As promised, Gulf appellation oysters have arrived -- albeit a little later in the season than usual. Tommy's Oyster Bar in Clear Lake, not too far from where the oysters are pulled out of such bays as Ladies Pass or Pepper Grove, has plenty on hand right now and is a great spot to try the appellation oysters side-by-side with your average Gulf bivalve.
The first Gulf appellation oysters to arrive at Tommy's this year have been from Lost Reef in Trinity Bay. They're selling for $1.75 each -- with a minimum of six per order -- or $21 per dozen.
"They are very plump and full, with a touch of saltiness, a little minerality with hint of sweetness," reports owner Tom Tollett, who first opened Tommy's in 1994 and has been passionate about Gulf oysters ever since. Two years ago, Tollett even began working with the nearby Galveston Bay Foundation to recycle the some 10,000 oyster shells his team shucks every week.
Tollett recommends that diners do their own taste test, as it were, to gauge the differences between appellation oysters and standard Gulf oysters. The appellation oysters are hand-selected from a harvest that typically includes 900 to 1,000 oysters, although only about 10 percent of those are deemed worthy of bearing an "appellation," in this case the Lost Reef name.
"We all know the different flavor profiles of, say, Malbec wines," Tollett explains. "That is why some of us order Argentine or California Malbecs. We want people to order Pepper Grove or Lavaca Oysters for the same reason. By naming the oyster, we hope the oyster-loving consumer will help us protect them and ensure them healthy, clean water."
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Most important, Tollet says, is the idea that appellations will ultimately help bolster the Gulf oyster industry by providing consumers with an even more intimate connection to the shellfish they already know and love.
"Appellation oysters is an extension of the farm-to-fork movement," says Tollett. "And a reflection that the consumer wants to know the provenance of the foods they are eating."