As estimated 500 locals and visitors headed to the edge of Oden’s Dock in Hatteras village on Saturday afternoon to take part in a shell-ebration that has been going strong for seven years.
The North Carolina Coastal Federation’s annual Hatteras Island Oyster Roast has become one of the most highly anticipated events of the traditionally quiet winter season, and this year’s afternoon roast was no exception.
“This year was the fastest we have ever sold out of tickets,” said Michael Flynn, Coastal Advocate at North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF.) “We have talked about expanding the event in the past, simply because it has gotten so popular, but we like keeping it at a sustainable size. It makes it a true community event.”
The sense of community spirit was contagious throughout the chilly afternoon, as old friends connected after a dormant winter over long tables piled high with oysters, paper towels, and plenty of hot sauce.
Locals weren’t the only attendees, however, as Flynn estimated that roughly two-thirds of tickets were sold to visitors from all along the East Coast. “The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau is the primary sponsor, and we always hope that this event brings more tourism to [the islands] in the winter months,” he said. “…It seems to be doing its job.”
Indeed, visitors mingled with lifelong locals with ease, such as a crew of four couples from Maryland who made plenty of new friends thanks to their homemade invention, the “shotski” – a wooden plank with four shot glasses attached so that multiple people can imbibe in a shot of beer or something stronger all at once.
“This is our second year attending, and we came down to Hatteras [specifically] for the oyster roast,” said Amy Williams of the boisterous group that included the Holloways, Williams, Lockwoods, and Dawickis families – all from Maryland. “This year, we got rooms at the Breakwater, so we’d be close to the action…”
“We just love this,” she added, looking around at the big crowd. “Everyone is so friendly, and there’s a real [sense of] community here… We hope to be back next year, too.”
Food, music, and comradery were the agenda for the day, and a team of volunteers headed by Parc Greene of Risky Business Seafood tackled the lengthy food preparation, which included 55 bushels of oysters cooked on a brand new steamer that was created specifically for the NCCF and the event by students at the College of the Albemarle.
Greene stated that the crew had been up since 8 a.m. that morning to feed the hungry crowd, and that the work was ongoing. “Cleaning was the big part,” said Greene. “It took two power washers to clean all of the oysters… the cooking is easy.”
Hearty cups of homemade Hatteras-style clam chowder, prepared by Breakwater Restaurant, warmed up the attendees, while Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton provided the cornbread. A bake sale generated more fundraising opportunities, (and provided easy and mouth-watering desserts), while a popular silent auction offered approximately 35 enticing items for sale – such as a wine tasting for 12 at Trio, and a half day charter trip onboard the Albatross.
Music from acclaimed local band Blurky’s Quirky Friends kept the festive atmosphere going strong all afternoon long, and all the while, local volunteers helped keep the rotation of oysters flowing, by lugging carts to the lines of tables, and disposing of the shells once the hungry diners had their fill.
All of the oyster shells from the event will be recycled and added to the waterfronts along Dare County to bolster the soundside shoreline, which provided yet another reason for attendees to dig in.
The event also attracted a number of community leaders, including N.C. Representative Bobby Hanig, Dare County Board of Commissioners Bob Woodard, Danny Couch, Steve House, Wally Overman, and Ervin Bateman, and National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent David Hallac, among many other famous local faces.
“It seems to me that this has become kind of a big island event,” said NCCF Board Member and owner of the Albatross Fleet, Ernie Foster. “It’s the first year we sold out well in advance.”
Foster, along with other community representatives, later thanked the crowd and the volunteers for attending the oyster roast, and for lending a much-appreciated hand to make the event a success.
“Thank you to all of our sponsors for your support – we couldn’t have done it without you,” Foster said to the crowd. “…And thank you to our community volunteers who have taken time out of their day to keep us all happy and fed.”
“Everywhere I look, I see people having a great time… So thank you all for being a part of this.”
While scattered raindrops were a continual threat throughout the day, the event was a chilly celebration of all things oysters that got livelier as the afternoon lingered on. From folks who brought their own hot sauce holsters on their hips, to locals who brought along their favorite oyster knives, everyone was prepared to have a great time, and they succeeded admirably.
Proceeds from the Hatteras Island Oyster Roast benefit the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s oyster education and restoration programs, and additionally, a portion of the proceeds from 2020’s oyster roast will be donated to support hurricane recovery efforts on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
To catch an inside look of the event, courtesy of the Island’s Free Press’ live broadcast by Rory Kelleher, see https://islandfreepress.org/outer-banks-news/hatteras-island-oyster-roast-in-full-swing/
For more information on the oyster roast, as well as a selection of recipes and preparation tips from seafood expert Lynne Foster, click here.