Shuck 'em, Suck 'em and Chuck 'em"Shuck ‘em, suck ‘em and chuck ‘em" is the rallying cry for the fourth annual Oyster & and Stout Festival, getting underway March 7 and 8 at Schlafly’s Tap Room, 2100 Locust at 21st Street. The restaurant will be swimming in literally thousands of the succulent shellfish, with live music, raw oyster bars and selected oyster specials all weekend.
On the heels of the festival and new this year is Oyster & and Stout Week, which will keep the festivities rolling from March 11 through 15 at selected area restaurants.
What makes these events unique are the steps the folks at the Tap Room are taking to bring in the freshest oysters ever. Dan Kopman, the Tap Room’s chief operating officer, along with several other local restaurateurs, will personally witness the oyster harvests on the East and West coasts just days before the festival begins.
"We’re really interested in seeing where the food comes from, and overseeing it every step of the way until it gets here," Kopman said. "I’m going out to Seattle with Jim Watry from Blue Water Grill, Bethany Budde from SqWires, and two managers from Blueberry Hill. Because of the tides this year, we’ll be out there at midnight picking oysters off the beach with them. Our chef, Scot Smelser, is going to Norwalk, Connecticut. The beds there are always under water, so he’s going out on a boat. We’ll harvest Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday afternoon it’ll all be freezer packed and shipped airfreight so . We’ll have them on Thursday."
The West Coast oysters will be coming from Penn Cove Shellfish, located on Whidbey Island in northern Puget Sound in Washington State. Penn Cove will be supplying over more than six different varieties of oysters for the festival. The East Coast oysters are coming from K & B Seafood. Also arriving from both coasts are eight authentic oyster shuckers. They will be on hand at the raw bars in the upstairs Club Room, shucking and answering questions about the different varieties of oysters featured.
The Puget Sound oysters have intriguing names like Little KookumSkookum, Dabob Bay, Evening Cove and Willapa Bay, all indicative of the areas in which they are grown
"They’re just different bays, different inlets out in Puget Sound," Kopman explained. "You’re going to get taste variation depending on not just which beach or which part of Puget Sound, but where it was grown on that beach. The closer they are to the water, the quicker they grow, because they’re in the water longer."
This will be Chef Smelser’s second oyster festival, but his first experience harvesting oysters.
"It’s going to be exciting to see," he said. "This is the first year for the East Coast excursion. The actual oysters that I go out and harvest will be the ones that come here. They’re going to be the freshest oysters in the city."
In addition to the raw bars, Smelser is planning a menu which includes a variety of baked and grilled oysters, oyster stew, oyster chowder and poor boy specials.
"The grilled oysters are really good," Smelser said. "They stew in their own juices."
There will be three different Schlafly beers featured throughout the festival: Oatmeal Stout, Nitro Irish Stout, and Kaldi’s Coffee Stout, all chosen for their ability to stand up to and complement the taste of the oysters.
"You need a big beer — full of flavor — when you eat shellfish," Kopman said. "You’re looking to match the sweetness and the consistency of shellfish with something that’s got some flavor and aroma to it."
Oyster & Stout Week events will be spread throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Participating restaurants in Missouri are Blueberry Hill, Blue Water Grill, Broadway Oyster Bar, McGurk’s (with locations in Soulard and O’Fallon, MO), King Louie’s and R.L. Steamer’s.
Jim Watry, general manager of Blue Water Grill, said their menu will include at least five West Coast oysters and at least one East Coast variety. They are bringing in the three Schlafly stouts featured in the festival, as well as Schlafly’s Pale Ale, all on draft.
"We’ll have Oysters Rockefeller, smoked oyster nachos, cornbread- stuffed oysters, oyster poor boy sandwiches, buttermilk fried oysters, and Oysters Blue Water Grill," Watry said.
The restaurant will host a three-course Blue Water Grill Schlafly Oyster Dinner on March 13, as well as an oyster and Cohampagne reception on March 15.
Kate Kinsey, bar manager at Blueberry Hill, will be among those accompanying Kopman out to Puget Sound. She said their menu will likely include an open- face oyster sandwich with blue cheese sauce, oyster and andouille gumbo and Oyster Rockefeller soup.
"We are having a late- night oyster bar on Thursday March 14, from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m, " Kinsey said. "We’re going to shuck the oysters and serve them on the half shell."
On the Illinois side of the river there will be a progressive- dinner-type "Oyster Crawl" March 13 at restaurants in the Edwardsville area, including Stagger Inn, Laurie’s Place, Frank’s on Main and Bigelo’s.
Patty Hughes, manager of Stagger Inn, said they will feature at least two or three oyster dishes for the crawl.
"The whole idea is to have a 10-ounce stout on draft and a small serving, so you can go from place to place and sample everything," she explained. "We’ll try to make sure we don’t overlap our menus."
In addition to these events, SqWires is planning a dinner on March 11; McGurk’s will host a special tasting on March 12; and R.L. Steamers will have an oyster and stout tasting on March 14. (All events are subject to change; contact the participating restaurants for information about times and menusmore details.)
"We’re really into a strong commitment to quality and freshness, letting people know where their food has come from," Kopman said. "We’re trying to do that more and more with everything that comes through this place, whether it’s the malt that goes into the beer, or the vegetables and ground beef that go into the cooking. I think people trust the quality and consistency of what we’re doing, because they know we care about it. They have come to recognize that if they’re going to eat oysters once a year in St. Louis, this is the time to do it."
For more information on the Oyster & and Stout Festival and extended events, visit the Schlafly Tap Room’s web site at www.schlafly.com/oyster.shtml.