Welcome to EatWisconsin, the blog formerly known as Undelicious. This blog will focus on the food, the people, the history, and restaurants in the State of Wisconsin. Though we will focus primarily on the State of Wisconsin, there will be occasional forays into other Cities.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Search for Oysters in A Beer and Brat Town

I would like to make the following declaration:
If you are going to buy oysters in the shell in the Milwaukee area there are two and only 2 stores that you should even consider purchasing them. Milwaukee is not an oyster town. There are some restaurants that have great fresh oysters (Benny’s Seafood in Delafield is a new addition to that list) but the number of stores that have fresh, quality oysters is 2. You will see oysters, typically Bluepoint, at many local grocery stores, including some newer Pick n’ Save stores (a rant about those bastards will be posted soon) and even at every upscale grocer. I don’t care how nice they look sitting on that shaved ice next to all of that other fish, do not even think about buying them unless you are at these two stores:

Empire Fish – By far the best source for oysters and the price is nothing short of amazing when compared with anywhere else. They run around 6-7 bucks a dozen and it is a rare occasion that you get a bad oyster. Most stores charge 80 cents to 1.00 each and 2 out of 3 are inedible. If you are getting oysters I don’t care where you are in the metro area, take the drive to Empire. They also have some great fresh fish (though sometimes the selection is not as interesting as it is at Sendik’s or Grasch Foods).

Sendik’s Fish Market in Whitefish Bay – Do not take this to mean that you can go to any Sendik’s and get great oysters. Only the fish market has quality oysters and they are usually reasonably priced. I haven’t been there in a year but they usually have 2-3 varieties.

If you chose to go elsewhere, do so at your own risk. Believe me. I have tried oysters from almost every “upscale” market and from a few Pick n’ Save stores (including Metro Market) and they are nothing short of terrible. Even lemon or hot sauce cannot rescue them. If you buy and eat oysters from anywhere but Sendik’s Fish Market and Empire Fish, do not post here when you spend the evening sleeping on the cold, hard bathroom floor clinging to the toilet. (Side note: The reason I wrote this post was because I had terrible some oysters last night (1 of 6 was edible) from a upscale store that shall remain nameless because they are a great place for just about everything else. I have e-mailed them to let them know about the problem I encountered.)

When buying oysters, your fishmonger should gently tap any oysters to make sure they are still alive. If you go to somewhere like Pick n’ Save the “fishmonger” is usually just some employee who couldn’t tell a catfish from an Ahi tuna steak. They are usually somewhat clueless and they will just grab the first twelve oysters they see. This is a bad thing, trust me. When you get home, double check the oysters and make sure they are closed or close with a gentle tap on the top of the shell. If the oyster sounds hollow and doesn’t close, throw it away. It is dead and has probably lost all of its liquor.

Serving and Eating
If you shuck oysters, use an oyster knife. If you don’t have one, use an old crappy knife and a flathead screwdriver. Use the screwdriver to pry open the oyster at the hinge, then insert the knife and wiggle it around to fully open the oyster and loosen the bivalve from the shell. A good oyster knife will serve both of these functions. Serve oysters on the half shell over crushed ice with some dishes of horseradish, lemon and cocktail sauce. Have a bottle or two of your favorite hot sauce. To be honest, I prefer oysters with nothing but the liquor in the shell. I think that the clean taste of a freshly shucked oyster can’t be beat, If your oysters are somewhere between that stage of fresh and not-so-fresh (but still edible) I recommend a small squeeze of lemon or a dash of hot sauce to improve the flavor. I recommend that you have those accompaniments for your guests. If you want some great sauces, try Man's Best Friend. They are made in Wisconsin with great ingredients and some interesting flavor combinations.

Other Ideas
Another good thing is to open the oysters and top them with some goodies and place under the broiler for a few minutes. I usually use combinations of whatever I have left in the fridge including tomatoes, shallots, green onions, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, spinach, parmesan cheese, roasted peppers and garlic. Make sure your ingredients are very finely chopped. Top with breadcrumbs and broil until lightly browned. Grilling is also an option and Steven Raichlen has a great grilled oyster recipe in “How To Grill”

Links and Contacts
Empire Fish is located at 11200 Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. They can be reached at 1-800-236-4900 ext. 301.

Sendik’s Fish Market is a stand alone store next to their grocery store at 500 East Silver Spring Drive in Whitefish Bay. They can be reached at 414-962-9525, by e-mail at


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