A deep dive into who is dishing up the best bivalves in the region
Within Louisiana’s coastal waters resides a creature that is relatively unattractive on the outside but within it are contents that elicit a complex set of reactions for eaters.
Some view Crassostrea virginica — the creature’s scientific name — with the kind of disdain reserved for activities like writing a big tax check or planning a root canal.
On the opposite end of the gastronomical spectrum is a group that cherishes this seafood item, commonly known as the Eastern oyster in our parts, that rivals the passion pickup truck owners have for specific brands and models and some grandparents have for cooking in cast iron kitchenware.
Even though some may not know this, oyster eaters are part of a culinary continuum that begins in ancient times and reaches to our present.
Thousands of years ago, the Greeks and Romans indulged in oysters and advanced early cultivation methods. During Europe’s Renaissance period, oysters were so plentiful and value-priced that they were eaten by both the kings and their courts and the common people.
Oysters were a part of the pre-Colonial Native American diet also. In his seminal foodways book “Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History,” author John Egerton noted that Native Americans “had long since mastered the art of shucking oysters, both raw ones straight from the water and those roasted in fire.”
Louisiana has been one of the nation’s top oyster producers for years resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars being generated through processing, sales, and payrolls.
Yet, it is the Bayou state’s home and professional cooks who over centuries have evolved the oyster’s kitchen preparation from raw to baked, steamed, grilled, cooked in soups, stews and gumbo, fried, prepared in Rockefeller or Bienville, utilized in stuffings or wrapped in bacon and called angels on horseback.
While oyster loathers are many, the lovers do not care because that means more of the seafood is available for them to indulge in.
As far as oyster lovers are concerned, they are content to be part of the human family that cherishes a sultry epicurean-based experience that Louisiana writers Jerald and Glenda Horst illustrate in their book “Louisiana Seafood Bible: Oysters, “Oh, but when a salty, perfectly fat winter oyster, with no embellishments to hide its taste is placed on the tongue! A flood of all the briny flavors of the sea cascades through your mouth. As your tongue rolls the oyster over, the body, so turgidly swollen with winter fat, breaks into creamy pieces and coats the inside of your mouth like fresh butter.”
Throughout Acadiana, there are eateries where oyster eaters pay homage to the creature and the kitchen creativity displayed in its presentation both in the raw and cooked.
What follows are a few restaurant gems where oysters have a prominent place on the menu.
“See if it works.”
An enterprising and inventive Acadiana couple is responsible for the unique charbroiled oysters provided at Uncle T’s Oyster Bar in downtown Scott.
Be advised, it is best to order the Holly Beach Slammer in order to taste the full gamut of flavors fused with oysters cooked on an open fire grill.
The Slammer consists of the Nola, Firecracker, Classic Candy and Le Bon Cochon charbroiled oyster varieties.
“We built this place to boil crawfish but we needed something between seasons,” Uncle T’s owner Anthony Hebert explains. “Then we got an idea. We had eaten charbroiled oysters in New Orleans. We figured let’s throw those types of oysters in the mix and see if it works.”
Considering the constant orders that the oyster grill masters kick out of their cooking station on a daily basis, the Heberts made the right decision.
Hebert, a former oilman, and his wife Lexi, opened the restaurant in her grandfather’s all brick building that was constructed in the late 1950s.
Eventually, an oyster grilling station was built in the building near the bar. The areas are separated by a wall and glass, but the aroma of grilled oysters and the toppings placed on them will delight the olfactory senses.
The Nola is the traditional oyster charbroiled with butter and shredded Parmesan cheese. Hebert wanted to keep with the New Orleans influence with the dish.
Other charbroiled oyster selections pay homage to the family’s Cajun heritage utilizing spicy and bold flavors.
The Firecracker consists of jalapenos, cheese, bacon and pepper jack cheese. On the Classic Candy, a Zydeco sauce, candied jalapenos and pepper jack cheese are on the oyster. Lastly, the Le Bon Cochon charbroiled oyster is topped with smoked boudin, pepper jack cheese and a Creole mustard glaze.
“It is most rewarding to see people visit for the first time and then come back with friends and family,” Hebert said.
Uncle T’s charbroiled oysters are one of the main reasons why.
Sample some other goodies!
Railway Mint Julep can be enjoyed even when the Derby is months away. Bulleit Bourbon, fresh mint and sugar refresh the palate.
