Oysters a la Orleans

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things — of sandwiches and sides of fries or tasty onion rings.

The walrus and the carpenter, you may recall, didn’t mess around with their oysters, savoring them as they are best enjoyed — on the beach, fresh from the ocean and raw. On the half shell. Ah!

But raw oysters make a messy sandwich, which led some inventive New Orleans “Yat” to create the oyster po’boy with fried mollusks on a small loaf of French Bread. (I am reliably informed that some misguided folks actually prefer oysters fried, which is most assuredly the third or fourth best way to ingest the scrumptious lovelies.)

If you want the best oyster po’boy in Asheville, you may have arrived too late. Former Xpress staffer (and one-time New Orleans resident) Frank Rabey, a certified man-about-eateries, assured me that the only place this side of New Orleans to procure the real McCoy (ma quoi?) was Thibodaux Jones — back when the Cajun cooks operated out of the Grey Eagle on Clingman. Alas, the restaurant shed that item from its menu when it relocated to Biltmore Avenue (though its Blue Cheese Oysters are to die for).

But wait, all is not lost. There is a close contender in the bivalve-on-a-bun run that will satisfy all but the most persnickety palates: Magnolia’s Raw Bar and Grille.

Magnolia’s oyster sandwich qualifies as an oyster lover’s dream. Oodles of perfectly fried oysters, first dusted with a little cornmeal and pepper, are mounded on a chunk of perfectly toasted French bread with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. There are too many oysters for one bun to hold and they tumble out, perfectly, all over the place. Served with fries, cole slaw or potato salad and a dill pickle.

The Early Girl Eatery turns out a similarly dressed and sided sandwich. For lack of pepper, the taste of the oysters comes through a little more, and they are nearly as perfectly prepared. Fewer oysters garnered this one a second place in my book — but the fries are considerably better than Magnolia’s.

Mayfel’s serves up decidedly crunchy oysters, with cole slaw and cocktail sauce on French bread as well; sides include sweet-potato fries, regular fries or onion rings. This is the best item I have eaten at Mayfel’s, though the cabbage conflicts with the oysters to my taste. I would skip the cocktail sauce next time and order the sweet fries instead of onion rings.

Tupelo Honey Cafe uses more lightly breaded oysters, with remoulade, a slice of tomato and leaf lettuce, on a decidedly non-traditional round bun which was pleasantly fresh and light, though too soft. I missed the contrast of crunchy toasted French bread crust with the soft oysters. This one comes with pasta salad in a vinaigrette, some shredded red cabbage and one pickled okra — a tasty, authenticating touch.

I interviewed the oysters in this tale but they were mum. And this was scarcely odd, for I had eaten every one.

Follow the walrus

Where to find them:
* Magnolia’s Raw Bar & Grille 26 Walnut St. (251-5211)
* Early Girl Eatery 8 Wall St. (259-9292)
* Mayfel’s22 College St. (252-8840)
* Tupelo Honey Cafe 12 College St. (255-4863)

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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