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Oyster Festival is all about oysters -- stewed, fried and raw

What started out as Teddy Roosevelt’s 125th birthday parade has blossomed into a festival that draws about 200,000. Oyster fans came to the 31st annual Oyster Bay Oyster Festival on Oct. 19, 2014, which is now run by the Oyster Bay Rotary. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

The minute you walk into the Oyster Festival, your diet goes out the window.

The massive food court, where people gorge on everything oyster in various styles — stewed, fried and raw, calls you as you enter Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay.

"They are always fresh and tasty here," said Gwen Zaffuto, 60, of Merrick, while enjoying oysters on the half shell. "I like having them outside on a paper plate better than in a restaurant. It's like tasting the ocean."

You can even get yourself an entire lobster dinner at the North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association booth, where they provide you with the essentials — butter, corn and a wooden fork.

"We had people waiting since 10:15 a.m. for us to open up," said veteran bayman Joe Finke of Bayville as he watched over four giant pots of boiling lobsters.

"People come in from New York City by the train load looking for our lobster. It's amazing."

The smorgasbord of seafood draws close to 200,000 people to the historic hamlet, making it Long Island's largest waterfront festival. The fun resumes Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"It's like the Woodstock of street fairs," Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto says. "The great amount of people adds to the electricity and excitement. It's a real bonding event."

Oyster Bay resident Chris Adams, 45, has a strategy for handling the massive crowds.

"We don't leave. Before the festival starts we make sure we have everything we need," he said. "We don't move our cars or go anywhere unless we walk."

An upset occurred at the oyster shucking contest when last year's winner Ralph Alarcon, 37, of Lynbrook, fell to Louis Tuccillo, 28, of Seaford, by a slim margin, 31-30.

"I can't believe it. I won by one!" said Tuccillo, who has been nipping at Alarcon's heels for four years.

A gracious champion, Alarcon congratulated the victor. "I'm glad Louis won. He's been here awhile, he deserves it," he said. "But I'll be back next year."The oyster eating contest also experienced a different baton-passing when champ John Guiliano, 65, of Syosset announced he wouldn't compete this year but rather cheer on his 2013 competitor.

Nathaniel Cocca-Bates, 32, of Harlem, didn't disappoint, gobbling down 96 oysters Saturday. Dan Gallo, 31, of Lindenhurst, and Scott Keatley, 32, of Brooklyn, tied for a distant second at 60 oysters apiece.

"Next year I have to defend my title," Cocca-Bates said later. "No more looking at the bull's-eye, now the bull's-eye is on me!"

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