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Archive for the ‘Oysters’ Category

Love this… as part of our North Carolina seafood road trip feature for this month’s issue of Our State magazine, the editors asked about the music we listened to during the assignment. A playlist from contributors (including PFE, and me) is now online at The Soundtrack.

We drove more than 250 miles of coastline for the story, stopping at 14 seafood stops along the way, including  at the 1950s-era Clyde Phillips Seafood Market, between the bridges on the causeway in Swansboro.

“Inside a small fish house with concrete floors, fishermen recall better days when the catch might include red drum “with scales big enough to be guitar picks.” Near the sink behind owner Jimmy Phillips, an employee heads a couple of pounds of the shrimp that they still have, and then counts out four dozen littleneck clams for a customer. It’s the end of the day, and the men don’t seem to be in a hurry to leave — a couple of them talk about having a fish fry in the parking lot, this week or next…

The complete story is now online at Our State, and the layout of is terrific. A few more pages from the printed version,

Great music, fresh seafood, and salty scenery all the way. For that, I’ll hit the road anytime.

– Sandy Lang, May 2012

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Food, In print/published, Oysters, Travel

I’m so excited to see this in print. Below is the opener for our first piece for Maine magazine, “Oyster Drive,” a 9-page feature in the March issue. (Yes, that’s an oysterman collecting oysters in the snow – Adam Campbell of North Haven.) Photography is by Peter Frank Edwards, and the staff did a beautiful layout.

Take a flight into Portland, and power directly north on some combination of Route 1 and I-95 to the cabin near Bucksport. That’s what we typically do—but not this time. It was a mid-December morning, snow was coming, and it was just days before many of the oystermen would be hauling in their boats and gear for the season. (Some harvest year-round. Others are typically back out on the water in March or April.) That’s how our “Oyster Drive” was born.

Weather and season made it suddenly more than a fleeting idea. Finding oysters was elevated to a personal mission—something necessary, even urgent. As winter crept up from the floorboards of the rented Toyota, every oyster we could find would be that much more precious. We mapped out a plan to skip I-95 and stick to the coast, seeking roadside views of the tidal beds and washes where the oysters grow, and making stops along the way at towns, coves, rivers, islands. We wanted to taste again the salt and quiver of the Maine oyster, and get our fill as close as possible to the chilled tides. The gas tank was full, we had the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer by our side, and we had a starter list of oyster destinations in hand. Check. Check. Check. Off we went…

– Sandy Lang, March 2011



Oyster note in T+L


Oysters make a nice valentine, I think. I had the chance to write up a few South Carolina oyster-eating places in Travel + Leisure’s cover-story round-up of romantic destinations. Here’s my blurb, on page 9o, titled “A Low-Country Drive.” You can also see it online in their list of “50 Best Romantic Getaways  2010.”


– Sandy Lang, February 2010


In the annual “Food & Wine” issue of Charleston Magazine that’s out this month, I’ve got a piece on the single oysters that some of the oystermen are cultivating around here. Here’s a bit more than could fit in print:

Fresh salties by the bushel

As sure as it’s December, on low tides up on the oyster beds of Bulls Bay, in the creeks around Wadmalaw, and over on the Folly River, oystermen are pulling wild oysters from tide-washed banks.

The harvest is mostly of our Lowcountry clusters, but there should also be some new singles on the scene. Bill Anderson of the SC Department of Natural Resources says that thanks to the labor-intensive experimenting by longtime oystermen like Bill Livingston at Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood up in McClellanville, the local catch also now includes cultured single oysters – also known as single selects, Charleston Cups or Carolina Cups. It’s the same oyster, but is manually kept from clustering, and often grows horizontally and sometimes sub-tidally.

The results are single oysters that can have more of a cupped bottom, instead of the longer and narrower “knife blade” shape of cluster oysters that grow vertically. DNR gave a handful of grants back in 2006 to help South Carolina oystermen get single cultivation started, since the singles fetch a higher price than clusters. Livingston’s work with singles was part of that cooperative research grant program. South of Charleston, Tony Geisman got involved too. He built a platform on a creek off of the North Edisto River near Wadmalaw Island, and had some good success last year.

The holidays are a peak season for oysters, with clusters and singles at seafood purveyors like Stella Maris Seafood, a longtime wholesaler that also sells to the public. Chaz Green, who works with Stella Maris, describes the local “cups” as being more flavorful and rare than the ubiquitous oysters from the Gulf.  They’re also big, but not too big. “They’re like that one good-sized one you’ll get on a cluster,” he says. “A perfect bite.”

– Sandy Lang, December 2009

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Food, In print/published, Oysters, Travel

Morse Sauerkraut, Nov. 2009 Peter Frank Edwards

On a November drive on the Maine coast north of Portland, we stopped in at Morse’s Sauerkraut for a quart of their brined cabbage. I love the sour crunch, hot or cold. We met one of the owners and learned that the sauerkraut-making and farm had its beginnings back in 1910, and its farm store now includes a well-stocked German-Euro deli with a tiny restaurant in the back –  the  “Little German Cafe,” with specials like goulash and sauerbraten. In the deli, they had some just-sliced local pastrami from Bisson’s right down the road in Topsham… so cool, where else do you see local pastrami? We had to have some of that. Later at the cabin we’d make hot sandwiches, but in the car, we pulled out strips of the pastrami to try – simply dried beef with good saltiness, and not too peppery. It was delicious.

