4.17.2008

Chesapeake vs. Wellfleet: an oyster showdown

While in Richmond, Virginia this past weekend celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday, I spent most of my time eating. Sampling the local edibles seemed as good a way as any to tour the city in which my ancestors were born, and so I dug right in. The first stop was The Hardshell, an upscale pub specializing in the local fruti del mar. A painted advertisement for Chesapeake oysters on the brick wall of the bar made it clear that a juxtaposition of the famous Wellfleets and the local breed was inevitable.

The Chesapeake oyster—sometimes called White Gold—has been a staple of the Virginian diet for centuries. The southerners like them steamed, breaded in cornbread, or swimming atop a creamy bisque. And while they're also popular on the half shell, the raw mollusks there seem to be less of a hit than in Wellfleet, where eating them any other way is somewhat of a sin.

My taste test revealed why: the salt factor. The briny, cold water flavor I was accustomed to from a Wellfleet was lacking in the Chesapeakes. The warmer waters made for a sweeter, more succulent meat—one better, I discovered, steamed and dipped in butter than raw with a dap of cocktail sauce, and one I would prefer fried over plain any day. While each merited their own following, I left with an even stronger fondness for the oysters of the town I call home.

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