Inspired by a recent trip to New England — the land of oysters, clams and lobsters fresh off the dock — I set sail to find fresh seafood locally. What I discovered is that landlocked Kansas City has a surprisingly diverse selection of very good oyster dishes.
The decor, laid-back atmosphere, live music and po’ boy sandwiches at Jazz, A Louisiana Kitchen instantly transport you to the streets of New Orleans. The oyster po’boy ($11) is served on bread with that signature chewy crust slathered with a remoulade-like sauce. It’s filled with fried oysters and shredded lettuce and served with a side of coleslaw and crispy hush puppies. It makes a satisfying meal in a fun, lively setting that encourages diners to “laissez les bons temps rouler” — a Cajun expression that means “let the good times roll.”
Jazz has locations at 1823 W. 39th St. in Kansas City, 1859 Village West Parkway #102 in Kansas City, Kan., and 1012 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence.
The Hangtown Fry ($14) on the “Hungry Mans” section of the brunch menu at The Corner Restaurant in Westport tops cheesy grits with scrambled eggs, onions, bacon and perfectly fried oysters. The hearty morning meal is crowned with Tabasco gastrique. The dish was inspired by the California gold rush era, when eggs, bacon and fried oysters were considered to be the most decadent dish of the time.
The Corner Restaurant, 4059 Broadway, adds a Southern influence to the Hangtown Fry by incorporating creamy grits and spicy Tabasco to create a harmonious combination of salt, sweet and spice.
Hot oysters are served three ways at the Plaza’s Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar: Mornay baked ($3), charbroiled ($3.50) or Buffalo fried ($3.50). I tried all three, and in the end, Mornay took top honors. Imagine creamy Mornay sauce, smoky bacon, spinach (for your health!) and pickled mushrooms atop an oyster baked in its shell and served bubbling hot. Made with Jax’s proprietary Emersum oysters from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay region, the Mornay baked oysters are great for anyone who thinks they don’t like oysters — and for established oyster addicts.
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar is at 4814 Roanoke Parkway.
I remember waiting in line for my first oyster taco one steamy Kansas City evening when Port Fonda was still a food truck parked at the intersection of 20th and Main streets. The large fried oysters rested in a warm corn tortilla topped with crunchy vegetables and drizzled with a zesty sauce.
These days, Port Fonda serves them with sides of beans and rice, but not much else has changed. The ostiones tacos ($12.50 for two) are accompanied by crunchy cabbage, radish, cilantro and onion and topped with salsa blanca. The tacos are seasonal — grab them while you can, because after all these years, they don’t disappoint.
Port Fonda has locations at 4141 Pennsylvania in Westport and 900 New Hampshire St. in Lawrence.
It’s hard to find a time that isn’t perfect for enjoying fresh oysters on the half shell with an ice-cold draft beer or chilled glass of crisp, dry wine. But there’s something about the dog days of summer that makes slurping back a half dozen fresh oysters the best. Many bars in Kansas City serve fresh oysters on the half shell, but Bristol Seafood Grill is a stalwart purveyor of a wide selection of quality raw oysters.
The Bristol’s locations at 51 E. 14th St. in the Power & Light District and 5400 W. 119th St. in Leawood offer a daily selection of four to five varieties, all for around $3 each. Visit during happy hour (hours vary by location) to enjoy a selection of fresh oysters for $1 each. Or for a special night out, head to the bar at the Leawood Bristol from 4 to 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening for $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and live music. Talk about a Sunday fun day.
These represent the most memorable, surprising and reliable oyster dishes I tried. But the fact is, a lot of places in Kansas City serve fresh oysters and oyster dishes worth indulging in. So, as they say, “The world is your oyster, now go find your pearl.”