The Lobster Trap ushers in oyster season

By Mackensy Lunsford, mlunsford@citizen-times.com 3:48 p.m. EDT October 9, 2015

It’s October, which means oyster season is in full swing. But does that old adage that oysters should only be eaten during the cooler months actually hold water?

Only in a sense, according to Mike McCarty, executive chef and general manager of The Lobster Trap.

“With the summer months, oysters are spawning and it doesn’t help their flavor,” he said. Oysters aren’t necessarily dangerous to eat while spawning, but their flavor often leaves much to be desired; their meat can be somewhat milky and flabby, even chalky.

“It’s not the oyster’s fault, they’re just doing their thing,” McCarty said.

Though refrigeration is no longer concern for keeping oysters fresh during warmer weather, spawning oysters can be more susceptible to diseases, including the vibrio vulnificus, bacteria that thrives in warmer seawater.

That’s not a concern in the cool waters of Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts, where Island Creek Oysters grows its in-demand bivalves. Those oysters have been served at Island Creek Oysters’ Zagat-rated bar, in Thomas Keller’s restaurants, and as a chief ingredient on Top Chef.

You can also find them at The Lobster Trap in downtown Asheville, where chef McCarty sings their praises.

“They have some of the best oysters I’ve ever had,” he said. “The oysters are always super clean, really flavorful — even in the warmer months, they’re still really good.”

McCarty has Island Creek Oysters Fed-Exed to the restaurant regularly. That means a restaurant stocked with boutique oysters that were in Duxbury Bay only hours before.

Here, McCarty offers a flavor guide to some of his favorite Island Creek oysters.

Island Creek: Island Creek Oysters’ flagship oyster is fruity, briny and has a lemony finish. “They’re mild and have a buttery, delicate flavor,” McCarty said.

Moon Shoals: These oysters have low salinity with an almost sweet “Ritz cracker-like flavor,” according to McCarty and his staff.

Nausets: Slightly sweet, but not overly so, with a mild minerality. “It just kind of has a clean, salt flavor to it,” McCarty said. “Very oceanic, like a wave just hit you in the face.”

Northern Cross: Easy to eat, with a slight celery flavor and savory finish.

Puffer’s Petite: A smaller oyster that’s briny up front, tapering to a mild salinity. “This one sort of reminds us of Wellfleets, and has a sweet finish,” McCarty said.

Rocky Nooks: Sweet, salty and perfect with a pinch of lemon juice. These are boutique oysters — not something you want to put on a cracker — but the acidity of mignonette or lemon juice can amp up the flavor of these bivalves.

Spring Creek: “I love a really salty oyster — the more salinity the better,” said McCarty. The meaty Spring Creeks, the flavor of which McCarty likens to swimming in the ocean, fit the bill. “And they have a little bit of a fruit finish that I would compare to watermelon,” he said.

Find Island Creek Oysters at The Lobster Trap, 35 Patton Ave.

Why is Lobster So Much Cheaper in Maine?

“I was in Maine last summer and paid $7 for a lobster”, a customer tells the bartender on a busy Saturday night at The Lobster Trap in Asheville, NC.

Understanding why folks can buy a $7 lobster during the summer in Maine requires a little bit of background on lobster biology. Lobsters grow by shedding their shell, a process known as molting. Typically, around the beginning of July when the water temperatures in Maine start warming up, lobsters migrate to the coast to shed the hard shells they’ve been carrying all winter. Over 75% of the lobsters caught in Maine during the summer are “soft shell” lobsters.

“I can peel open a soft shell lobster with my bare hands”, says The Lobster Trap owner Amy Beard. “The meat is tender, but only a fraction of the size of the shell. Soft shell lobsters are abundant during the summer months and they can’t be shipped so they are at a much lower price point than hard shell lobsters. The lobsters have been late to migrate this year because of the colder water temperatures on the coast but the soft shells should start hitting the market soon.”

Unfortunately, soft shell lobsters are fragile and can’t survive a trip to the mountains of North Carolina. Hard shell lobsters might be harder to come by in Maine during the summer, but the sweet, delicate flavor of hard shell lobsters are always available at The Lobster Trap located in the heart of downtown Asheville, NC.

