For some, they’re glistening slips of pure, briney heaven. Others dismiss them as proof that the ocean possesses a sinus cavity. But be they salty treats or sea snot, oysters always seem to elicit a passionate response when they appear on a menu.
“It’s never just a middle-of-the-road thing,” says Stacey Connell, spokesperson for Rodney’s Oyster House. “If you’re not into them, it can seem a bit of a stretch to try them. I think it’s the texture. But there are so many different varieties and textures and finishes, all with their own wonderful, unique taste.”
Rodney’s has been serving up bivalve molluscs to Toronto seafood lovers for nearly 30 years in their large downtown location. It’s a great space, with a proper dining room as well as two oyster bars where diners can watch their oysters being prepared by one of the restaurant’s seasoned shuckers.
“A lot of these guys and girls have been here for years,” Connell says. “They’re so passionate and extremely knowledgeable about oysters. They really enjoy interacting with the public and answering questions or giving advice.”
For devotees like Connell, nothing beats raw oysters slurped straight from the shell, but Rodney’s also offers a variety of sauces and vinaigrettes to dress up these delectable discs. There’s horseradish for the traditional set, while the more adventurous may plump for the marinara sauce or the aptly named Back from Hell hot sauce.
Rodney’s also plays host to many special events throughout the year. This month they’re hosting the Ontario Oyster Festival, with a lunar-landing party to coincide with the 45th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon. The event will include a gravity-pull race, lobster boil, bobbing for bivalves and the 26th annual Ontario oyster-shucking competition.
“There really is this whole awesome kind of covert oyster world,” Connell says. “The shucking competition is an invitational, with the winner going on to represent Ontario at the Canadian shucking competition in Prince Edward Island. The winner of that goes on to represent Canada at the worldwide competition in Ireland.”
It’s quite the busy social calendar for a gelatinous mollusc that can’t even wear the pearls they occasionally produce, but Connell predicts a heavy crowd for the celebrations. Certainly, attendees will be pleasantly surprised at the gentle dent their seafood adventure will make on the pocket book.
“The prices are just insane,” Connell says. “We have whole lobsters at $20, beer and wine at $3.50 a glass, oysters at $5 a plate, mussels at $5 a bowl, and blue-moon burgers (blue cheese on beef or mushroom burger) at $5 each. All the proceeds are going to the Environmental Defence charity, who we’ve partnered with for the last 26 years.”
Connell lets me in on an interesting fact regarding these bivalves’ approach to life’s friskier activities. Turns out these little babies are so transgender they need their own damn parade.
“Oysters are protandrous hermaphrodites,” she says. “They have this fluid approach to sexuality and gender. They change from male to female and back again, depending on their community. If there are too many males, they can switch to females.”
No wonder the little buggers always look like they’re smiling.