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Raw, steamed or on the grill?
Oyster season is here, and no matter how you like em, these fresh beauties pack a delicious punch
Fresh oysters sit on ice at Atlanta Highway Seafood Market in Gainesville. With cooler waters comes the season for oysters. - photo by Tom Reed

With fall harvest produce hitting the stores, it's easy to forget one of the season's biggest pearls - the oyster.

Whether you like the salty seafood treat raw, steamed, baked or fried, there are a few local places where you can find this delicacy.

Phuong Le, owner of Atlanta Highway Seafood Market, gets his oysters trucked in once or twice a week.

"They were harvested Wednesday and I got them yesterday," he said on Friday. "We got with several truckers and they were able to bring all the freshest stuff. ... They were harvested on Oct. 1; you can't get fresher up here."

Le said he sells quite a few Apalachicola Bay oysters in the Gainesville area, "We do sell a lot of oysters here. I just picked up 400 pounds of oysters ... we'll sell that this weekend."

At the market, which specializes in Cajun boiled crawfish and seafood gumbo, you can buy oysters to enjoy at home or eat at the market. Raw oysters, fried oysters and oyster po' boys are on the menu.

"These oysters are really good because they are from Apalachicola," said Le, a native of Biloxi, Miss., who worked at a shrimp factory as a teenager. "They don't have that muddy taste like the Alabama oysters. They are cleaner and they are saltier, they have that natural saltiness to them."

Typically, October marks the start of colder waters and a smaller chance of harmful bacteria in shellfish. Oct. 1 marks the beginning of oyster season throughout Florida, while oysters may be harvested throughout the year in Apalachicola.

Third Coast Grille in Buford offers oysters raw, steamed and baked according to owner and manager Laurie Attaway.

"Raw, raw," Attaway said about the most popular way her patrons eat oysters. "We get them from our purveyors but it's really from all over, it just depends on who has the best product. Right now, Louisiana at this point.

"There was a couple weeks with the hurricanes that in fact we didn't even carry the product for a week and a half because they weren't up to standard but now they are back on track."

Besides just enjoying the oysters raw on a Saltine cracker, Third Coast serves up steamed and baked oysters. The baked oysters are topped with spinach and Parmesan cheese.

Le said he loves oysters raw on top of ceviche, a cold seafood dish prepared in a citrus juice, but grilling oysters also is a favorite pastime.

"I just throw them on the grill and then wait for maybe about three minutes or so," he said. "Then they are real easy to come out. That's a steamed oyster - they steam in their own juice.

"But it's fun sitting out on the back porch shucking them."

And don't forget the hot sauce, horseradish and crackers after you grill the oysters. Le's favorite hot sauce for oysters is Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, but many eateries carry many varieties like Crystal, Tabasco and Texas Pete.

Trish Creef, owner of Back Porch Oyster Bar in Dahlonega, said at her restaurant they only serve cold-water oysters to defend from the deadly bacteria vibrio vulnificus, found in some oysters.

"We do nothing but fresh oysters on the half shell," said the Chesapeake Bay native. "We serve cold water oysters that generally come out of, depending on the time of year ... from Canada and Prince Edward Island. "As the water gets colder, coming down the coast we will go as far down as Chesapeake Bay if the water has been very cold there."

Creef said the cold-water oysters do have a different taste than oyster that come from the Gulf.

"When an oyster grows in cold water, the stuff that it filters is cleaner than during the hot weather," she said. "So you have a cleaner oyster; you don't have all that black gunk in them. Some are saltier than others."

Back Porch Oyster Bar carries different types of oysters, such as Blackberry Point, Alpine and Hurricane Cove.

"Every week I figure out what's available, what they are harvesting and determine which ones I want to get," Creef said.

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