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26th annual Oyster Festival on Long Island

Mike Tursi and his girlfriend, Mia Niemiec, both

Mike Tursi and his girlfriend, Mia Niemiec, both of Astoria, stuff their faces with oysters during the oyster eating contest at the 25th annual Oyster Festival. (Oct. 18, 2008) Credit: Newsday/Michael E. Ach

Within days, oysters tucked beneath the waters of Oyster Bay Harbor will be harvested, plated and offered to those who love them - to spritz with lemon, cloak in cocktail sauce, skewer with a seafood fork and devour in a single slurp.

Every October, the Oyster Festival, now in its 26th year, attracts tens of thousands to the North Shore to pay homage to a briny bivalve mollusk and savor its slippery goodness in everything from soups to sandwiches to right out of the shell.

What to expect

More than 200,000 attended last year's two-day festival, organized by the Oyster Bay Rotary Club. The gateway to the festival starts near the center of the downtown business district, at South Street and Audrey Avenue, where visitors will find antiques for sale, local bands and street performers, including unicyclists, stilt-walkers and face-painters.

Down the street, visitors are invited to help create a 16-by-12-foot nautical mural - one of several festival additions this year. Go a little farther, and there will be local food merchants and exhibitors offering everything from homemade pickles to hand-rolled cigars.

Kids can take the free trackless train ride from the gazebo to the future home of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum. A carnival with rides and a midway will run nearby at Fireman's Field, near the LIRR station.

Main attractions

There will be lots going on inside Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park and along the Western Waterfront, from stages set up for live entertainment to giant tents with artisans selling their wares to a food court with booths run by staff and volunteers from 25 to 30 area nonprofit organizations. "It's probably one of the bigger fundraisers for many of them," says Paige Dawson, vice president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Festival food

Vendors will offer fresh oysters served in many ways - fried, in stew, on the half shell - and other seafood, international cuisine and all-American fare, from burgers and pizza to fried ravioli, pulled pork and funnel cakes. New this year - lobster bisque and mussels au vin blanc (provided by Mill Creek Tavern and offered at the Rotary booth), as well as a 50-inch chocolate fountain, with fresh fruit for dipping (at Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome Network booth).

On the waterfront

The tall ships - a festival staple to honor the hamlet's maritime history - are back on the western waterfront, with the addition of two watercraft this year: the Clipper City, a restored 19th-century cargo schooner that sailed from before the Civil War through 1890; and Tugboat Cornell, custom-built by Jakobson Shipyard in Oyster Bay and used to transport rail cars across the Harlem River from 1950 to 1971. Harbor sails aboard The Christeen, a historic oyster sloop, and The Tahiti, a 30-foot wooden ketch, are available for a nominal fee.

Other attractions

Starting about 1 p.m. Saturday at the Rotary booth near the park entrance, competitive eaters can sign up for one of the limited spots in the oyster shucking and eating contests. Frank M. Flower & Sons will again supply the 40,000 Pine Island oysters for the festival and shucking and eating contests, which begin at 2 p.m. on the Verizon West End Avenue Stage.

In two large tents near the food court, 150 artisans from around the country will be selling their wares, including designer jewelry, stained glass, sculpture, hand-made items and more. Other highlights include a pirate show, the second annual regatta, Whole Foods Market's "Best of the Food Court Contest" and the "Ultimate Air Dog Competition" on West End Avenue (only dogs preregistered to compete will be allowed at the festival).

"Each year, we try to reinvigorate the festival and bring back the most popular things and what the guests seem to like," says festival spokeswoman Cindy Smith. "We also like bringing in fresh and new things to enhance the guests' experience."

26th annual Oyster Festival: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Western Waterfront, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, Oyster Bay, 516-628-1625, theoysterfestival.org. According to a recording at the Oyster Festival Organization's number, the event will go on rain or shine.

Cost: Free admission, satellite parking and shuttle bus service.

Parking:

* Syosset Long Island Rail Road station (at Jackson Avenue and Underhill Boulevard);

* Vernon School (Route 106 in East Norwich);

* Mill Max Manufacturing parking lot (Route 106 in Oyster Bay);

* Oyster Bay Jewish Center (Berry Hill Road); The Equestrian Center (Route 106 between Route 25A and Muttontown Road).

By train: There will be expanded train service on the Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson lines. If you take the Oyster Bay line, you'll get off in the center of the festival. If you take the Port Jefferson branch, you'll disembark at Syosset and take the free shuttle to the festival.

An incentive: Festivalgoers will receive a ticket for three free oysters on the half-shell when they take the train to the event.

More info: See the special Oct. 17-18 Oyster Bay branch timetable or weekend Port Jefferson timetable (mta.info/lirr, 516-822-LIRR).

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