The Lobster Trap Introduces “Boat-to-Table” in Western North Carolina

In the beginning there was Captain Tom, The Lucky Catch, and USAir Cargo. A staff member would run to the airport to pick up the daily catch before The Lobster Trap opened for dinner at 5pm. Today the process is more efficient and fresh seafood is delivered directly to the front door of the restaurant but the philosophy remains the same. Chef Mike McCarty at The Lobster Trap wants to know where his fish is coming from.

“I have respect for the fish and for the process.” says Chef Mike. “It is important to me that I know the product that I am working with.”

Chef Mike is passionate about seafood and cares about preserving the natural environment in which fish prosper. In December, 2014 Chef Mike initiated a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. The Lobster Trap is now one of only three restaurants in North Carolina that adhere to the strict requirements set forth in the Seafood Watch Program. All of the seafood served at The Lobster Trap has been fished using sustainable, environmentally friendly methods.

Recently, Chef Mike forged a relationship with Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, MA. Island Creek Oysters is a family run oyster farm on Duxbury Bay. They ship directly to the White House, French Laundry in Northern California, and The Lobster Trap in Asheville, NC.

“We are excited to be the only restaurant in North Carolina to carry these tasty, responsibly grown oysters.” says Chef Mike. “We will continue to build relationships directly with fishermen so we can receive the freshest seafood right off the boat.”

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Asheville’s Lobster Trap Celebrates a Decade of Serving Great Seafood in the Mountains with Special Menu and Anniversary Ale

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Asheville, NC (March 3, 2015) – It was the summer of 2004, and Amy Beard had an idea. How about a restaurant in Asheville dedicated to serving fresh lobsters harvested by a high school pal and lobsterman? That’s how the concept for The Lobster Trap began, on the deck of The Lucky Catch on a breezy summer day in Portland, Maine.

It seemed simple enough at the time. Captain Tom pulled lobsters from his traps and put them on a plane bound for Asheville, NC. The restaurant opened its doors on Patton Avenue in March, 2005. People came, and came, and came. Ten years later, they still line up for the doors to open at The Lobster Trap.

A decade later, some things are the same. Captain Tom is still harvesting lobsters, and diners still devour them with delight. Chef Mike McCarty still works tirelessly to find just the right purveyors for the seafood The Lobster Trap serves, and Kim Murray runs the show with a smile on her face and boundless energy that she absorbs from her two young sons.

There are changes, too. Last year, the restaurant’s interior got a new look. This year, The Lobster Trap finalized its partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program as part of Kim, Amy and Mike’s ongoing commitment to bringing fresh, sustainable seafood to the Appalachian Mountains.

“People in Asheville care about what they eat, and we care about what is put on the plate,” said Kim Murray. “The relationship with the Seafood Watch Program expands our ability to do that in important ways.”

The Celebration

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“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of our loyal customers,” Kim added. “So we hope they will join us Wednesday, March 11th through Saturday, March 15, as we celebrate.” Customers will receive a free glass of champagne. Chef Mike McCarty has created a special “Anniversary Platter” with The Lobster Trap’s signature shellfish (1 lobster, clams, shrimp & oysters) for only $46.

Over at Oyster House Brewing Company, owner Billy Klingel has created a special, limited edition Lobster Trap 10 Year Anniversary ale called the Bar Harbor Blue-Eyed Blonde. “It’s a yummy blueberry blonde ale that really compliments our menu,” Kim said. “Billy has taken his talent and passion from his garage to the bar at The Lobster Trap to his very own Oyster House Brew Pub in West Asheville.”

In honor of Billy and his talent for making outstanding beer, The Lobster Trap will have an Oyster House tap takeover on Sunday, March 15, with all Oyster House pints being offered for only $3.

What better way to celebrate a decade of fresh, flavorful seafood than with more of it, and great beer to match.

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Summary of Events:

Wednesday, March 11-Saturday, March 14

 Release of Oyster House Bar Harbor Blue-Eyed Blonde Ale

 Free glass of champagne for The Lobster Trap’s customers

 Special menu item: Anniversary Platter for only $46

Sunday, March 15

 All Oyster House pints for $3

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2015 AIR Passport Makes Gift Giving Easy

The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR) is once again offering its AIR Passport in plenty of time for the holidays. The 2015 Passport, which includes buy-one-get-one free coupons at 46 of Asheville’s locally-owned, farm-to-table restaurants and breweries, can be pre-ordered for $60 at the AIR website (www.airasheville.org) or purchased in December at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce gift shop.

