Back in the dark ages, before it was one of the most profitable restaurants in the country, Washington, D.C.'s Old Ebbitt Grill ended up in a restaurant's nightmare, having sickened several patrons with bad oysters. The result was a shutdown of the oyster bar and total revamp by a then-newly hired Tom Meyer.
Fast-forward more than a decade, with Meyer now president of Clyde's Restaurant Group and an oyster program that's one of the most ambitious in the country. With dozens of varieties sold daily, the restaurant ensures superfresh product that's safer than those just about anywhere. Not only do they taste bivalves from every shipment but the restaurant lab-tests for bacteria daily in each shipment. It's an incredibly laborious process.
One oyster they refuse to sell raw? Anything from the Gulf, including Apalachicolas from Florida. If they're served at all, they're fried.
Here in Florida, Apalachicolas often don't end up in
the raw bar of fine-dining and casual restaurants. Places like G&B
Oyster Bar and 3030 Ocean embrace the same principle, carrying
oysters only from cold waters, where bacteria that sickened a dozen people
last May is virtually nonexistent.
Not at Southport Raw Bar. Oysters from Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are all it's carried for 39 years, says Mike Cudnik, with the exception of 11 months after the oil spill in 2010. "We had to carry Blue Points
for nearly a year," said Cudnik. Gulf oysters here
translate to $13.95 a dozen, $11.95 during happy hour. At G&B, a
dozen oysters from PEI run $2.50 to $3 apiece, costing as much
as $36 a dozen.
"Our customers don't like them as much.
Gulf oysters are fresher, bigger, and have a cleaner taste," says Cudnik. "The northern oysters are too strong."
Restaurants with a clientele from the north say otherwise. When I spoke
to both Max of 3030 and Wolfe of G&B Oyster Bar, they
described northern oysters as clean and elegant, while Florida oysters
are for casual affairs like eating at home or for oyster roasts.
Apalachicola oysters are often sent to the frier.
Whose side are you on? Does Southport Raw Bar have the right idea? Are
Apalachicolas as delicious (and safe) as those from the north? Or have
they earned their lowly status?
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