oysters at peacemaker lobster & crab co. photo by jonathan gayman

A Beginner's Guide to Oysters

Jonathan Swift was right: It was a bold man who first ate an oyster. But now these fruits de mer are enjoyed everywhere from sophisticated Parisian cafes to rickety front porches on Apalachicola Bay and even landlocked St. Louis restaurants. Here’s how to explore the world of raw oysters without fear (or a trip to a coast).

What you need to know

Thanks to improvements in aquaculture (agriculture’s underwater cousin), oysters can be safely consumed any time of year.

Improved transportation methods allow St. Louisians to slurp down fresh mollusks harvested less than 24 hours before they're served.

The same way mineral composition of soil affects the flavor profile of wine grapes (terroir), the makeup of inlet and bay soil, water salinity and diet all affect the flavor of oysters. It’s called merroir.

Oysters from the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico tend to be larger and have a more intense, briny flavor. Bivalves from the West Coast are smaller and sweeter.

Traditional accompaniments include lemon juice, cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette, a shallot-black pepper-vinegar sauce.

Pro tips for first-timers

If you’ve tried oysters and had a bad experience, try them again. Bad oysters are mushy and taste like bad ocean water. If the quality is there, the flavor takes care of itself. – John Messbarger, chef de cuisine, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.

Try a West Coast variety to start because they are more mild, creamier and smaller. – John O’Brien, chef-owner, Three Flags Tavern

Texture-wary newbies can try the oyster on a saltine cracker. – Neill Costello, partner, West End Grill & Pub

Choose an oyster based on your palate. First-timers may want to stay away from the briny ones and try a smaller size. You get the full experience without chewing. – Justin Johnson, chef de cuisine, DeMun Oyster Bar

Where you need to go

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.
The raw bar at Peacemaker primarily stocks East Coast oysters, and the kitchen makes its own Asian-inspired, slightly spicy mignonette that goes well with briny bivalves.
1831 Sidney St., St. Louis, 314.772.8858 

Three Flags Tavern
Try both East and West Coast oysters with an after-work drink at Three Flags’ oyster happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday). The selection is always changing, and no one will judge if you opt for a cooked version.
4940 Southwest Ave., St. Louis, 314.669.9222 

West End Grill & Pub
Big, meaty bluepoints are a favorite at West End Grill & Pub’s Thursday oyster night. Homemade cocktail sauce, hot sauce and horseradish provide plenty of ways to sample the raw bites at just $1 a pop.
354 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, 314.531.4607 

coastal bistro & bar // photo by jonathan gayman

Coastal Bistro & Bar
Serving raw oysters from the East Coast and West Coast, Coastal Bistro offers seasonal variations in their mignonette sauces like raspberry vinegar or a rice wine vinegar with jalapeno and red onion. Try them raw or baked Rockefeller style with creamed spinach, bacon, Parmesan and breadcrumbs. 
14 N. Central Ave., Clayton, 314.932.7377

Broadway Oyster Bar
Gulf oysters hail from Louisiana and bluepoints from Connecticut at Broadway Oyster Bar. Order some of each or grab an oyster shooter with vodka, horseradish and tomato served in a shot glass.
736 S. Broadway, St. Louis, 314.621.8811 

Herbie’s Vintage ’72
Oyster Wednesdays give diners a chance to check out various mollusks at the peak of their season. From small West Coast Kumamoto oysters to large Eastern varieties that finish sweet, Herbie’s Vintage ’72 offers a rotating selection with all the traditional sauces and sides.
405 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.769.9595

demun oyster bar // photo by jonathan gayman

DeMun Oyster Bar
With hundreds of varieties to choose from, DeMun Oyster Bar opts to showcase only a handful at a time. The Humboldt Gold packs explosive flavor for its diminutive size and it, along with the rest of the stock, is picked up fresh off an Alaskan Airlines cargo plane at Lambert International Airport every day or so.
740 DeMun Ave., Clayton, 314.725.0322