It Will Be Missed

Tom Fitzmorris January 16, 2020 10:14 Dearly Departed

The Acme Of Oysters

The Acme Oyster House on the north shore in Covington closed last Sunday, prompting surprise and much speculation. It was always packed. It’s closure is personally disappointing, and elicits in me reflections about oysters in general, and triggers personal memories of Acme in particular.

But before getting to the oysters of the 110-year-old institution that is Acme Oysters, the building in which they have operated since 2005 is a most interesting one, evoking many wonderful family memories here. Our earliest visits were to a place called Boule in the 1990s. It was briefly there and operated by a guy from the north shore even more colorful than Acme's most flamboyant owner Jimmy Moran, and only a third his age. It was also the home of Crazy Johnnie’s in her brief foray into restaurant expansion on the north shore. Acme was always the stable one, hence the shock at its closure.

The word "Acme" is an old-fashioned way of indicating the very best of something or other, when there is a comparison to be made, noteworthy, in other words.  Better than average when there's a competition, in which there is one better than another, especially when there are several runs for the top. It’s a firm statement, a declaration of superiority. It’s also almost generic in that regard.

As much as Orleanians put forth the idea that it invented the oyster bar, the distinction belongs to New York City, as most things do.  It is actually the creation of the oyster bar there to showcase the New York City oyster business that we have enjoyed for almost as long. Things have come a long way since then. The idea of a raw oyster bar might have started in the Big Apple in its day, but over the years in New Orleans, you have been able to eat exactly the same way oysters are enjoyed in New York City, but with better oysters (assuming you prefer warm-water bivalves.) Interesting note: our oysters are the only ones not allowed at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. They are afraid of them. More for us!

The Acme is half of the famous battle (more like friendly competition) between the two sources of first-class oysters here, with the Felix Oyster House on the other side. As one grows up, he must decide. This controversy has gone on for decades on the local level. If you are an eater of oysters, you have probably chosen your favorite. That's why so many of your friends also have a taste for one or the other--but rarely both.

The most interesting owner of the Acme was Jimmy Moran, the owners of quite a few distinctive restaurants in the French Quarter. From the lunches, dinners, and oyster snacking with Moran (also known as the man with the diamond in the diamond ring,) I came to the conclusion that the Acme Oyster House was Jimmy's favorite restaurant.

But of all the discoveries I have made at the Acme Oyster House, my favorite was a strategy laid on my brain at the oyster bar. The shucker on the other side of the bar asked whether I had ever tried his Italian raw oysters.

"You getting oysters from Italy? I asked." No, the guy said. You shuck the oysters Here's what you do. Leave the horseradish, Tabasco, lemon juice, and especially the ketchup." He seemed genuinely disgusted by that last one.

"I shuck the oyster," he said. "Then you put a few drops of lemon juice. Then drizzle olive oil over the whole thing. The kind of olive you need is the green kind, very clear." I didn't know it at the time, but what the shucker was describing was extra-virgin olive oil. "Most people think that's funny," he said. Then he made his concoction and I ate it. "It lets the flavor come through," said the shucker. "It's the best raw oysters you'll eat.”

Then each of us ate a half dozen of these olive--oilers. We could have eaten them for the rest of our lives. The next time I went to New York, I asked for the Oilers, and got only disdain. But we're accustomed to that sort of thing.