The mouth of the Mississippi River not only was destined to house one of the world’s most important commercial ports, but it created one of the world’s most fertile habitats for seafood and shellfish. Fish, crab, shrimp and oysters find the living easy in the fresh, brackish and salt waters of our marshes, bayous and Gulf.
Oysters have positive environmental impacts by filtering pollutants and supporting an inordinate amount of other species, including Louisianans. Many a Gulf oysterman has made a fine living for his family working the abundant beds in our warm waters. (Like New Orleanians, oysters like their environment warm. They leave Maine to the lobsters.) Leases on these valuable fishing grounds have been in families for generations. Each day, trucks groaning under stacks of heavy oyster sacks rumble into town to fill our tables, whether at home or in a restaurant. Of course many of these mollusks are exported around the nation and to other countries. Louisiana oysters stack up against any around the world.
They have been a vital part of the city’s economy, as well. And the city has benefited from this unlikely delicacy in other ways. New Orleanians digging into their backyards more than likely will find oyster shells. Perhaps they were discarded from an all-night fais–do-do (Cajun house party), but more than likely they were left over from the shells used in the home’s foundation. They still may be used for roadbeds.
Oysters fall roughly into two groups: those that produce pearls and those that are eaten. Though New Orleans is a center for fine jewelry, its citizens have always been more interested in the latter relationship. The iconic Oysters Rockefeller was invented at our equally iconic Creole restaurant, Antoine’s. Other local chefs have created superb treats such as Oysters Bienville and Oysters Mosca. TRAVELHOST has some recommendations about where to enjoy this highly nutritious, low-calorie delicacy.
Like oysters themselves, where to enjoy them falls into two groups: the oyster bar and the fine dining experience. The most famous of the first kind is the Acme Oyster House, only minutes away from most of our downtown hotels. They are served raw, charbroiled or in a combo plate. Diners line up early and often to watch the Acme shuckers and experience this New Orleans delicacy straight no chaser. Acme also offers many other New Orleans specialties, like gumbo and seafood platters, for those without a taste for the “erstah,” as locals call this prized food.
Visitors wanting a first-class oyster experience, but without the line, should simply cross the street to Felix’s. Though it will always be Avis to the Hertz of Acme, Felix’s delivers the real shellfish deal for sure. And after all, Avis rents a fine automobile. Here get oysters the four most New Orleans of ways—raw on the half shell, Rockefeller, Bienville and charbroiled. Its extensive New Orleans menu offers classics like Crawfish Étoufée, red beans and rice, and Po-Boys for the kids.
The flagship restaurant of culinary superstar chef Susan Spicer, Bayona, heads the list of our fine dining picks. Spicer is known around the world for contemporary cooking that honors the past and creates the future. Listing the accolades and awards for her tasty art would take too much time. Let the name James Beard stand in for all the others. Spicer is a pioneer of the slow food movement. In this spirit, enjoy her seafood and oyster haute cuisine preparations in this restaurant’s 200-year-old Creole cottage or classic French Quarter courtyard.
The Original Oyster Factory, the newest erstahs entrant in town, has been an instant success. Housed in a former oyster processing building, the fine dining but casual Oyster Factory is operated by one of the city’s distinguished Italian restaurant families. The ambience charmingly combines old New Orleans elegant with the contemporary. Oysters come in more versions than one could imagine and rather pick, TRAVELHOST simply recommends visitors come to their own judgments with a taste test.
Of course oysters have always been considered an aphrodisiac. Science, however, has confirmed this belief. Amino acids and minerals in oysters stimulate testosterone and other sex hormones. They also account for a famous moment of New Orleans lore. The wealthy and ultra-privileged President Franklin Roosevelt was visiting the city and enjoying Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s with our rather uneducated and unsophisticated Mayor Robert Maestri. Really just a salt of the earth New Orleanian born into a working class, immigrant family, His Honor bluntly blurted out, “How ya like dem erstahs, Mr. Prezdent?” Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s response was never recorded. TRAVELHOST suspects he was too busy savoring his lunch and did not want to talk with his mouth full. Sometimes silence says it all.