We’ve been in the Lowcountry for several years now, but we can still remember our first oyster. Slimy, briny, and looking like a dead tongue, we’re not even sure how anyone convinced us to slurp it down. As we learned to love the salty creatures, saltines and spicy cocktail sauce went a long way to mask the flavor of a glistening lump we once deemed inedible. Almost a decade later, you can’t keep us away from our favorite shell-bearing mollusks. We now rejoice at roast invites and greedily wield our oyster knives to attack every clump of sea liquor-filled clumps we can get our hands on.
With the holiday season over, all of Charleston seems to have turned its attention to the oyster. The amount of roasts we’ve been invited to makes us think the oyster beds may be bare by the end of January. We decided to compare the different fêtes this weekend.
On Friday night we attended the Lowcountry Local First roast, hosted at the Charleston Crab House on James Island. Once we made our way past hush-puppy-eating tourists and date-night retirees in the restaurant, we found all our friends on the outdoor patio waiting for their next round of bivalves. Strands of lights were strung overhead and several tables were set up for cracking open shells on the wooden deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. A few boats illuminated the water, and the warm January evening had many guests exclaiming how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful city.
Attendees were treated to the sounds of Hawaiian music from the band ‘Olu ‘Olu, who, before they took a breather, announced they “were taking a break to eat all your oysters.” There was absolutely an abundance to go around as strong men in aprons lifted new trays of steaming shells to the tables every few minutes. Waitresses took drink orders, so we didn’t have to break our eating stride to line up at the bar. For those who didn’t like mollusks, the roast staple of chili and hot dogs were set up on the side. We stuck to shucking, however.
After a day to recover from stuffing our faces, we decided it was time for more shellfish on Sunday. The Charleston Museum was celebrating its 240th birthday with an afternoon at the Dill Sanctuary in James Island. After getting a little lost on Riverland Drive, we finally found the idyllic space overlooking the Stono River. With the Spanish moss overhead, it truly is the quintessential Lowcountry setting for a traditional oyster roast. We missed out on taking the guided tour of the historic land, but arrived in time to snatch a few clusters.
The bluegrass band, Blue Plantation, played “Wagon Wheel” as some of the smaller guests took turns dancing to the plucky sounds. Inside the covered patio, we found the obligatory chili, and we were urged to try it. We wished had we brought a to-go container because we were too full from shucking to eat much else — we even had to pass on birthday cake. Many guests set up chairs in anticipation of the setting sun, relaxing with a beer or bloody Mary before heading home. The gorgeous weather was another chance for this group of guests to revel in joys of living in the South.
Both shindigs this weekend were perfect examples of oyster roasts done right. It must be nearly impossible to host a bad one — unless perhaps you run out of food.