Louisiana oysters are at their best in the colder months, so they usually get our full attention beginning in autumn.
But I can't wait that long. This summer has been a rough one, and I'm ready for a taste of one of the real blessings of living in Louisiana: the prodigious oyster harvest.
Oysters are available year round, and even the raw dozens I've been dispatching lately have been tasting fuller and fatter, a harbinger of the peak season to come.
When they're cooked, of course, Louisiana oysters can be the main attraction any time, and our restaurants and chefs have shown ever more inventive and delicious ways to showcase them fried, broiled or even smoked.
New Orleans has minted its own classic examples over the years. Oysters Rockefeller and oysters en brochette come to mind first. Others qualify as modern classics, like Drago’s charbroiled oysters, snapping with butter and garlic, or Clancy’s fried oysters topped with melting hunks of Brie.
But these are not the final word on the topic; in fact, they’re just the beginning. Below, I’m recommending a clutch of new-guard examples around town. This is an ongoing pursuit, one that expands and builds on a similar oyster hunt I undertook last year (check that out here). When you’re after oysters beyond the raw, here are some different answers to a familiar craving.
Fried Oyster BLT
Bourbon House, 144 Bourbon St., (504) 522-0111
It’s hard to forgo the lightly broiled oysters with bordelaise and lump crabmeat at this Bourbon Street brasserie, and last time I visited I couldn’t (I added a half dozen raw for good measure, too). But the new addition here is chef Eric Cook’s fried oyster BLT. It’s not a sandwich but rather an artfully arranged appetizer interspersing briny, salty, sour, sweet flavors, carried by oysters, bourbon-cured pork belly, microgreens and a cherry tomato jam. Spear some of each on a fork for an umami explosion that might knock you off the oyster bar stool.
Charbroiled Oyster Gratin
DTB, 8201 Oak St., (504) 518-6889
Chef Carl Schaubhut’s modern Louisiana eatery has been off to a roaring start since its March debut, reinterpreting familiar staples with gusto. The oyster gratin is no exception, napping smoked oysters beneath a rich béchamel and a herbaceous gremolata crust. The taste is charbroiled oysters suffused with cream. If you go for brunch (Friday-Monday) check out the fried oyster croque madame, an open-faced affair layered with smoky tasso over a spread of chile green funduta and dotted with pepper jelly.
Crispy Fried P&J Oysters
Maypop, 611 O'Keefe Ave., (504) 518-6345
This impressive new CBD restaurant from chef Michael Gulotta and the crew behind MoPho and Tana starts with a fusion of Southeast Asia and Southeast Louisiana and expands from there. This oyster dish sets the pace. The plate is painted with a storm pattern swirl of aioli turned ink black with an unusually smoky soy sauce, while over-the-top goes shaved manchego and cucumbers pulsing with chile heat.
Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 739 Ibverville St., (504) 522-4440
One of the classic oyster houses of the French Quarter, Felix’s is famous for its raw product. More recently, the kitchen has been getting in on the act, and this Buffalo version is a standout. The oysters are fried and doused in a sauce that combines garlic butter from the broiled oyster station with lots of Crystal hot sauce for an assertive tang. Bits of browned blue cheese sit on top like a crown.
Katie's Restaurant, 3701 Bienville St., (504) 484-0580
The familiar aroma of chargrilled oysters surrounds Katie’s, though some of the examples coming off the grill sport a different flavor. The oysters Slessinger are dotted with shrimp and bacon and slathered with the secret weapon, a pad of Provel cheese. The cheese is a tangy-tasting, smooth-melting import of St. Louis fame that has an unlikely second home at this back street Mid-City restaurant (it’s also used on some of the specialty pizzas).
Carrollton Market, 8132 Hampson St., (504) 252-9928
The moniker might seem to undersell this dish, but oysters Goodenough are proudly named for their creator, chef Jason Goodenough. The oysters are fried and placed back in their shells, which serve as individual pots of bacon and creamed leeks under velvety, lemony bearnaise. They’re decadently rich. At brunch, the dish returns as the oyster Goodenough French omelet (sans shells, of course).
The Munch Factory, 1901 Sophie Wright Place, (504) 324-5372
This next-generation Creole cafe found a new home in the Lower Garden District this year, but one of its signature dishes still advertises its roots. Oysters Gentilly, named for the neighborhood where the Ruiz family proprietors grew up, combine a number of local compulsions — namely fried oysters and creamed spinach. The crown of caramelized onions on top ties it all together.
Baked Oysters Grand Isle
Grand Isle, 575 Convention Center Blvd., (504) 520-8530
These oysters come out of chef Ryan Haigler’s kitchen looking like individual casseroles cupped in their shells. Roasted jalapeno gives a pulse of mellow heat between a bit of tasso and a dose of creamy, nutty-tasting havarti cheese melted between the oyster and its breadcrumb crust.
MeMe's Bar & Grille, 712 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette, (504) 644-4992
This Chalmette restaurant broils oysters in ways you’ve had before (Rockefeller, garlic and Parmesan, bacon and blue cheese), and one I’ve not seen anywhere else. The Bangkok oysters are cooked under a fire engine-red cap of sambal oelek, a Southeast Asian sauce. It tastes right at home over the oyster as a thick, chunky glaze with sweet heat.
Broiled Oysters with Roe
Trinity, 1117 Decatur St., (504) 325-5789
If all the marble sheathing this restaurant brings to mind an oyster bar, you’re in luck. The kitchen hangs its hat on a spread of oyster dishes, moving from raw through fried and smoked. The best of the bunch is this broiled edition, which gives a toasty crunch from a cap of panko and adds the briny pop of red flying fish roe to the supple oyster underneath.
Frankie & Johnny's, 321 Arabella St., (504) 243-1234
Boiled seafood is the calling card of this vintage, deep Uptown joint. But lately oysters have been a serious specialty, too. Witness the oyster nachos: fried oysters each on its own corn chip, tostada style, with very fresh pico de gallo and a dab of spicy remoulade. This is Creole-Mex at its best.