On the road: Oyster trip

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Just about everybody I know in Aspen is working themselves into a frenzy over the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays. They also are jumping for joy following Sunday’s big snow dumping. It’s a wonder anybody is getting any work done this week.

That’s great for the late-December revelers; my biggest wish is for everyone to feel the spirit of the season. I hope everybody gets along with their bosses, coworkers, friends and relatives during a time of year that can just as easily involve stress, acrimony and estrangement.

As for me, I’m skipping all the seasonal hoopla, saving money and steering clear of the awesomeness that is the “power of four” local mountains in favor of a January vacation that is centered around one thing: fresh and salty Gulf of Mexico oysters, which are likely to be at their peak.

When I return home to Louisiana in early January, I plan to immediately embark upon my weeklong oyster tour. Uptown New Orleans is a haven for oyster lovers. My first stop will be a Napoleon Avenue century-old institution, Pascal’s Manale, which offers a baker’s dozen (13 raw oysters on the half-shell instead of 12). If it’s too crowded, I might try Casamento’s, which features the char-grilled oyster. I’ve never slurped a bad oyster from either place, and they are both located within walking distance of my favorite watering holes: The Kingpin, Le Bon Temps Roule, The Milan Bar and The Bulldog.

On day two, I plan to move into fried-oyster territory. My crazy-artist buddy Chuck lives on the West Bank in historic Algiers Point, just a short Mississippi River ferry ride from downtown NOLA (that’s New Orleans, Louisiana, for you mountain people). He lives a few blocks from the Dry Dock Cafe, a homey little place where I can get a huge plate of golden-fried oysters with fries, hush puppies, coleslaw and toast for a mere $20. Dry Dock fries its oysters to perfection, the same way it handles catfish and shrimp. There are more popular places to eat fried oysters in the Crescent City — Drago’s and Deanie’s come to mind — but for the price and convenience, Dry Dock gets my vote.

Oldtimers like me will recall that the old “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show featured an “anything can happen day.” So, day three of my trip will consist of an oyster surprise, depending on my mood and finances. I may venture eastward, to the Mississippi Coast, for one of the greatest oyster restaurants I’ve ever visited: The Half Shell in Biloxi. They can do oysters any one of two dozen ways, as I recall. They’ve got Oysters Bienville, Oysters Orleans, Oysters Rockefeller — you name it, The Half Shell does it. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s well worth the money. For about $100, two people can get about three dozen oysters with two beers apiece. That sum includes the tip.

Or I may go “down the bayou,” as they say, to one of the towns southwest of New Orleans and purchase a small sack of oysters for around $35 or $40. For that low price, I might end up getting about six dozen oysters or more, freshly harvested. It’s a great deal, considering the restaurants sell their oysters for about $1.50 each (still cheap by Aspen standards). I will need a few friends to help me with the shucking and eating duties, which won’t be a problem. We just need a good spot and a proper knife.

Then it’s off to North Louisiana to visit family, but I will return to New Orleans at the end of the trip, perhaps hitting Magazine Street’s Le Bon Temps Roule on free-oyster night. The oysters there are small but tasty, and if you keep tipping the shucker, he’ll reserve the big ones for you. Plus, the bar usually features a piano player who rolls through all the city’s jazz standards. Amid raw oysters and live music, the atmosphere can’t be beat.

I hope everyone enjoys the holidays in the Aspen-Snowmass area, but I’m setting aside the fun times until I start my weeklong vacation, when the world will be my oyster, and oysters will be my world.