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.
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).
There was also barbecue. God, I love barbecue. Honestly, the Carolina pork barbecue needed sugar, but 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.