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Oyster Festival Weekend-Sunshine on the Half-Shell

Great Weather, Great Food, Great Crowds and Great Big Oysters

Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. Oyster Shucking and Eating Contest workers Mary Ann Bentley, Martha Relyea, Ari Mihaltses, and Betty Tiska were standing at the Rotary Raffle booth signing up contestants on Saturday, Oct. 16, the first day of Oyster Festival 27. David Mahnken, winner of the Oyster Shucking Contest for nine consecutive years was checking out the competition. Unfortunately for him, he came in second this year.

The winner of the Oyster Shucking Contest was Ralph Alarcon of Oyster Bay, who shucked 37 oysters. He has been coming in second for several festivals. David Mahnken of Melville came in second with 33; Louis Tuccillo of Woodbury opened 29.

Oyster Eating

Longtime Oyster Festival oyster eating champ Michael Chodkowski who won for nine years in a row, was a no show. Instead, Shawn Leonard of Cold Spring Harbor won his third title. He came on board after his relative David Leonard won in 1998 and has been carrying on a family tradition since.

There was a little glitch as the winners were announced, but confident Casey Neilly of Oyster Bay, with 72 eaten won third place over the person first announced Jeremy Kutch of North Bablyon who ate 66. Mr. Kutch was good natured saying he won the People’s Choice Award.

“These oysters are playing havoc with the statistics,” said MC Jim Kerr. “They are bigger oysters, almost twice the size this year,” said Judge Dave Relyea of Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. the shellfish company that supplies all the oysters for the festival.

For the record, the winners who received plaques and checks were: Sean Leonard of Cold Spring Harbor ate 144 oysters; and Bruce Gordon of Plainview who ate 84.

More Oysters

At the Rotary Oyster booth, Donna Lee was handing out the plates of oysters on the half-shell, five for $8. They came with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Oyster lovers waited patiently on line for the fresh shucked mollusks. “This year they had some extra sauces, two citrus types, two hot types and some Asian sauces that did extremely well,” said Cindy Smith of Image Quest, the festival’s PR group.

She said their website has been a critical part of getting the word out about the festival, as was Facebook. She said some people write to reminisce about the festival, but because of the questions she said of the festival, “It’s all about food.”

She said she now has 1,000 friends on Facebook as a result of the festival. She answers all the questions she receives.

And eating was what the festival was all about. Fans of oysters on the half shell [and every other form] were able to slurp them to their hearts delight this past weekend.  

Grown in the sheltered Oyster Bay Harbor, surrounded by open space not industry, where the oysters grow up healthy and succulent – they are the beneficiary of living on the Gold Coast of Long Island.

Paul Rosen, co-chairman of the Oyster Festival said, “Seafood fans indulged their appetites for raw shellfish at the Oyster Festival knowing that the oysters and clams we served on the half shell came from Oyster Bay.”

Festival Co-chair Kristen Reardon, who grew up locally has great memories of past Oyster Festivals. She said, “What I most remember of the early Oyster Festivals is the cycling. The bikes going around and around town at the Oyster Bay Cycling Classic held Sundays, which featured international bicyclists, when I was a teen.

“I’ve gone from watching the festival to helping run it, and it’s a lot of work, but its enjoyable work. I look forward to seeing everyone at the festival... and eating the oysters - my favorite. My most favorite is the Lions Oyster Stew. I couldn’t wait for Saturday, she said” The weather Saturday was cool, perfect to peak appetites.

Friends of the Bay, an environmental watchdog group which does water quality monitoring in Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor, consistently calls the water quality “quite good” based on ongoing monitoring. Patricia Aitken, executive director of Friends of the Bay said, “I was really looking forward to the two-day event celebrating the oyster. The oysters in Oyster Bay are among the best in the nation and I love to eat them.”

She had a great time at the festival, taking some time off to look around. She took the opening photographs with NYS Senator Carl Marcellino welcoming visitors, with Paul Rosen on the stage and at the gathering at the newly dedicated Tom Reardon Memorial Food Court. There family members gathered including the festival co-chairs: Paul Rosen and Kristin Reardon, Mr. Reardon’s daughter-in-law.

Each festival is unique in its own way and yet the same too, in what it offers, the great panoramas and the lovely family crowds who consider the event part of their yearly calendar of events.

Car Raffle

And as for the car raffle. The winning ticket was drawn at the end of the festival. The winner, Mr. Rogan, a resident of Carle Place was still deciding which of the prizes to take: the money, the car or the boat.

While the Oyster Festival is over – the good it does will be with the community all year.