Oyster season is serious business in Charleston. Steamy oyster roasts give us a reason to come together and enjoy the bounty of Lowcountry waterways and cold raw oysters top tasting menus across the city.
Throwing your own oyster roast or shucking raw oysters at home can be intimidating — or at least messy. Fortunately, Charleston restaurants are glad to do the work for you, and offer several raw and roasted preparations to enjoy through the cold season.
Downtown, Tempest has a unique indoor dining experience that lets you skip the cold and still enjoy the flavors of a classic Lowcountry oyster roast. Out on Johns Island, shuckers on the raw bar at The Royal Tern know there’s nothing that kicks off an elegant meal like raw oysters.
The Roast at Tempest
Tempest’s menu features local, sustainable South Atlantic seafood and diners have the option to enjoy the seasonal selections in either raw or charcoal-roasted variety. According to chef-partner Jamie Lynch, the hot charcoal grill is the backbone of the menu at Tempest. The Top Chef alum said Tempest didn’t want to be the traditional raw bar, so it drew inspiration from Lowcountry oyster roasts as well as the New England clam bakes and lobster boils Lynch grew up on.
“When we were in the concept phase of Tempest, I wondered, ‘How can we do an oyster roast indoors without having an outdoor setup or go off-site to bring this to our guests every night?’” Lynch said.
“And what we found was this Mibrasa oven.”
The Mibrasa oven is a Spanish cast-iron charcoal grill encased in an iron box with grill grates. To make the charcoal-roasted menu items, the Mibrasa oven is filled with lump hardwood charcoal that burns until it’s ripping hot. Lynch explained that this technique is advantageous because the seafood takes on subtle flavors from the charcoal, but avoids any harsh smokiness.
The menu at Tempest is built around local seafood, featuring oysters from Lowcountry Oysters, clams from Clammer Dave and Miss Paula’s shrimp from Tarvin Seafood. Guests can order these items a la carte or combine them all on a platter. Raw seafood comes served on a bed of ice and roasted items are delivered on hot river rocks.
An honorable mention from the grill is Tempest’s whole fish, Lynch said.
“Our whole roasted fish could be beeliner snapper, flounder, trout — whatever’s coming right off the boat,” he said. “We whole-roast it in the Mibrasa oven with a tahini glaze.”
The Royale at The Royal Tern
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just getting the gang together, there’s nothing like a cold oyster to set the tone for an indulgent meal.
At The Royal Tern, the traditional raw bar half shell offering gets a little help with The Royale. Fitting its name, The Royale features a raw oyster topped with tuna belly marinated in jalapeno ponzu, topped with tobiko (flying fish roe), toasted sesame seeds and micro cilantro.
Chef de cuisine Kyle Kryske, who handles cutting the fish at the Johns Island seafood restaurant, said the silky tuna belly sometimes gets tossed, but not at The Royal Tern.
“It gives the oyster a fatty feel and when you mix it together you get the richness and the fattiness,” he said. “There’s a little crunch from the toasted sesame and tobiko and then an herbaceousness from the micro cilantro.”
Executive chef Dave Pell said The Royal Tern serves Beausoleil oysters from New Brunswick, Canada, for The Royale, which are favored for its delicate flavor.
“It’s one of my favorite oysters personally. I feel like it’s a really good oyster for getting people started that maybe don’t think they like oysters. It’s really small, not a lot to chew on, kinda salty, but it has a nice flavor to it. We keep it on the menu at all times because it’s always available. They’re also consistent in size and shape and easy to shuck,” said Pell.
The Royal Tern raw bar also features a rotating oyster special, like the recent offering served with a unique black garlic pomegranate mignonette.
Tempest serves a variety of oysters on the half shell, served on ice.