with a brackish aftertaste, and were softer and less chewy than I like. Were they really Apalachicolas? Not sure, though I’d order more and wash them down with another Key West Ale. Why? Well, it’s Good Friday, and I can’t exactly order a steak now, can I?
MM 94.5, Key Largo, 305-852-5956
What’s better than oysters and beer? How about oysters IN beer?
My pal Dabney Oakley just alerted me to a brew that debuted last November called Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.
From the website: “A dry stout brewed with local oysters, Pearl Necklace was the brainchild of Flying Dog, Rappahannock River Oysters, and Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen.”
Originally released on draft only in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC., I’m hopeful to get a taste someday as their website now shows it’s available in bottles “all day, every day.”
Links on the site show at least three locations in Miami that I can get to with too much trouble. And it’s great to know that proceeds from the beer benefit oyster recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
Now I just need some Rappahannock River Oysters to accompany the beer. Hmmmm. Maybe a road trip to Richmond is in my future....
I recently had the great opportunity to sit and chat about all things oysters with David Bracha, executive chef and restaurateur at The River Seafood and Oyster Bar in Miami. (His other fab place is the newly opened Oak Tavern in the Design District.)
The best—and possibly the only—true oyster bar in the city, the River serves a selection of eight to ten East and West coast bivalves that arrive three to four times a week.
“If you’re going to have an oyster bar you have to be really busy,” said Bracha. “We’re selling seventeen to eighteen thousand oysters a month. It’s really becoming popular.”
Yeah. I’d say they’re popular.
When you go—and if you’re in Miami you must—sit at the mahogany and slate bar overlooking stainless bins filled with oysters on ice, and place your order with the bartender.
One of the benefits of bellying up to an oyster bar is that I often make new oyster-loving friends. On this visit I met Kenny Gee (ordered a dozen) and Paula Shaw (doesn’t touch them) who—it turns out—live not far from me in South Beach.
At happy hour (4:30- 7:00 p.m. daily) you can get half priced oysters and nightly drink specials. On my visit, Sean the bartender happily described my oyster choices, but demurred when I asked if I could photograph him shucking: “I only take the orders. They don’t let me touch the knives. And that’s probably a good thing.”
On this particular day the choices included: From the East: Little Island, Bagaducci River, Maine; Sunken Meadow Gems, Cape Cod, Mass.; South Bay, Long Island Sound (listed as Mass. but I suspect they meant Great South Bays from NY); Blue Points, Long Island Sound, Conn.; Ichabod Flats, Plymouth, Mass.; Peter’s Point, Cape Cod, Mass. and Beavertail, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. From the West: Royal Miyagi, Sunshine Coast, B.C.; Kumamoto, Humboldt Bay, Calif.; Mirada, Hood Cana, Wash. and Fanny Bay, B.C.
“Some people like oysters from just one region. I like ‘em all,” said Bracha.
Me too. In fact I’ve decided my new mantra is: “So many varieties of oysters…so little time.”
There were many on this list I’d never tasted, including varieties not even listed on Oysterpedia, my go-to easy reference app. (It's free!) Also missing were any Florida oysters, the wonderful Apalachicolas (Bracha assured me that he loves them but—for complex reasons involving where they are packed—he can’t always get authentic ones) and any varieties from Canada. (Bracha is participating in the Canadian seafood boycott sponsored by The Humane Society, though I’m doing my best to change his mind when it comes to buying from hard-working oyster farmers who have nothing to do with slaughtering seals.)
Born in Israel, Bracha came to the U.S. as a boy and grew up in Brooklyn. He’s lived in Florida for “twenty-something years,” spending the last ten at the helm of The River. I asked him why he thinks oysters seem to be such a booming business these days.
“Every three or four years a new food trend comes up. There are bloggers and foodie intellects. In the last couple of years, oysters got really popular.”
We ordered three varieties: Royal Miyagi (surprisingly wonderful, clean and light with dimension); Ichabod Flats (a first for both of us—and not very briny for Mass. oysters) and Sunken Meadow Gems (one set were mild and the other had more punch), and slurped them with a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.
“I love eating oysters and drinking Muscadet. It’s the white wine you want to drink with oysters.”
And so we slurped. We sipped. We chatted.
About what? Oyster farming. Sustainability issues. Moms who eat oysters. Moms who don’t. Shucking competitions. Wild Belons. Lustau Almacenista Amontilllado. Vacations in Spain. The Florida Panhandle. Oyster suppliers. “Training-wheel” oysters. Wellfleet. Galway. East coast versus West. Oysters-oysters—sis-boom-bah. Too soon it was time for the chef to get back to the stove, and for me to be on my way back to the beach.
“Oysters are the perfect food. They’re very sustainable. And good for you. And delicious, though not everybody likes them. There’s no better way to start a meal. It gets you ready to eat.”
Agreed. Though I’d add: Ready to eat…more oysters.
The River Seafood and Oyster Bar, 650 South Miami Ave., 305-530-1915
I grew up spending part of every summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which included eating many oysters. After stumbling into an oyster shucking competition in Miami Beach in 2006, I’ve become a fan of the sport and have written about local, national, and international competitions for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, and the Huffington Post. I've also written oyster-centric stories for Rustik and Modern Farmer. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t want to eat.