One of the quintessential food events of the Lowcountry is the oyster roast, so of course the Charleston Wine + Food Festival wouldn’t have been complete without one. This year’s oyster roast, called “Shucked,” was held at the Lookout Pavilion at the Charleston Harbor Marina just over the bridge from downtown in Mt. Pleasant.
This oyster roast was my favorite event of the whole weekend. The weather was perfect and the oysters, available in a variety of ways — from raw to smoked to steamed to even buffalo fried — were just amazing.
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South Carolina’s oysters aren’t particularly pretty to look at. They’re clumped into giant clusters and aren’t separated into nice, neat individual oysters before steaming. March/April is just about the latest time of year you’d probably run into an oyster roast in Charleston — by the summer months, it’s too hot and oysters are no longer in season. The best part of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s oyster roast is that it came complete with the traditional standing height tables with a giant hole cut out of the middle. Underneath the hole is a galvanized bucket, the receptacle for your discarded oyster shells. South Carolinians know that table by sight and crowd around it expectantly like baby birds waiting for mama bird to return to the nest.
I cracked open oyster after steaming oyster, tipping the shell back carefully into my gullet to make sure not to waste any of the precious, briny liquor. South Carolina oysters just taste like home to me. I could — but probably shouldn’t — eat them all day.
I thought I’d pretty much seen it all at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s oyster roast on Saturday until I happened upon a station manned by Chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri. Chef Nashan’s team was busy rolling oysters in a cornmeal-based batter, then deep-frying the juicy suckers before rolling them in a spicy buffalo sauce. The oysters were then placed back in the shell on a bed of kraut and blue cheese. I thought I was an oyster purist at heart — just plain shucked with maybe a light mignonette — until I had these oysters. Dear sweet heaven. Apparently I like my oysters down and dirty, too — in this case, smothered and covered with a rich, sticky and mildly spicy sauce with clumps of half-melted sharp blue cheese.
Oh, great. Now I’m craving them. How do I get my fix now that the festival is over? Don’t tell me I can’t. I might cry.