Oysterfest: Third time's the charm for Meritage

Easy access to oysters
Easy access to oysters
Joy Summers

At the first Oysterfest in 2011, attendees were either crammed into Meritage or part of the spillover crowd milling about on the sidewalk. Last year, the event was marred by long lines for everything. This year, Meritage's Oysterfest expanded its footprint, brought in a bunch more shuckers, and booked some rocking entertainment in an attempt to appease all the bivalve fans. 

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Whether guests arrived right at 2 o'clock, or trickled in later in the afternoon, attendees found short lines for entry and easy access to the wooden nickles necessary for purchasing food and beverages.

St. Peter was blocked off all the way to 7th Street. Tents were stocked with Blue Point, Hama Hama, Island Creek, and a few Kumamoto oysters. The Naked Cowboy, who was there for the Naked Cowboy oysters from Blue Point, was all over the place, posing gamely in his signature tighty whities.

The crowd was mixed with attendees and chefs who had shown up to compete in the annual shucking competition. In the first heat, Michelle Gayer of The Salty Tart, James Winberg of Travail, Vincent Francoual of Vincent, Jack Riebel of Butcher and the Boar, and Kale Thome of Travail thew down. Francoual had dominated the first year shuck-off. Riebel, a fierce competitor no matter the contest, came ready to win. However, it was newcomer Kale Thome who won round one. (Watch a video here.)

You never know where he'll pop up next: Mike Brown of Travail/Umami/PAMP
You never know where he'll pop up next: Mike Brown of Travail/Umami/PAMP
Joy Summers

In between heats, Chef Mike Brown of Travail (and Pig Ate My Pizza, Umami, and the upcoming Rookery) headed over to the crepe stand to try his hand at the craft because there is nowhere these guys won't pop up these days. The results had us guessing there might not be any crepes on the upcoming Travail menu. We all have our strengths, and Brown might want to stick to dominating Kickstarter and building meat umbrellas.

Haute Dish vs. Travail
Haute Dish vs. Travail
Joy Summers

Round two included Steven Brown of Tilia, Landon Schoenefeld of Haute Dish, Mike Brown and Bob Gerken of Travail, and the man of the hour, Russell Klein of Meritage. This round had an added step to finishing the competition. It wasn't enough just to shuck those oysters, these competitors also had to chug a pint of Summit Porter.

It was neck and neck and it all came down to the beer. Mike Brown opened up and consumed the entire pint with astounding speed. Schoenefeld was a close second. With round one winner Kale Thome waiting in the wings, it looked like the finale would be an all Travailian show. That is, until judge Stephanie March of Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine threw her head back, opened her mouth wide and waited... while the oyster dangled mid-air, still stuck by a thin thread to the shell -- Mike Brown was disqualified! The crowd roared.

BT and Stephanie March
BT and Stephanie March
Joy Summers

The finals began immediately. Schoenefeld and Thome wiped their knives on the provided towels and hunkered down over their plates of oysters. Co-emcee BT of K-TWIN set them off and with astounding speed they flew through those bivalves and headed for another pint of beer. In the end, the winner was Travail's Kale Thome. Check out the video here.

Of course, the real winners were the oyster fans themselves. We spoke with one VIP ticket holder, Stacie Lindquist, who had been sorely disappointed by the high ticket price, limited number of oysters, and daunting long lines of last year's event. She had claimed she wouldn't return, and yet, she and her boyfriend purchased VIP passes this year and happily reported eating dozens of oysters by the 2 p.m. general admission time. By the end of the day she said, "We ate five dozen each."

It may be too early to count the exact number of oysters shucked, or the exact attendance numbers (we were told ticket sales were over 1,000.) There is no question, however, that this event continues to set the bar for a seriously shucking good time. Here's to next year!

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410 Saint Peter St.
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