On that Thursday afternoon we had no particular schedule, which was pretty amazing in itself. But it was also a clear, cold Maine fall day. In the bright sunshine we drove the curving, rising two-lane road to the honor stand at the Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm. Past farm fields and spruce woods, stood the small and tidy building – maybe 15-feet across – beside a house where several wetsuits were hanging over the porch rail near the back door. (They dive for the oysters in the Damariscotta River below.) You pick out the oysters you want and leave your cash in a wooden box. One by one, we counted out a dozen each of the icy Damariscotta singles that are known to be clean and sweet tasting (they definitely were); and of the flatter, rounder and more iodine-tasting Belon oysters. (I’ve been learning about these, the French-Euro oyster that Julia Child wrote of eating in Provence, and that was introduced in Maine waters in the 1950s.) An elder Mainer pulled in just after us. Wearing a flannel shirt and walking slowly with a cane, he made his way over to the coolers to choose three of the “jumbo” singles (big as my hand) that go for $1.50 each. He didn’t look up for talking, but as he counted his change into the cash box, I said hello and asked how he’d eat the big oysters. “I eat ’em with a spoon,” he said, “like any other oyster.”

Belon & Damariscotta oysters Nov. 2009 Peter Frank Edwards

At the cabin the next day, we got into the sauerkraut and pastrami for an early lunch – made a Reuben version – and a few hours later, we iced down and pried open the Belons to eat on the half shell with lemon, followed by sips of Madeira. By then, the temperatures were in the mid-thirties and I had a fire going in the woodstove.

– Sandy Lang, December 2009  (images by PFE)



Oyster season is on


No, it’s not that you get a mouthful of pluff. It’s more like when you swim in a saltwater creek and can lick the saltiness from your lips. That’s the taste of our oysters, what we can pull from the Folly River now that the weather’s cooled down. Some people say they’re too much trouble, but I’m partial to the Lowcountry clusters. Every fall I can’t wait for the season to start, for the backyard fires and the oyster knives, the whole cold weather scene.

On an assignment in Georgetown, SC the other day, I stopped again at Independent Seafood. I had my camera along, shot the scene above. Back in Charleston, here’s Chaz Green at Stella Maris Seafood pulling out some local singles and clusters. And at the outdoor sink at home, some Folly River oysters, just before getting steamed for dinner.


– Sandy Lang, November 2009



Water to fire

Oysters Folly

It was a bright morning on Sunday, and the low tide was higher than usual, with plenty of wind and chop in the Folly River. We slid the john boat in at the landing, and cruised along the backside of Folly Beach where sailboats are moored here and there. It was our first time out this fall for oystering, and I’d already invited friends to come by later, so we’d fill two milk crates. The absolute low had just passed, and the tide was already returning.  In that cloudless morning we walked the bank, using our hammers to knock the empty shells, the smaller oysters from the clusters.  Besides the sound of  tapping the white shells, it was a quiet scene. In the wind and sunshine, I’d stop sometimes to watch the water. A marsh hen chattered, and Peter Frank said he could feel water in his boot, another pair sliced by shells. He didn’t care much, pulled out the small bottle of hot sauce he brings on oyster days, and pried open a couple of oysters to eat right there on the pluff mud bank.

backyard oyster roast prep

That night we had a little roast, lit a fire in the pit in the backyard.  Around the picnic table, in the steam rise, eight of us pried open and ate the tenderest mud-salt oysters.  And then we sat talking,  like we do, just watching the flames.

 – November 2008, Sandy Lang



Fishing the Inlet

oyster sign, An

We just spent a couple days and nights along the road just inside the creeks of Murrells Inlet, SC where no less than 30 seafood restaurants are set in with houses and a few other businesses like hair salons, boat yards and bait shops.  The air smells like pluff mud and salt, and at night, of hushpuppies frying.  For me, memories are locked into that scenery, that air.  I grew up a few miles up the coast, and on prom night we’d all go out for seafood first in Murrells Inlet, already wearing our tuxedos, gowns and corsages.  In college we’d drive down to the boat landing and sit on car hoods, watching the marsh and moonlight.  (Is that what we were doing?)

It was good to get back, always is.  A curiosity and attraction of the Inlet is the longtime restaurants.  In a world where so much changes, it’s a comfort to see there’s still a Lee’s Inlet Kitchen (in the same family since 1948), and that the best bar is owned by a Vereen, one of the oldest families in Murrells Inlet.  That bar (also a restaurant) is Russell’s, and Russell Vereen is a fellow Socastee High graduate, a guy with a thousand stories.  No, more than that, and always changing.  He likes to buy up old signs from the Inlet, or save them from certain trash… pointed at one on the wall of the barn behind his restaurant that had been cracked into several pieces by a runaway car.  Russell salvaged that “Welcome to Murrells Inlet S.C. Seafood Capital” sign – put the planks back together – and says he often finds people sitting in the rocking chairs below the wall of signs, getting their picture taken.

