On Saturday, I attended the 28th Annual Oyster Bay Oyster Festival and ate my way through it. There were historic ships to explore, crafts to browse, rides to .?.?. get sick on. But I concentrated on the food.
The festival stages two culinary contests, oyster-shucking and oyster-eating. Steven Trcka, an interloper from across the Sound (Milford, Conn. to be exact) won the former, shucking 41 oysters in four minutes. EMS workers were standing by, but none of the contestants suffered more than a shallow nick.
I’ve got to describe the oyster-eating competition. Before it begins, volunteers from Frank M. Flower and Sons Oyster Co. shuck thousands of oysters. In front of each contestant are placed one aluminum tin containing 36 oysters, and a few plastic cups, each containing a dozen oysters. Contestants are allowed to season the oysters with lemon, cocktail sauce or hot sauce. A few decorous souls used their fingers to eat the oysters, but the serious competitors just chugged them. After they finished the tin of 36 oysters, they made their way through the cups. After two minutes and 40 seconds, Paulette Gayle of Jamaica, Queens, had vanquished her rivals: she ate 156 oysters. For this she received $50 and a small plaque. No emergency medical service was required.
I don’t think I could have eaten a thing after witnessing this display; luckily I had my fill before the contests began. My friend and I stood in what looked to be the food court’s longest line, for the Mill River Rod and Gun Club’s fried oysters. As I approached the cooking area I was surprised to see no fryolators; breaded oysters appeared to be cooking on a flat-top griddle and every so often someone would drizzle some oil on top of them. Well, I thought, live and learn; perhaps you can successfully fry an oyster on a griddle.
It turns out, you can’t. The oysters were bready and utterly crisp-less. Mill River Rod and Gun Club: What are you thinking?
The culinary highlight of the festival, for me, was the Hispanic Cultural Center of Oyster Bay’s booth. A number of the other booths serve food prepared by local restaurants or food you only see (thankfully) at festivals and carnivals — turkey legs, mass-produced crepes, popcorn and like — but the volunteers at the Hispanic Center had lovingly produced empanadas, tacos, nachos and, pictured above, freshly fried tostadas topped with guacamole, and cheese-filled pupusas (fat tortillas) topped with pickled onions and hot peppers.