Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
Al Dawes of Greenville was working on his second peck of steamed oysters mid-afternoon Saturday during the ninth Annual Oyster Roast at the Ocracoke Seafood Company in Ocracoke Village.
“He’s been eating for one and a half hours,” said his wife, Casey, with a laugh, as Al barely slowed his pace of shucking and slurping the freshly steamed oysters.
“This is the King Kong table,” Al continued, fully expecting to consume oysters until the end of the event. The Dawes’ came for the weekend especially to eat oysters, shrimp and fish stew.
“We were the first ones here,” Casey said.
The Oyster Roast is put on to thank the community, said Patty Plyler, who manages the retail store of the fish house.
“This event is so important to the community,” she said. “I’ve never seen so many people.”
Sunny, mild weather helped contribute to the event’s success.
Folks were lined up well before the 2 p.m. start of the event that Theresa “Tree” Ray, a commercial fisher person, took over organizing this year from longtime manager Hardy Plyler, who is retiring.
Ray’s changes this year included cooking the shrimp ahead of time, spreading out the tables in front of the loading dock, adding some picnic tables across the road, having the guys make two pots of fish stew, obtaining hush puppies from Topless Oyster and adding live music by Lou Castro, Jackie Willis and Aaron Caswell.
“The fish stew is to die for,” observed Mark Reisinger of Annapolis, as the afternoon waned. “Every year it gets better.”
Vince O’Neal, chef of the famed stew, noted that he, Dan Garrish, Rudy Austin and Donald Austin, peeled about 50 pounds of potatoes, chopped 25 pounds of onions and added 20 pounds of shrimp and at least 50 pounds of various filets to make two “humongous” pots.
All of the fish was locally caught, he said—red and black drum, sheepshead, tuna, flounder and tile fish.
Ray noted that the Fish House has been stashing filets away all year especially for yesterday’s roast.
“We had a really good pound-net season this year,” she said.
About 9 a.m., the group began cooking the 44 bushels of oysters and the 280 pounds of shrimp.
“We have six pots of oysters going at all time,” Ray said.
We all just jump in and help,” Garrish added. “Tree had this all set up. She did a great job.”
Rebecca and Phillipe Bardet of Washington, D.C., were enjoying the juicy treats for their second visit to Ocracoke for a low-key holiday with their 7-month-old daughter Olivia.
“This is exactly what we wanted in a vacation,” Rebecca said about the community event. “This has a nice community feel,” added Phillipe.
The oysters seemed especially good this year, noted islander Frances Miller, echoing many at the event.
“They’re so juicy and tasty,” she said.
Plyler said that oysters have been scarce this fall but the fish house eventually obtained what they wanted from O’Neals Sea Harvest in Wanchese, Dare County. “We lucked out,” she said.
Dessert and hot cider was offered at the Working Watermen’s Exhibit in Community Square.
The crowd at Saturday’s Ninth Annual Oyster Roast at the Ocracoke Seafood Company