I love to try new things, and I’ve dropped many jaws revealing that some new things I’ve tried should probably have been accomplished years prior. For instance, I didn’t have a pear until I was in college (it tasted like sand). Or, a timelier thing would be that I didn’t eat an oyster until I moved to Charleston in 2013 and hadn’t been to an oyster roast until this past weekend. Mentioning this to the folks at The Charleston Museum’s Annual Oyster Roast at the Dill Sanctuary garnered not only responses of shock, but also—in true Charleston style—some helping hands.
Going to the event, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that people would be standing around a long table with large intermittent holes in which to throw their pearlescent leftovers, but beyond that, I was in the dark. That being said, when a ticket mentions the words “beer,” “donut,” “BBQ,” and similar such words in combination with “all-inclusive,” I start to get a little bit of tunnel vision. However, once that condition faded, it allowed me to revel at the beautiful sanctuary upon my arrival.
The sounds of local band Air Sculptures helped keep spirits up to brave the chilly afternoon on the waterfront while people grazed between the simple activities of eating, drinking, and lounging. My first order of business was to beeline to the Bloody Marys and give the Firefly and Natural Blonde Bloody Mary Mix a shot. I have this unfortunate issue with Bloody Marys where I want to enjoy them, but I never do; yet, I always try them, given the option. The Natural Blonde mix was quite a change from the ordinary brands of the stuff, and I actually enjoyed my locally sourced Bloody. In true “me” fashion, while checking out the sweeping views, I drank some Palmetto lager and hopped in line for the Sticky Fingers BBQ, which I ate my weight in, assuredly.
Most of my time mingling with friends and other attendees also consisted of me shooting gazes toward the oyster tables. Steaming heaps of shells were continually dumped and dispatched almost effortlessly from the local oyster lovers. I knew I would soon gain an understanding and unfurl the mystery of Charleston’s love for oyster roasts. While my companions remained in the sun with their drinks, contemplating going on the battery tour, I stole away to the nearest open spot at the oyster tables. Making small talk, I was quick to reveal that I had no idea what I was doing. The surprise of my odd situation (attending my first oyster roast with a beard that reveals I’ve been on the planet for many years) waned quickly and was replaced with instructions and enthusiasm for shucking my first oyster.
My face lit up upon eating it, and the briny goodness lingered on my tongue. I had some sort of a bivalve epiphany—I finally understood what the allure was. My first oyster ever was a fried one, and honestly, it mostly tasted like batter. I had always been intimidated by them. For most of my life, I had issues with texture, so I always feared the oyster. I remember my mother talking to me about how "great" raw oysters are and how you "just let them slide down your throat." She may as well have said, "You just choke and throw up." My second oyster was at The Ordinary and served on the half shell. As I ate it with a cracker and some cocktail sauce (both available at the oyster roast), I started to understand what draws people to them, though I was also stuffed and more interested in the rice pudding we were shooting. At this oyster roast, it all started to come together.
Like some sort of culinary "level up," words that I had read about oysters and conversations I'd had started to make sense. The roasted oyster opened a locked part of my brain that I had been missing. I felt that I had previously been looking in the windows of Charleston's seafood scene and now I was finally in the door. Soon this shucking and eating was all a natural movement of my hands as I made conversation about what I had been missing all these years, splitting shells and marveling at the various sizes and clusters. And just before heading off to get my complimentary Diggity Doughnut, I cracked open one more oyster and found a small crab. I had been aware of these little crabs due to Charleston magazine. If I had been a weaker man, I may have been weirded out, but knowing this was a sign of good luck, I dropped some hot sauce on my last oyster and threw them all back together—quit while I was ahead.
Overall, the experience was priceless. It’s always great to check out the natural displays of the Lowcountry, and this event was so welcoming and calm that it acted as the perfect gateway to enjoying the sanctuary. While the median age of attendees probably was above my 27 years, there was great company and plenty of fun to be had.
You win, Charleston.