Boudin Capital Eggrolls are smoked boudin combined with pepper jack cheese and Uncle T’s secret Zydeco sauce enhances the Cajun prairie’s staple finger food.
Cue Time Seafood Platter is a fried food lover’s paradise of crawfish tails, fried alligator, fried fish, fried oyster, fried shrimp and soft shell crab.
“Oyster lovers, they are serious. People either love them or hate them. There is no in-between.”
Request Leads To Success
Chef Amanda Cusey of Villa Harlequin can be a contradiction when discussing her personal opinion of an oyster.
She is a chef who can do without a raw oyster but will tolerate a fried one.
Yet, somewhere in her culinary odyssey from America, to the British Isles, eventually ending up in Lake Charles, Cusey picked up on enough oyster recipes to concoct a dish that is a Lake Area favorite.
The menu at Villa Harlequin in historic Downtown Lake Charles has an appetizer that if multiple orders are made the oyster lover will end up with a delightful meal.
Cusey, who was featured as a “Top Chef” in Acadiana Profile in 2017, created a dish she named “Prosecco risotto with oysters.” A handful of lightly fried oysters are placed on top of a Prosecco, fennel, and spinach risotto.
“Mike [Sperandeo, the restaurant’s co-owner], wanted an oyster dish prior to us opening in 2017,” Cusey explained. “I had cooked a similar dish at a kitchen in Ireland I worked in and used shallots with the oysters and Prosecco risotto.”
Sperandeo, who was raised in a restaurant family, knew there was a contingent of Lake Area eaters who demand oysters.
Cusey went into kitchen scientist mode and decided to blend the flavors of Prosecco, fennel and spinach and add them to the risotto. Fresh and grain dusted oysters are gently fried and added to the dinner item.
What is placed in front of a diner in a shallow bowl can best be described as oyster nirvana.
Cusey is happy the end result is a customer favorite.
“Oyster lovers, they are serious. People either love them or hate them. There is no in-between,” she said.
The fact she heeded her boss’ request is also important.
“I’d never have heard the end of it if I hadn’t,” Cusey said while giggling.
Sample some other goodies!
Smoke and Barrel is a mixology concoction that can best be described as a smoked rosemary peach old fashioned with Jefferson’s Bourbon as the foundation … wow!
Antipasto is a grand way to start dinner here. The chef selects the meats and cheeses which are accompanied by olives, cranberry and fig chutney.
Lasagna is a traditional dish, but the fresh Italian sausage, beef, tomato sauce, béchamel and mozzarella here proves oldies can be goodies.
Prejean’s, located off Interstate 49 in north Lafayette, prepares the sandwich which melds memorable and satisfying flavors.
The oysters are the featured ingredient, even though the sandwich’s flavor is enhanced with the French bread, tomato, butter leaf lettuce and Prejean’s sauce (spicy mayonnaise).
Restaurant general manager Matthew Mead explained that the top-quality oysters served in the restaurant are harvested in Louisiana.
Mead has high regard for the seafood and Louisiana-based industry.
“Oysters mean prosperity to me. Those guys who harvest the seafood rock, they represent resilience, especially with the problems they have dealt with over the years,” he said.
The French bread is not just any run-of-the-mill ingredient either. Mead said Prejean’s owners purchase bread that is baked at LeJeune’s Bakery in Jeanerette which has been open since 1884.
“We use this bread for the poor boy because it is not heavy and has a great flavor that complements the oysters,” he said.
Providing freshness is the goal of the Prejean’s team.
Owners Tim and Greg Metcalf and Ken Boudreaux bought the business in November 2020. Since then, they have remodeled the restaurant — which has been open 40 years — and slightly adjusted the menu. Oyster lovers are always on the management team’s minds.
“Our oyster suppliers are south of Houma where salinity levels are just right and make the oysters delicious. That freshness is important to the flavor,” Mead said. “Getting the freshest product is what we aim [for] because we want a person to think they were at the dock themselves buying oysters. You can taste it when you think about it.”
Sample some other goodies!
Frose can cause one to linger at the restaurant. Vodka, wine and lemonade are blended together in this drink … it is addictive.
Fried green tomatoes topped with crawfish étouffée and smoked tomato butter are the reason some appetizers can become entrées.
