Dining Out in DC on Thanksgiving, 2008
Turkey Time: With All These Options Why Buy Frozen?

Urbanna Oyster Festival

TrishThe lengths I'll go to for food. Two and a half hours and 134 miles, it turns out.

The lure of raw, roasted, fried and stewed oysters drew me, my wife and a friend down to Urbanna, Va. The tiny town along the Virginia coast is home of the annual Urbanna Oyster Festival.

It was a hike down there, but we weren't the only ones making the trip. Urbanna was overrun with tourists and bivalves. At one point, I overheard a girl say, "This is town has 600 people and there are more than that along this street." She was right, the place was packed.

And why not? There was fried, roasted and raw oysters for sale up and down the main drag. The main event -- the oyster shucking competition -- was crowded despite a downpour. Those of us willing to brave the rain to watch the shucking were rewarded with trays of free oysters passed out by local kids.

The free oysters were great, but the crowd was there to see Deborah Pratt (wearing purple) and her sister Clementine Macon (wearing red) go to work. The pair have dominated the women's competition for years. They were even featured on Food Network's Glutton for Punishment teaching Bob Blumer how to open oysters at a competition pace.Image023_3

The amateurs who opened the competition had six minutes to shuck 12 oysters. Most of them needed most of the time. The pros had six minutes to shuck 24 oysters. Deborah and Clementine needed about four minutes. And although Clementine was faster, Deborah was cleaner, which proved to be the difference in her latest win.

If you haven't shucked oysters before, trust me, 24 oysters in four minutes is damn impressive. I taught myself how to shuck oysters last year when I got to bright idea to serve them as an appetizer for Thanksgiving. I'm an idiot. It is a lot harder than it looks. All the time I've spent sitting at oyster bars watching professionals do it convinced me that I could do it, too. I can, but I'm really slow and I swear a lot more than Deborah and Clementine.

Once the rain let up, we made our way to the food vendors and ate our way through the festival. There  was the enormous seafood fritter sandwich (scallops, oysters, shrimp and crab), two dozen raw oysters, one dozen roasted oysters, a dozen fried oysters, half a bottle of White Fences wine, a basket of clam strips, and a couple ham and biscuits (it was a dinner roll, actually. Disappointing).

A moment for the oysters. Virginia oysters are fat, sweet, sweet and slightly briny. And in Urbanna, they don't cost $2 a piece. What's not to love?

There was also barbecue. God, I love barbecue. Honestly, the Carolina pork barbecue needed sugar, but Image043 it was pretty damn good. The farther away from Carolina I get, the harder it is to find true Carolina barbecue. Beach Bully's barbecue wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad.

Our day (not the festival) wrapped up watching the Oyster Festival Parade, replete with high school marching bands and an army of Shriners. If you've ever lived in or grew up in a small town, these parades are great. Old men in strange hats and tiny cars, celebrities you've never heard of and badly made floats ridden by local beauty queens. Urbanna also had an oyster mascot waving to the crowd (it worked, somehow).

It was a long drive for cheap oysters, fast shucking and Americana, but it was worth every mile.


Emily S

As a native South Carolinian, I feel it's my duty to remind everyone that there are TWO Carolinas, North Carolina and South Carolina, and that neither one should be referred to as simply "Carolina" :)


I'm sorry I missed that. I had no idea. Are there any other good oyster festivals anywhere around here?


St. Mary's County in Southern Maryland used to have an Oyster Festival every October, don't know if they still do. I used to live down there until 1994 and the Oyster Festival was something fun to do.


Yup, St. Mary's County still has it -- http://www.usoysterfest.com/

Good food, and lots of fun. Hate to tell everyone about it, but it rocks.

Christina Otruba

I grew up a about 15 min. outside of Urbanna. The Oyster Festival is a long standing tradition for local "Northern Neckers". Most of us go by boat, and spend the entire day eating and drinking and enjoying every bit of the festival.


Mmm, oysters and [north] Carolina Q - these are a few of my favorite things. The Urbanna Oyster Festival is simply phenomenal. With so many food bloggers in this town, I'm glad ONE of you was smart enough to recognize the gem that lies to our south. Thank you!

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