It’s oyster season in the Lowcountry, a time of year to savor these delightful delectables that grow in Broad Creek.
Story by Heather Brougham-Cook + Photography by Michael Hrizuk
While many bushels of oysters make it to family oyster roasts, the Old Oyster Factory’s Chef Andy Love gears up for a busy oyster season at the restaurant. Love handles about 250,000 oysters per year, with the greatest volume consumed by locals and fall visitors lucky enough to take advantage of the happy hour special on the half shell.
The wild oysters, high in salinity and packed with flavor from feeding on the marsh’s nutrient-rich, surface waters, are vastly improved in taste and texture. Love recommends eating our local fare, fresh and off the shell.
The amount of oysters consumed at the Old Oyster Factory — about 1,000 plates per night over the summer — keeps Love on his toes. On some nights, things could be going along swimmingly as the staff anticipates 50 plates in 15 minutes. Then, all of the sudden, 130 dinners are needed in 14 minutes. That’s when the team goes into overdrive to make it work and keep the customers happy.
Love works with Broad Creek’s Richard Mitchell, who heads out daily to tend the fledgling clusters by hand, carefully using his oyster tongs to separate the single shells and allow new clusters to form. Mitchell usually is permitted to harvest from the leased beds on Broad Creek after Labor Day and uses cooler space at the Old Oyster Factory to store his daily bounty.
Dedicated to the farm-to-table concept, and with deep respect for local produce, Love experiments with various toppings for his oyster platters like shaved Bloody Mary ice sprinkled over the fresh oysters, or a regional play on oysters Rockefeller with collard greens and pimento cheese.
He and his team also take pride in their special seasonal creations. Crowd pleasers include oysters Savannah that are stuffed with crab meat, shrimp, peppers and bacon, topped with cheddar cheese and baked, and oysters Muscovite with his own cured salmon, caviar and crème fraiche. His oyster stew leans heavily on the flavors from the oyster liquor harvested as the oysters are shelled, sautéed in onion, garlic, with sherry and sometimes chopped potatoes. Asked what to drink with these dishes and Love simply answers, “A beer.”
Originally from Kansas City, Love’s travels took him to Maine and the New England Culinary Institute, class of 2001. During an externship in Savannah, he worked at 17hundred90 Inn & Restaurant where he met his wife Julie, who was working as a waitress while attending nursing school. He joined the Old Oyster Factory in 2011. The couple live outside Savannah and have two sons, Cullin (15) and Eli (7).
Despite their best attempts to expose the boys to all kinds of foods, Love say the kids remain picky eaters. When Love is not in the kitchen, he enjoys a date night with Julie at Cotton & Rye, a farm-to-table gastropub in Savannah. Love said the competitive side of him has prompted him to sneak a look at the label on the back of the restaurant’s dinner plate.