MONTHS THAT END IN “R”: ROUNDUP OF THE PITTSBURGH’S BEST OYSTERS

You’ve likely heard the old expression about shellfish: it’s best to save it for months that end in “R”. This especially applies to oysters, which is unfortunate considering the fact that everyone’s favorite light, elegant snack is kind of the perfect summer dish. So what gives? Are oysters really only good in the fall and winter months? Or can we have our oysters and eat them to by enjoying them year-round? We did some digging — oyster pun totally intended.

Traditionally, the “months that end in ‘R'” rule comes from two factors: the likelihood of an algae bloom and the mating seasons of shellfish.

A Red Tide, or high concentrations of toxic algae, is more likely to occur during the summer months, and because we don’t generally enjoy eating foods that make us sick, many people steer clear of shellfish during this time. Nowadays, however, Red Tide levels are more closely monitored and the toxin levels in shellfish are routinely tested, so you almost certainly won’t get sick from eating summertime oysters or clams.  That said, we aren’t eating any Gulf coast FL oysters anytime soon.

As for the mating season of shellfish, this factor may ring a bit truer. Spawning shellfish tend to taste a bit different and have a different texture than they do at other times during the year, so if you taste an oyster in mid-July and the same variety in October, are you going to note subtle difference.

Regardless of your opinion of oysters in the summer, we can all agree that the “R” months are upon us — and with them come long, lazy afternoons of oysters and champagne in our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants. Here are the best places to find them all over the city.

Merchant Oyster Co. Based on the name itself, you know Merchant Oyster Co. is going to deliver when it comes to great oysters. The New England-inspired eatery offers a more casual, coastal take on the seaside favorite, and at their monthly Shuck N’ Suck event, you can even compete with a team of friends to show off your oyster eating skills.

Ace Hotel / Whitfield. Oysters are served in a straight-forward, traditional way at Ace Hotel’s lobby bar and restaurant, with a bit of mignonette and cocktail sauce on the side. Whether you eat them for $2 a pop during happy hour or order them as an appetizer before a big meal, make sure to pair them with something bubbly to sip on.

Poulet Bleu. Dab on some red lipstick and pull your favorite striped sweater out of storage, because there’s no better way to replicate the French feel at Lawrenceville’s resident Parisian bistro. Oysters Rockefeller are served with spinach, bearnaise and a pancetta streusel, and if you ask us, that’s a whole meal in itself (plus a great wine, of course).

Fl. 2. There’s definitely something romantic and timeless about eating oysters at a hotel bar, especially when you have a sweeping view of the city surrounding you while you do it. Fl. 2 serves them with a whiskey hot sauce that sounds just as good as the oysters themselves.

Or, The Whale. The daily selection of oysters and clams are some of the freshest in the city, and the upscale nautical aesthetic at this downtown dinner restaurant creates the perfect backdrop. The price changes to reflect market prices, and they’re served with your choice of charred tomato cocktail sauce or pickled pepper mignonette.

Muddy Waters Oyster Bar. If your restaurant has oyster in its name, you can be sure that you’re going to do it right. Muddy Waters offers oysters just about any time of the day, as well as Creole cuisine and a happy hour boasting $20 bottles of champagne to pair with the featured $1 and $2 oysters of the day. And even better (if you can believe it) are their buttery, garlicy chargrilled oysters with crusty french bread.

Morcilla. It’s not just about the meat at this Spanish-influenced eatery. Chef Justin Severino also serves Island Creek oysters on the restaurant’s crudo menu with ramp vinegar — although we’d be remiss if we didn’t say that they pair well with Morcilla’s cured meats.

Union Standard. Enjoy your oysters in one of Pittsburgh’s most historic buildings. Union Standard has a full raw bar with a variety of oyster styles (half off at happy hour), plus excellent fat $2 shrimp and snacky bar plates like pickled eggs, crispy smelts and duck fat popcorn to pair with them.