EAST Bay Times: October 19, 2018
New Orleans, New York, Morro Bay. When it comes to oysters, the coastal town with the famous Morro Rock wins, hands down. Autumn is called “secret season” in San Luis Obispo County’s Morro Bay. The warm sun and mild coastal breeze are perfect for dining seaside al fresco. And for foodies, the choices are impressive.
“Two different oyster farms, an abalone farm to the north … restaurants (and fish markets) that have been here for generations … and with the agriculture in the area and the farmers markets, the bounty is plentiful,” says local chef and Central Coast Outdoors kayak guide Craig Stone.
The allure for me was the oysters. With a son in New Orleans, I’ve become somewhat snobby about shellfish, so I needed to try freshly harvested Morro Bay oysters — for research purposes, of course. On Day One I rented a kayak, with Stone as my guide, and paddled effortlessly through the National Estuary (protected by a scenic 4-mile sandspit) to the Grassy Bar Oyster Company beds. There was a whole lot of shucking going on at the docks, where they sorted the oysters for market. Later that day, I tried my first local oysters at Tognazzini’s Dockside with owner Mark Tognazzini. As a commercial fisherman and owner of three Morro Bay restaurants, this man knows seafood.
“We like fresh. We like local,” he said as the waitress brought out a plate of meaty barbecued oysters bathed in garlic butter, followed by a tray of his favorite — Oysters Rockefeller — baked to savory perfection.
Our window looked out to the docks, where several commercial fishing boats were being unloaded.
“We have about 30 to 35 guys who sell to us,” says Tognazzini. “Mostly small boat guys … mostly hook-and-line fish.”
Tognazzini says knowing your fisherman is consistent with how folks buy their food in Morro Bay. In this way, the town still feels like a fishing village where life revolves around a relatively remote stretch of coast with a 576-foot-high rock that frames the mouth of the harbor. The estuary is constantly monitored for water quality and is home to an impressive variety of birds and marine life.
“Working on the water, every day is dynamic,” said Morro Bay Oyster Co. owner Neal Maloney. “Whether you’re paddl- boarding, kayaking, renting a little electric boat or just walking on the beach … there’s something for everyone here.”
But for many, it’s the oysters that steal the show in this rich agricultural region. Yes, there are orchards and award-winning wines, but oysters are rich in zinc, selenium and iron, along with vitamins C and B12. Oh … and there’s one other benefit that complements Morro Bay’s reputation for weddings and romance. Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac. And a delicious one at that.
For more travel tips and tales, follow Ginny Prior on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and at http://www.ginnyprior.com.
For a list of activities, events and more, see www.morrobay.org. 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites offers boutique lodging with ocean and estuary views. See www.embarcaderoinn.com for information. Morro Bay Oyster Co. will soon open a retail space on the water where folks can shuck their own oysters. For details, visit www.morrobayoysters.com. And check these websites for other great dining options: