Oysters are something most people love or are completely grossed out by. I’m the former. For sure. Love ’em.
My connection to local oysters is through two people, really. First is my friend George Hastings, U.S. National Shucking Champion. And he’s from Baltimore – how great is that? I first met George at First Friday at the Hon Bar in Hampden on one of the very first oyster nights there. Back in the day, the oysters were free and you just tipped the shucker, George. Then it got a little crazy (people seemed to be more excited that they were free vs delicious) and they went to $2.00/plate. George was always so nice to me. Friendly, knowledgeable, extremely skilled.
Then, last year, I met Patrick Hudson of True Chesapeake Oyster Company, which is based in St. Mary’s County on the St. Jerome Creek. Patrick is a Baltimore boy, who attended Gilman School with the son of one of my dearest friends. It was one of those ridiculous Smalltimore moments when we met and realized within two minutes that we knew a ton of people in common. Patrick was going to be a lawyer, but then decided to give this oyster farming thing a go – that was three years ago and he hasn’t looked back. His “Skinny Dippers” debuted at the 2013 Preakness to rave reviews. The name Skinny Dipper refers to the fact that you really don’t need to add any condiments to enjoy them. I’m still learning about oysters, but his oysters seem perfectly briny, not too, too salty, nice and smooth. Definitely easy to eat. Well, to slurp. You can put cocktail sauce on ’em if you want – no judgement from me.
I ran into George at Ryleigh’s Oyster Bar’s Oyster Ball last week and he asked me to come back to Ryleigh’s in a week for something special. He was hosting Michael Moran, World Oyster Shucking Champion while he was in town from Ireland for the St. Mary’s Oyster Festival. George met up with Michael at Ft. McHenry and then the two headed to Ryleigh’s to have dinner and do some shucking. (Apparently, they stopped for a pint somewhere between Locust Point and Federal Hill, imagine that.)
Michael’s family owns and runs Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Galway, Ireland, along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been in business for 300 years – he’s seventh generation. Seventh! He and his sister both work in the business, which they learned about as kids by watching their grandmother work so hard. Moran’s started out very simply with oysters, smoked salmon and brown bread (baked by their grandmother) and butter, then eventually expanded to many types of seafood including clams, mussels, prawns and more. One day, I will get there. Michael said I have to — especially since my Mom is Peg Fitzpatrick, from County Cork — I need to see my people. I’m sure I’ll sneak a Guinness in there, too, and head for the coast for oysters now that I know about Moran’s.
Michael was, of course, completely charming. The accent. It’s the accent, plus the fact that this guy was just so happy to be in Charm City. After they finished their delicious crab cakes and fries (or were they chips?), we headed to the back of the bar where owner Brian McGowan had kindly set up a table to shuck oysters.
So, there I am, hanging with two of the most down-to-earth guys — who are actually rock stars in the oyster world — watching them shuck, all while enjoying rich, creamy pints of Guinness and eating the most delicious oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. How’d I get so lucky, that’s what I want to know.
This weekend, I’m planning to go to St. Mary’s County for the World Oyster Shucking Finals at the St. Mary’s Oyster Festival. My goal? Get a bird’s eye view of the competition and eat as many oysters as possible.
When I left Ryleigh’s, I gave Michael and George some of my salted caramel brownies. It was the least I could do for these two lovely men.
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