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Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, 12:28 p.m. Updated Jan. 1, 2017
By Connie Leinbach
Close to 400 people yesterday did what Jason Elicker suggested and bellied up to makeshift tables outside the Ocracoke Seafood Company to dig into juicy oysters at the 11th Annual Ocracoke Oyster Roast.
Along with 45 bushels of oysters mostly from the James River in Virginia, the eaters consumed fish stew, made by Vince O’Neal Rudy and Donald Austin, worked on 250 pounds of steamed shrimp and hush puppies from the Ocracoke Oyster Company.
Pattie Johnson Plyler, manager of the “Fish House” retail store, noted the recent bounty of fresh shrimp, scallops and crabmeat available today until it’s all sold.
“We didn’t expect to have any shrimp left,” Plyler said, “but shrimp boats came in Wednesday night. We’re open Saturday (today) from 11 a.m. until it’s gone.”
Plyler said the admission price to the Oyster Roast each year depends on how much the oysters cost.
The Fish House, as it is known locally, mounts the oyster roast as a thank-you to the community after the commercial fishing season ends sometime in November. It reopens in the spring when commercial fishing begins again as the waters warm.
“We appreciate the support for North Carolina seafood,” said Hardy Plyler, who manages the commercial end of the business, which is under the aegis of the Ocracoke Working Watermen Association. “We urge all seafood consumers to demand access to wild caught North Carolina seafood.”
Locals and visitors complied with gusto as they tucked into the seafood.
“We’re learning to come earlier,” said Rock Jones, who with his wife, Melissa, both of Delaware, Ohio, and their friend Karen Reeves of Hot Springs, Ark., stood at the edge of the Fish House porch to nosh.
Prior to the 2 p.m. start, the line starts to form early. Steaming and eating continues until 5 p.m. and desserts and hot apple cider are available at the OWWA exhibit in Community Square.
“It’s an incredible event,” Melissa said between bites, echoing many.
Natalia Gracovetzki and her son, William, both of Montreal, Canada, agreed as they prized open the huge oysters while attending their first roast on the island.
“They’re absolutely fantastic,” Natalia said. “The hush puppies are the best I’ve ever had on the island.”
Tim Clements of Morehead City, Carteret County, and his wife, Yani, came to the island especially for the oyster roast.
“They’re good and salty,” Tim said. “They’re huge.”
He noted that other oyster roasts he has attended have usually been by organizations for their members.
“Anyone can come to this one,” he said.
Throughout the three-hour event, volunteers, such as Bill Evans and Jordy Jenkins, continually dump pots of freshly steamed oysters on the tables made from saw horses and plywood around which the consumers stand.
As locals Elicker and his wife, Cathy Scarborough, who owns Over the Moon gift shop, began their consumption with shuckers made from railroad ties, Elicker cast aside the small pea crabs that were bonuses in many of the stock.
While Elicker doesn’t care for the pea crabs, these small interlopers are considered delicacies. Pea crabs (Pinnotheres ostreum) or oyster crabs (Zaops ostreus) are small soft-bodied crabs that live inside bivalves such as oysters and mussels.
So, how many oysters can you consume? Elicker was asked.
“It depends on how many they bring out,” Elicker said, happily shucking away. “You gotta belly up to the table and accept that the front of your coat will get dirty.”
Participants bring their own shuckers and the Fish House supplies cocktail sauce, saltine crackers, soft drinks, and paper towels.
Some eaters bring their own condiments, such as Eduardo Chavez, owner of Eduardo’s Taco Stand, who after a morning of cooking for customers, settled in to feast. Along with some red wine, Eduardo brought cut limes and two types of hot sauce.
“I put on lime, then hot sauce, then double-hot sauce,” he said as he cracked open a fat oyster.
The weather, though sunny, was cold and a bit windy.
“It was a good showing considering the weather,” said Tom Payne, who helps every year.