Crawfish enchiladas, simply put, are crawfish tails, three cheese blend, Creole cream sauce, green onions with a side of corn maque choux — oh LAWD.
Oyster in Dish
90-Year Old Family Recipes All on One Plate
Oyster-induced bliss is an eventuality after dining on a plate that features the seafood prepared eight different ways at Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn in Broussard.
The “Oyster Dinner” — as it is written on the menu — consists of an oyster shooter, oyster gumbo, oyster pie, oyster jambalaya, oyster en brochette, fried o ysters, oyster Bienville and oyster Rockefeller.
What is even more compelling about the dinner is that its recipes are almost 90 years old.
Poor Boy’s is Lafayette’s oldest restaurant and third-generation owners Richard and Lori Hurst work diligently to reproduce a top-notch service and dining experience that lives up to their family’s wonderful culinary reputation.
Richard Hurst’s grandfather Hulo “Poor Boy” Landry started in the food service business in 1932 with a snowball stand and restaurant in Lafayette the same year.
In 1977, the Broussard location opened under Hurst’s father and mother’s (Larry and Kathlyn Hurst) direction.
The Hursts have soaked in decades of oyster knowledge that has been passed down within the family.
“The salinity levels of the water where the oysters are harvested from is important,” Lori Hurst said.
Both are sticklers for certain oyster flavor patterns. In their opinion, an oyster dinner is only good if the base ingredient is excellent.
Richard remembers his mother tasting the restaurant’s oyster dishes and commenting on the consistency.
“It is about taste. She knew what the right taste was,” he said. “She loved oysters and ate them in New Orleans, a city she loved and visited often.”
Richard, the restaurant’s head chef, has made a few minor adjustments to the oyster plate. One of which adds a certain sweetness to the palate.
He uses a sweet dough pie recipe for the crust which is filled with a brown oyster sauce that has a subtle and pleasant tinge of spiciness.
The Hursts said tried and true oyster lovers get excited about the dish. It gives the family pleasure knowing that long-time and new customers visit the restaurant knowing oysters are given due attention in the kitchen.
Sample some other goodies!
Tequila Martini Is a touch of Dubai meeting with St. Maarten. The drink consists of tequila and hints of orange liqueur with a splash of house-made lemon lime mix.
Crabbies are described as six crunchy French bread squares topped with creamy, cheesy crab meat topping that is baked until bubbly … sinful.
Stuffed redfish should be mandatory for seafood lovers. The chef’s creation is enhanced with crawfish, crab meat and mushrooms in sweet cream butter.
“We are humbled and proud to keep this heritage going.”
History and Tradition On The Half Shell
Any serious discussion about Acadiana’s oyster eating history has to start at Dupuy’s Seafood and Steak in Abbeville.
Located inside a one-story building that sits at a location with the Vermilion River flowing behind it and the western entrance into the city’s downtown, the mollusk is revered.
Oyster half-shells have been placed along one of the restaurant’s wall as a decoration. Cajun and country Creole-inspired seafood dishes leave out of the kitchen all day, but everybody in the building — even more so with owners Chef Jody and Tonya Hebert — understands working in the restaurant is akin to being inside a culinary shrine of sorts.
In 1869, Joseph Dupuy started operating Dupuy’s. Since 2000, the Hebert’s have owned and operated Dupuy’s Seafood and Steak.
According to the restaurant’s history which is documented at dupuys.com, Dupuy initially “harvested his own oysters and sold them for 5 cents a dozen. Joseph started a tradition, which would continue over 146 years of success in its original location.”
Based on the business’ sign and menu, it’s easy to conclude what the restaurant’s calling card is. In case there are any doubts, the website states Dupuy’s is “World-famous for oysters on the half shell.”
“We buy oysters when they are in peak season,” Jody Hebert said. “We are proud of what Mother Nature gives us.”
He uses a specific term to describe the type of fresh oysters the restaurant wants to provide to customers during the fall and winter months (best quality oysters), “salty, those are the best.”
The “Ice Cold Salty Raw Oysters on the ½-Shell” as they are described on the menu, are served with lemon wedges. Additional condiments like hot sauce, spicy garlic sauce, horseradish, and seafood cocktail sauce are also available.
The Hebert’s have realized how important Dupuy’s is to Acadiana’s culinary history. “We are humbled and proud to keep this heritage going … we’re honored,” Hebert said.