I had me a little oyster-grief panic attack this week.
First came the news Thursday that 134-year-old New Orleans institution P&J Oyster company was ending its shucking operation immediately. Also mentioned in that article was the possibility that Felix's will likely be closing its oyster bar in the near future.
I decided I better go out and get me some oysters while I still can, so I checked the web site for Shuck Shack, which had some really good Louisiana oysters just one month ago. They have this notice up now:
"Due to the problems in the Gulf, we are out of the fresh-shucked oyster business for a while. All of our other seafood is inspected and is safe, healthy and tasty!"
And I started to panic a little. I thought Texas oysters were still OK. (And I like Shuck Shack, but they put pico de gallo on their po-boys so I'm not sure it's worth the drive and the parking hassle to explore the rest of their menu.)
I called Quality Seafood and they said the only Gulf oysters they had were from Florida, but they had some others from other parts of the country (bluepoints and other such pretentious yuppie delicacies).
So me and the boy, we had dinner at Quality. We got there early so we got to chat with the manager and with the very lovely bartender for a long time about the oil, seafood, oysters, Katrina, the usual topics.
The manager said that even though there are still oyster beds open in Louisiana, the Louisiana oystermen are serving their local customers first and so it's impossible to get Louisiana oysters all the way over here. I have to admit I thought that was fair and reasonable, and the bartender agreed.
The manager also pointed out to me that oyster season in the public beds in Texas officially ended at the end of April, and most private beds have been closed due to an algea bloom, so unless she could find some private beds in Texas that are still open, the only Gulf oysters she can serve for the rest of the summer will be from Florida.
We ate four dozen of the Florida ones. They weren't particularly briny, and size-wise they were all over the map, mostly on the small side. They were decent, though. More methadone than black tar, and definitely not the best oysters I've had there, but you do what you gotta do. I'll be back over there regularly since some oysters is better than no oysters, and the bartender was extremely charming.
One thing about dinner that was nice was talking with people who get it. Several of the employees there are Louisiana natives and the bartender said they're all walking around in shock, and the manager really understood the enormity of what's going on down there. People in Austin, their heart is in the right place, by and large they're environmentally conscious and they're horrified, but just like after Katrina, they're kind of looking at it from a distance. It doesn't hit them in their gut the way it does people who have lived there. Talking to the folks at Quality, I felt a lot like I did after Katrina when I run into a fellow New Orleanian to talk to. They truly understand how bad this is and you don't have to spend a lot of time educating them on the latest developments.