Good news, oyster lovers: While plenty of food goes out of season in the dead of winter, this is actually the perfect time of year to throw some of the slimy ocean-dwellers down your gullet. Whether you prefer your oysters naked — without toppings or sauces, that is — or piled high with cheese and bacon, there are plenty of spots in Atlanta doing interesting things with beautiful bivalves. Here, we offer six oysters you need to try in 2016:
It can be fun to dress your oysters up, but when you want your focus to be squarely on the flavor profile of your salty or briny delight, sidling up to the raw bar is the way to go. Kimball House in Decatur features anywhere from 15 to more than 20 varieties, depending on the time of year. The winter months bring oysters that are easy to harvest in the cold, including this farmed beauty from Chelsea Farms in Olympia, Wash. Plucked from Eld Inlet in South Puget Sound, the petite Gem offers notes of melon and cucumber with a hint of truffles and a minerally finish. “There’s a lot going on from start to finish,” said co-owner Bryan Rackley. While you might be tempted to add a squeeze of lemon, Rackley recommends leaving the oysters bare and reaching for a glass of champagne, “the best topping,” he said.
Kimball House, 303 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 5 p.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 404-478-3502, kimball-house.com.
A mainstay on the menu at Fontaine’s Oyster House for years, this classic offering teams baked James River oysters from Virginia with fresh minced garlic, butter and parmesan cheese for a decadent dish perfect for those who are raw oyster-averse. Kitchen manager Reginald Irvin recommends the dish with a squirt of lemon and a drop of Tabasco sauce. If a rich dish isn’t on your radar, the restaurant also offers a selection of oysters from its raw bar, as well as other specialty dishes, including oyster stew and crab and bacon oysters.
Fontaine’s Oyster House, 1026 ½ N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays, 4-11 p.m. Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Wednesdays-Saturdays, noon-11 p.m. Sundays. 404-872-0869, nightcapfoodandspirits.com/fontainesmainpage.html.
If you like your oysters a little on the smoky and spicy side, this indulgent take should fit the bill. Gulf oysters are chargrilled on the half shell with a generous splash of garlic butter and blackening spice, then studded with bacon and a fresh slice of jalapeno. They’re finished off with a blanket of white cheddar cheese, making for a gooey, “treat yourself” kind of dish that’s also an easy introduction to oysters for the novice, executive chef and owner Jon Schwenk said. Add a twist of lemon grilled with olive oil, or add even more spice with horseradish or Ed’s Red hot sauce. Hugo’s also serves oysters grilled, fried, Rockefeller and plain on the half shell.
Hugo’s Oyster Bar, 10360 Alpharetta St., Roswell. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 770-993-5922, hugosoysterbar.com.
Fried oysters Rockafella
Looking for a fresh take on a classic? Chef Perry Griffith of the Lawrence brings oysters Rockefeller out of its shell — literally — by serving the dish on toasted baguette slices. Apalachicola oysters are lightly dredged in cornmeal and flash-fried, creating a light crust. A topping of mild parmesan-creamed kale plays against the sweet acidity of pickled peppers prepared with apple cider vinegar, peppercorns and a touch of sugar.
The Lawrence, 905 Juniper St. N.E., Atlanta. 5-11 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. 404-961-7177, thelawrenceatlanta.com.
An oyster preparation that conjures images of the Deep South is appropriate on an Atlanta menu. Chef Wesley True of the Optimist, who’s also cooking up interesting things on Bravo’s “Top Chef” this season, serves a salty East Coast oyster with blackening spice, creamed parmesan, salt and pepper, arugula, onion and garlic, creating a modern homage to Louisiana cuisine. The Optimist also offers a packed raw bar, featuring between 10 and 14 kinds of oysters throughout the year.
The Optimist, 914 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Fridays, 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. Sundays. 404-477-6260, theoptimistrestaurant.com.
Oysters with mignonette
There are plenty of condiments you can use to dress up your oysters, but there’s something special about a homemade mignonette, a condiment made with cracked pepper and minced shallots. One Eared Stag chef and owner Robert Phalen puts his stamp on his mignonette by adding chives and leftover pickling liquid and serves it with a rotating list of farmed East Coast oysters, whose brininess is complemented by the tang of the sauce. Homemade benne crackers provide a satisfying crunch.
One Eared Stag, 1029 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursdays-Saturdays. 404-525-4479, oneearedstag.com.