We met Sean English and Denny Springs over at Harrelson’s Seafood, a fresh fish counter where they also have a kitchen and are trying to be the very best at making a fried grouper sandwich.  With every order they cut a nice-sized hunk of fresh grouper and fry it just right.  And if you order the fish tacos with tuna, the big, meaty chunks of fresh tuna are blackened on the outside and still perfectly pink inside.  Denny’s another Socastee grad and his grandfather’s wife, An Mathis Springs, is one of the most amazing women in Murrells Inlet.  Born in Vietnam, she came to Murrells Inlet in the early 1970s and starting catching and selling minnows for bait, walking on the mud flats with minnow traps on her back.  She later turned to catching blue crabs, and still, at 70 years old, she goes out several times a week to set and pull up her traps, then makes fat crab cakes and delicate crab egg rolls to sell.

We also hung out with Gaston “Buddy” Locklear, an old friend who used to paint designs on Perfection surfboards for Village Surf Shoppe, which is still open, a legend in Garden City.  He now paints on canvas and wood, is one of the most prolific artists I’ve ever seen… sometimes covering his finished paintings in a coat of epoxy, just like with surfboards. He’s part of this very cool co-op gallery in Murrells Inlet called the Ebb & Flow. And that day, he showed us a just-finished painting of the marsh island in Murrells Inlet where Drunken Jack’s restaurant has been letting goats roam since the mid-1980s… to keep the brush down for better inlet views.

Buddy at the Ebb & Flow Inlet Crab House

With so many restaurants in Murrells Inlet (and some of them changing names and owners practically with the seasons), there’s certainly some mediocre food being served.  But if you want a perfectly fried softshell crab (and a nice Bloody Mary too) there’s the tiny pink-roofed restaurant on the north end, the Inlet Crab House & Raw Bar.  I’ve been there in winter too, for the oyster roasts and beer… just right with its wooden tables and booths, worn concrete floor and framed pictures of old fishing trips.

More about Murrells Inlet soon…

 – September 2008, Sandy Lang


Okay, this shellfish report is closer to home. We went out to Bowens Island last week, for some oysters just down the causeway. Even though fire burned the main building last year, Bowens Island looks about the same… graffitti, steaming pots, white plastic chairs, and plywood tables with holes in the center for dropping shells. It would be a trick for flames to take away that kind of cinderblock-built magic. Owner Robert Barber says he’ll rebuild with green practices, possibly with LEED certification. “I wouldn’t have put in air conditioning anyway. We almost always have a great breeze.”

We ordered trays of steamed oysters, the ones that Robert’s crew get from oyster beds nearby… some within view. These are clusters of mostly small oysters, known for a good mud/earth taste, along with the brine. I prefer them. Towels and oyster knives are provided. Robert suggested a plate of fried shrimp, so we got one of those too. And we drank a couple beers, even though the four people next to us said they’d wait to go back to Folly Beach for beer, where the cans are kept colder.


– Sandy Lang, March 2008.  Images by Peter Frank Edwards.


Oyster BarOyster Bar plate

From swiveling stools at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, we made our choices. It was Monday, just after 5:00, and crates of ice and oysters were stacked in front of us, cups of horseradish lined the bar. Tiles line the ceiling in this dining room under the Main Concourse, worn smooth and gleaming, almost like shells themselves.

Only three others sat along the bar. The woman next to me ordered a plate of cherrystones, meaty and caramel-colored. She’d stopped at the bar, she explained, on her way to a political lecture at Columbia University. With reddish-gray hair, she looked to be in her 60s or 70s, and talked of her support of Hillary Clinton, of her quandry about whether or not to take a Gulf Coast cruise before winter ends. When the waiter walked by, she waved at her plate with her fork. “This clam is a funny color,” she told him, pointing. He took it away, replacing the suspect clam with another. “I always order cherrystones because they don’t cost very much,” she tells me, and finished the last of her gooey, ice-chilled clams. “I really don’t know if they’re the best ones.”

We’d ordered tap beer, served cold in tall glasses. A man in an apron shucked oysters deftly at a counter, and another man – tall and slim with drawn face – stood ready to heat oyster stew over a gas flame. We should get chowder sometime, we told each other. Then our ice-bed plates arrived well-arranged, as swiftly as we’d order them, always with cocktail sauce, lemons, paper cups of vinegar. Long Island Blue Point oysters we’d try, along with a half dozen of Northumberland from Nova Scotia, and a half dozen of Yaquina from Oregon. With the tiny fork I’d add horseradish and pull the oyster loose from the shell, then tip them back to eat. Some fell out easily. For others I’d turn the rough shell in my hand to try again. The cherrystone woman eventually held up her credit card and asked for a bill, then slipped her arms into her dark mink coat, readying to go. More men and couples were walking past by then, toward the saloon in the next room. In no hurry, we’d catch the downtown train a little later.

– Sandy Lang, February 2008

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Food, Oysters, Travel

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