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The return of oyster po’ boy

Adriene Hill Apr 22, 2011

The return of oyster po’ boy

Adriene Hill Apr 22, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: The Justice Department says BP has agreed to put $1 billion into coastal restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. Projects like rebuilding marshes and barrier islands. A year after the oil spill many things in the Gulf still aren’t “back to normal.”

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill has the story now of a famous Louisiana sandwich and the oysters that go into it.

Adriene Hill: The oyster po’ boy is a New Orleans staple. And the sandwich, loaded up with fried oysters, lettuce, mayonnaise and tomatoes was in trouble after the oil spill.

A year ago, I asked Sharlene Zimmer, owner of Zimmer’s Seafood, a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant, about the future of the sandwich.

Sharlene Zimmer: It’s no longer a po’ boy, that’s true. It’s a rich boy now.

So I went back to see how and if the po’ boy/rich-boy/oyster situation changed for Zimmer. She says, for a while, things got really bad.

Zimmer: We had oysters come from Texas. And at one point we stopped selling oysters because you could only get them on the West Coast and we didn’t want to fool with that.

For about a month, she had to tell customers she was out. But now, nearly a year after the spill:

Zimmer: Prices are still way up there high.

But oyster po’ boys are back on the menu.

All around New Orleans restaurants, shuckers are back at work: popping, scraping and nestling oysters on the half shell into mounded piles of ice. And the city was getting ready to tout the oyster’s return with a 340-foot homage.

Ewell Smith: Tomorrow we’re building the world’s longest oyster po’ boy.

Ewell Smith heads the Louisiana Seafood Board.

Smith: It’s 5,000 oysters, Lousiana oysters. So it’s a heck of a sandwich. And we got 30 restaurants to help build the sandwich. So I get asked, do we have enough oysters to do that? And I’m like yeah, don’t worry about it. We’ve got plenty of oysters.

Plenty of oysters, yes. But not nearly as many as before the spill. Smith says about half the oyster beds were wiped out by the spill and response when the state flushed fresh water into the Delta to keep the oil away. He expects it’ll take two to three years for oysters to recover.

Smith: Our biggest challenge right now is moreso perception at a national basis with the consumer.

He’s working on letting people know that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat.

A concern Sharlene Zimmer says isn’t a factor for her regulars looking to chow down on their favorite, though slightly more expensive, oyster po’ boy.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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