New Orleans is known for eating and foodies from all over the world seek out its delicacies and signature dishes. Several notable dishes include oysters, harvested in coastal waters near the city. Originally thought of as food for simple fishers, today the bivalve tends to be associated with opulence, with some dishes named for rich banking families of the 20th century.
The Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries manages approximately 1.7 million acres of public oyster areas in Louisiana. The season for public oyster areas generally runs from the first Wednesday following Labor Day in September through April 30 of the following year. Oysters must be eaten alive, or cooked alive. The shells of live oysters are normally tightly closed or snap shut given a slight tap.
For Grand Isle Restaurant owner and general manager Jeff Hof, fresh oysters are an integral part of his business and having a reliable source for oysters is crucial. His restaurant purchases anywhere from 40 to 50 sacks per week from the same vendor in St. Bernard Parish. “On a good day, we’ll sell 10 sacks of oysters,” says Hof.
Grand Isle is also known for its baked oysters and the smoked-fried oysters, which are cold-smoked in sriracha, then deep fried and served with heirloom tomatoes and a house-made garlic aioli.
Though many visitors to New Orleans come for raw oysters, there are several local restaurants that charbroil them as well. Drago’s is known for its charbroiled oysters which the owners claim are “often imitated but never duplicated.” With locations in Metairie, New Orleans (inside the Riverside Hilton Hotel) and in Mississippi, visitors can enjoy several variations of oysters including oysters Voisin, which are fried and come with creamed spinach, bacon, bordelaise sauce, and extra cheese topped on toasted French bread medallions.
Elsewhere, oysters Rockefeller was created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's. The dish was named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, for the intense richness of the sauce. Though the original recipe is a secret, the sauce is known to be a purée of a number of green vegetables in addition to spinach.
Today the bivalve tends to be associated with opulence
Oysters Bienville, another traditional oyster dish originating in New Orleans, is served at some of the city's renowned restaurants, originating at Arnaud's. Ingredients include shrimp, mushrooms, bell peppers, sherry, a roux with butter, Parmesan cheese and other lighter cheeses, as well as bread crumbs. The oysters are baked in the shell or can be made in a small casserole or au gratin dish.
Both oysters Rockefeller and Bienville can be found at several of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city. The granddaddies of New Orleans oyster houses are located in the heart of the French Quarter. Since the beginning of the last century, shuckers have been satisfying hungry customers at Acme Oyster House for decades. Originally located on Royal Street, the world-renowned restaurant has been at its Iberville location since the 1920s. Serving oysters on the half shell, chargrilled, shooter style, fried and in a Rockefeller soup, Acme has a loyal clientele of both locals and visitors. The restaurant’s success has been so great there are now six locations across the Gulf South.
Not to be outdone, Felix’s Restaurant, situated across the street from Acme on Iberville Street, also serves oysters several ways including chargrilled, on the half shell, Bienville, Rockefeller, Buffalo style, and an always different “Oyster du Jour.” In operation since the 1940s, Felix’s has served the city and its visitors fresh, local seafood for more than 70 years.
Located in an historic building that is said to be haunted, New Orleans Creole Cookery offers several variations of oysters. Under the helm of well-known and beloved chef Alex Patout, the Creole Cookery offers some unique dishes including its specialty, oysters Toulouse. Made with tasso, smoked sausage, jalapeno, a special blend of the chef’s spices, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, this oyster dish adds some serious competition to the city’s other well-known options.
Oysters are harvested in coastal waters near the city
Great oysters can be found outside of the French Quarter, including at another family-owned establishment. Austin’s Restaurant, located on West Esplanade Avenue in Metairie, serves its own signature oyster dish, Oysters Fitzgerald. With creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, bacon and a lemon-garlic aioli, this rich sounding dish harkens back to an era of opulence that author F. Scott Fitzgerald chronicled in “The Great Gatsby.”