An unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon welcomed attendees to the first ever Oysterfest at Meritage restaurant in downtown St. Paul. Saint Peter Street in front of the restaurant was closed in honor of the occasion. Inside they moved out the usual bistro tables and chairs and set up shucking stations.
|Meritage celebrates with oysters, oyster seminars, oyster contests, and even oyster beer|
VIP ticket holders were treated to a day of seminars and classes on the coveted bivalves. General admission ticket holders were given a punch card good for a dozen oysters and a pint of Lift Bridge Brewery's Oyster Stout, made from shells of Meritage's oysters. The beer was incredibly rich and supple, tasting a bit like a cousin of Guinness.
Stations for sampling were set up inside and out and divvied up by coast. Just some of the varieties available were tiny, sweet little Olympias; fat, aptly named Tomahawk; and familiar and subtly briny Blue Point.
But there was so much more than just oysters.
A pairing station served a couple of cocktails featuring Wisconsin distillery Death's Door spirits, white wines, and Prosecco. The other food offerings were more casual fare than the French bistro is known for serving. There were lobster rolls, pommes frites, a burger, and wings. The wings were astounding. Smoked and tossed in a coarse ground mustard sauce, the meat fell off the bone, while the skin still retained a little charred integrity. They tasted like bacon masquerading as a bird.
|Bivalve fans feast al fresco|
The entertainment highlight of the afternoon was the oyster-shucking contest pitting local chefs against one another. Jack Riebel of the forthcoming Butcher & the Boar arrived with appropriate shucking attire as well as his own cheering section, which included his mom. House favorite Russell Klein assured everyone it would be a fair fight, while a collection of chefs from Travail cracked wise and instigated a bit of friendly trash talking. Lenny Russo of nearby Heartland strolled in, unfazed. Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart promised to make the boys cry.
|Jack Riebel is one bad mother shucker|
In the end, it was Vincent Francoual, representing his eponymous restaurant, who won, dispatching the bivalves with dizzying speed and precision.
|Mine is bigger - we're sure Francoual isn't bragging|
410 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, MN