As Oyster Bars Spread Around Miami, the Bivalve Reigns Supreme

Oyster offerings at Mignonette.
Oyster offerings at Mignonette.

Oysters are a Florida tradition. Long ago, Native Americans found them generously scattered throughout the mangroves that twisted along the shoreline. David Bracha's the River Seafood & Oyster Bar has blessed Brickell for years. Danny Serfer's Mignonette started up in Edgewater last August. Then came the U-shaped raw bar at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Now there's Midtown Oyster Bar, and soon we'll discover Tongue & Cheek chief Jamie DeRosa's Izzy's Fish & Oyster.

In the past decade here and across the country, a perfect confluence of events -- from eaters demanding to know their food's source to the ease of overnighting oysters -- has helped the shellfish regain their prominence.

See also: Midtown Oyster Nails the Raw Bar but Misses in the Kitchen

The number of oyster farms on the U.S. East Coast totaled 1,300 in 2013, according to Robert Renault, executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. Nationwide, oyster sales nearly doubled between 2005 and 2013, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey. In Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, oyster production jumped more than 800 percent between 2006 and 2012, Renault says.

With so many options now available in Miami, it can be a challenge to decide where to eat them. Many places buy their stock from Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts. What began as a farm growing an eponymous varietal has blossomed into an enterprise that helps mom-and-pop operations distribute nationwide.

So the question of preparation looms important. "Look at the reputation -- you want to go to a place where someone gives a shit," restaurateur Michael Schwartz says. "Then you look at the cleanliness factor."

Renault suggests you pick a place where the shucker or server seems nigh in love with the $3 delights you're about to buy. "I call it merroir," he says, referring to a term that describes how environmental conditions affect wine. "Today there's a variety of fantastic flavors and nuances to taste."

DeRosa, whose restaurant has been a long time coming, says to look for simple preparation and constant change. Oysters are a seasonal product meant to be served simply. If you sense any attempt to mask what comes out of the kitchen or the raw bar, take it as a bad sign. "There's nothing to cover up what you're using, so you have to stand by it," he says.

Over time, oysters served locally are sure to improve, Schwartz says. "The more people who want the stuff... the better the quality we'll see."

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