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Magic in the shell

Oysters served baked and raw are some of the dishes offered by chef Eric Martines at Flying Fish Public Grill & Market in Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach.
Oysters served baked and raw are some of the dishes offered by chef Eric Martines at Flying Fish Public Grill & Market in Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. Photos by Randall Hill

Grown folks are in disagreement about the purported magic oysters possess to put them in the mood.

Some say yea. Others say nay.

On this, however, they can agree: Oysters make for some good eating, and that is no shucking lie.

The bivalve mollusks have a home in numerous hearts because of their salty and slippery characters that coincide so well with fresh horseradish, cocktail sauce, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, shots of Tabasco sauce and cold brew.

Oysters, unlike other marine inhabitants, are A-list celebrities with celebrations lauding them around the globe.

From the inaugural Conway Oyster Roast taking place Saturday to the Bluff Oyster & Food Festival being held May 22 in New Zealand, oysters leave other mollusks in the mud.

People believe there are plenty of reasons why oysters are so extremely popular.

"They are not food you can eat fresh year-round," said Ashley Stevens, an assistant with Festival Promotions, a company marketing the Conway event. "They are a social food so you can go eat oysters with a group of friends."

The draw of oysters can't be ignored, especially among coastal residents calling the Carolinas home.

Collectively and individually, confessions are made about the unlimited possibilities and sheer perfection of oysters.

"You can do so much with oysters," said Eric Martines, executive chef of Flying Fish Public Market & Grill at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. "We eat them raw, steamed, roasted, baked and fried. We can essentially do anything we want with oysters."

Depending on customers' moods, Flying Fish serves up oysters raw, scampi style (with roasted garlic, butter, fresh lemon juice, bread crumbs and Parmesan, topped with bacon and crab meat and anything else their stomachs desire).

Cheryl McQueen, a Loris resident, said oysters have distinctive flavors that are uniquely pleasant.

"They have kind of a briny taste," said McQueen, while eating raw oysters on the half at Flying Fish. "They taste like where they are from."

On Friday night, McQueen was a part of an unofficial oyster club created spontaneously at Flying Fish when customer after customer ordered oysters.

Most ordered raw oysters with ample amounts of fresh horseradish, lemon slices and cocktail sauce nearby.

Such was the scene with Kenneth McDonald of North Myrtle Beach and his wife, Linda Priest, a resident of Fayetteville, N.C.

They ate their oysters with the chutzpah of a kid relishing a McDonald's Happy Meal.

"Oysters are something you fix real easy, and they have got a lot of taste and power to them," McDonald said.

Before he met and later married Priest on Dec. 13, 2009, he went to Aspen, Colo., and had an oyster shooter at a bar.

"Oysters are so fresh and salty," Priest said after downing a couple. "Oysters remind you of the ocean."

McDonald, who grew up in the country, remembers going to town on Saturdays to fetch oysters for oyster stew with his family.

It was a horrible experience, but it wasn't the oyster's fault. The bartender was to blame.

McDonald said he was flirting with the bartender's girlfriend, and the bartender got his revenge by putting a heap of horseradish in the shot glass.

McDonald was too busy making goo-goo eyes with the bartender's girl to notice, but he certainly got the memo once he had the drink.

"I thought it was going to blow my head off," he said.

Suffice to say, he left without the girl and with his head.

He has Priest now, but his motives are the same.

When asked if he thought oysters were an aphrodisiac, McDonald smiled, picked up an oyster and added a squeeze of lemon juice, cocktail sauce and horseradish.

He slurped it down with ease and smiled.

Finally he said, "I might get another dozen because we are newlyweds."