Hot off the tails of our last foray into the food festivals at Beer, Bourbon & BBQ, we visited the New York Oyster & Beer Festival this weekend and had a shucking good time!
I wasn't sure what to expect, since a lot of the food festivals we've been to have been, shall we say, meatier. They typically drew crowds of people looking to get wasted and fill their stomachs from time to time with food. In fact, I spoke to a woman pouring Crabbie's ginger beer who also worked a previous food festival and she mentioned how at the more meat-centric or alcohol-centric ones, people wind up puking in the corner or passing out drunk on the tables. So I imagined at an oyster festival, we'd see a few more khahis and polo shirts and boat shoes. The crowd was actually pretty diverse, so it was interesting to see that people from all walks of life enjoy oysters, probably like a condensed cross section of the history of oysters (plentiful and considered food for the poor back in 19th century England and New York; now considered a delicacy for posh folks).
This food festival was also unique compared to any other we'd been to: every shucking station had a crate of ice and hard-working dedicated staff shucking each shell carefully. Then there'd also be Tabasco sauce (red and green), lemon and lime wedges, and shallots.
Putting it out there: I am no connoisseur of oysters myself. I'd only really had them a couple of times in the past. I don't know the difference between oyster types, but I figure I know what I like, just judging by taste and texture. The ones I really liked were, I think, called Mayflower. To me, it was important to have tried a few so I could pinpoint the features of oysters that I liked that features that were less desirable. Mayflower oysters were much sweeter, whereas others were of course very briny and salty. There were also some varieties with the most beautiful shells: spiky and gnarled like a gray Cloyster Pokemon.
We also tried some fantastically creamy clam chowder and oyster pate on crostini. The piece de resistance was a "clam bake" where we got some clams cooked in Old Bay seasoning, potatoes, and two styles of cooked oysters: one with garlic and parmesan and the other with - get this - barbecue sauce and goats cheese. Whoa! The garlic and parmesan one was of course delicious (how could you go wrong?) but the barbecue sauce-goats cheese one was my favorite. Weirdly, the flavors are both really overpowering, so sadly the composition of this dish was not very well balanced at all, but the gooey goats cheese and tangy barbecue sauce would have made anything taste delicious.
What to drink with all these oysters? Well, we had some tried-and-true favorites like Strongbow Cherry Blossom, Guinness, Smuttynose, and Crabbie's. A nice addition to the lineup was Veuve Clicquot...ironically Alex spilled his fresh glass across the table so we needed a refill immediately.
Thoughts on the New York Oyster & Beer Festival? It was certainly different from anything else I've ever attended, in a good way. I got a little out of my comfort zone to try a food I wouldn't normally order at a restaurant. These turned out to be fun, squishy, chewy, salty, wet little nuggets that honestly...don't sound too pleasant, but is probably an acquired taste. Yet I also encourage you, if you're not so into oysters either, go out and try them! Think of it like beer tasting or wine tasting: the next big fad will probably be oyster sommelier!