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Chef Tres Oyster Geek

Low Country Oyster Festival

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 5:51 PM
"Support Wildlife! Throw a Party"         J.O. Wintzell


Low Country Oyster festival


What a party it was: 11,000 folks, three, four hundred kegs of beer, and 80 thousand pounds of steamed oysters. The event started at 10:30 in the morning and went till 5:00 or so.  Festivalgoers enjoyed buckets of steamed oysters for $10 and samplings from several of Charleston's local restaurants for $4.00 to $6.00.Beers, wine and soda were also available.  For entertainment there was live music on a main stage, an oyster-shucking contest and an oyster eating contest. There was also kids' play area, and sponsor booths to visit.


I apologize for not getting a photo of John Carson and Ryan Sellars, winners of the oyster-eating contest. Contestants were given three minutes to eat/drink as many 16 ounce cups of oysters as they could. As many oysters as I have eaten and as much as I like them, I don't think I could do it. John finished 6.5 cups and Ryan had 2.9. John was only 1.5 cups short of a gallon. That is crazy. Congrats to you both.  (Festival Photos)



Marco Gaspar (right) 1st place, (left) Chef Bill Drake 2nd place

photo by Alan Hawes- The Charleston Post Courrier


The shucking contest was rewarding as always. This year two of my former co-workers came in the first and second place, holding The Lobster Trap's four-year title of shucking champion of the Low Country Oyster Festival.  I won 2008/09, my son Kat won 2010 and Marco Gaspar is the 2011 winner with Chef Bill Drake coming in second. Way to go fellas. Marco shucked 45 in three minutes while Bill hit 2nd place with 37. Neither Kat nor I participated.


(Right) Cathy Milliken, 1 st place,(left) Lisa Bellamy, 2nd place

Photo by Tres Hundertmark


The girls were a little more exciting this year; their heat ended in a shuck-off.  The shuck-off was between two sisters, Lisa Bellamy and Cathy Milliken, both of whom have won the national woman's shucking contest three times.  The girls tied at 39 oysters for the first three minutes. Then they stepped it up for the two-minute shuck-off with Cathy's 35 just edging out Lisa with 34.



  Marcus Oystrillius Found



And it’s not a festival unless something freaky happens.  On our second bucket of oysters, we found him, Marcus Oystrillius, or at least his likeness. Marcus is the Roman guard who placed the rag dipped in vinegar in Christ's mouth as he hung on the cross. It is now thought that the rag was dipped in a mignonette used for pickling oysters.  This specimen has been banded and placed in my freezer.  It will be placed on EBay next Monday, so Oystergeek friends get a first chance to bid on this truly unique piece of oyster history.


Likeness of Marcus Oystrillius found in a scalded oyster at "The Low Country Oyster Festival" in Charleston, SC. photo by Tres Hundertmark


Custom Oyster Tables



Even though the event has many similarities from year to year, I always see something cool and new at the Low Country Oyster Festival. The gem of the show this year sat in the back of a pick up truck on my way out of the festival. It was a custom oyster table by Tina Councell of Iron Maiden Studios in Asheville,NC. These metal tables are built to suit. They contain rods for towels, spaces for condiments, slots for oyster knives, cup holders and a hole in the middle for the shells and trash. The table is easily sprayed down for cleaning. If you have a couple roasts a year this table is an essential part of your outdoor cookout area. You can check out a few photos in the photo gallery or lots more on Iron Maiden studio’s facebook page .



Custom Oyster Table in action (photo-from Iron Maiden facebook page)


Oyster Bar Hopping in Charleston


Besides the oyster festival, Charleston is a great town for strolling through the streets and alleys while oyster bar-hopping.  We discovered a new raw bar, Amen Street fish & raw bar.  We sat at the bar with Nate and Chief at Pearlz, and Pearl introduced me to Hank's.


Hank's seafood restaurant & raw bar  (photo from Hanks website)

Hank's, at the corner of Church and Hayne St. was the first low country oyster bar we visited. Actually Pearl was making this call. She had been here on business several years back and remembered a wonderful dinner at the bar and wanted to share.  Back then she had taken the advice or two other parties at the bar and had the Low Country Bouillabaisse, a dish Hank's is know for.  No sense trying to reinvent the wheel.  I expect all kinds of things when I order Bouillabaisse out at restaurants.  Right down to the rouille on the croutons, this stuff was spot on.  The large broth-filled portion of fish, mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops shared with the beet salad and bubbles made for a great late dinner on Friday evening.  Hank's oyster bar serves gulf oysters, however we did not have any there, having shared a dozen Virginia oysters and NC clams on the half shell back at villa that afternoon for happy hour with our Pearly Gates.  With a kumquat tree in the courtyard it did not take long to get some in a glass with a little liquor.  A long time tradition in the South is a happy hour of cocktails and snacks enjoyed in the afternoon prior to supper in order to soothe the activity of the day and excite your appetite, for the evening ahead.


What's a Pearly Gate, you ask?


Pearly Gate (Pearl pomegranate vodka, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, club soda, kumquat halves) photo by Tres Hundertmark

While the beverage is heavenly, it gets its name for the gate you have to walk through to get into the courtyard of the villa and the kumquat tree.  A pearly gate as it is the gateway out into an oyster filled weekend in one of my favorite Southern towns.  (Photos)


Amen Street Oyster Bar (photos)was the new discovery this trip.  Enjoying a mixed dozen of oysters and clams at the bar with a glass of wine and beer, taking an afternoon load off.  They were not the first oysters of the day, as we walked off our lunch at Husk (photos).  Had I bothered to even look at the menu at the time I would have noticed that Amen St. serves both gulf and specialty oysters that are listed on the daily special sheet.  Amen St. has a large bar, nice casual feel, friendly service and some very cool oyster shell chandeliers.

Next time I think I will have to try their famous shrimp corndogs and both the crudo and flounder ceviche looked to be right up my alley.  I got a chance to chat with Charles Hayes for shucker profiles,  he was kind enough to share some of their oysters shooters with us. Thanks Charles

Charles Hayes- Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar  photo by Tres Hundertmark

After a little more walking we found ourselves back at Pearlz, my usual spot for oysters when in Charleston. I visit Pearlz every time I attend the Low Country Oyster Festival and have had a chance to make a few friends over the years.  This particular night Nate and Chief were behind the oyster bar.  I ordered a mixed dozen and a bowl of crab soup, and  Nate hooked us up with an order of their wasabi citrus oysters too(photos). As we enjoyed the oysters, Nate told me about the oysters that they are bag-raising. I can't wait to follow up on that story. 

Tulley Alley photo by Pearl

I have already put Charleston on my dance card for next year.  I look forward to getting back into the shucking contest, strolling through the streets and alleys with Pearl looking for new places to eat oysters and catching up with friends at the old favorites. I also hope to create a new kumquat libation to celebrate the  great southern tradition of the happy hour while enjoying the courtyard through the pearly gate at the end of Tulley Alley.  Hope to see you there.


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