“The AIR Passport is the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys Asheville’s vibrant culinary culture,” said Kim Murray, chair of AIR’s Marketing Committee and managing partner of The Lobster Trap, a long-standing favorite among residents and visitors. “The AIR Passport is more than just a great value. It’s a way to support independent restaurants like The Lobster Trap, and the farmers who in turn support us. I like to think of it as just another way to ‘buy local’ for the holidays.”

The 2015 AIR Passport applies to either breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch at the following restaurants: 32 Ice Bar, Amborzia Bar & Bistro, Avenue M,  The Bier Garden, Bouchon,  The Cantina at Biltmore, Chai Pani, Chestnut, City Bakery Café,  Corner Kitchen, Creekside Taphouse, Creperie Bouchon, Daugherty’s American Kitchen, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Glass Onion, Grovewood Café, Jack of the Wood, Jerusalem Garden Café, Karen Donatelli’s Café, Kathmandu, King James Public House, Korean House, Laughing Seed, Lexington Avenue Brewery, Little Pigs Bar-B-Que, The Lobster Trap, Luella’s Bar-B-Que, Mela, Nightbell , Oysterhouse Brewing, Pack’s Tavern, Plant, Red Stag Grill, Rosetta’s Kitchen, Roux,  Sante Wine Bar, Scully’s Bar & Grill, The Social, The Social Lounge & Tapa, Strada Italiano, Tupelo Honey Café, Ultimate Ice Cream, Village Wayside Café, Vincenzo’s and Vinnie’s Neighborhood

AIR, which was founded in 2004, is an association of local, independent restaurants dedicated to keeping Asheville’s food scene eclectic, interesting, fresh and flavorful. Its more than 100 members contribute richly to the city’s reputation as a culinary destination. In the process, AIR members have made Asheville a national leader in culinary innovation and sustainability through farm-to-table sourcing and environmentally-sustainable operations.  As a result of their work, Asheville was the first city in the U.S. to be named a Green Dining Destination™. In 2014, three Asheville restaurants were named to the nation’s list of Top 20 Greenest Restaurants by the Green Restaurant Association.

If It’s Autumn, It Must Be Oyster Season

For oyster lovers everywhere, Labor Day means the arrival of fall and an abundance of these salty mollusk delicacies on the half-shell, steamed or roasted, tucked into luscious sauces and baked, in delicately seasoned stews or fried in cloud-light batters and served on salads and in sandwiches. For non-oyster lovers, there is curiosity about this treasure of the ocean. Yet history tells us that humans have been harvesting and eating oysters since our earliest days. They are rich in zinc, selenium, iron, Vitamin A and D, which contribute to their reputation as an aphrodisiac.

For today’s oyster aficionados, it’s important to know where oysters come from, and no one knows that better than Kim Murray, managing partner of The Lobster Trap in Asheville, NC.  “Just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Oysters feed by filtering phytoplankton-rich water through their gills. These single-cell plants flourish in salty or brackish waters where rivers and oceans meet,” Murray said. “The rivers bring a steady flow of sediment-filled water that is rich in the nutrients the phytoplankton need to grow.”

Couple those nutrients with light and warmth, and you have the perfect environment for oysters, Murray noted. “There’s just one problem. If the river sediment contains pollutants or the ocean water is contaminated, there can be problems for the oysters and anyone who eats them. That is why it is critically important for restaurants to know where their oysters come from and for consumers to ask.”

The man responsible for answering these questions at The Lobster Trap is Executive Chef and Partner Mike McCarty.  “In any business, you build your success on strong relationships. And because The Lobster Trap has been bringing fresh seafood to Asheville for a decade, we’ve gotten to know local seafood purveyors across the U.S. These people know what’s going on in the oceans, bays and inlets where they harvest seafood, live and work, sometimes for generations.”

This fall The Lobster Trap is featuring oysters from the Gulf Coast, Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Ware River, Virginia;  Sweet Jesus, Maryland;  and Rappahannock, Virginia. “Each location produces oysters with different qualities,” McCarty said. “Rappahannock oysters, which come from the Chesapeake Bay region, are less salty than other East Coast oysters. Gulf Coast oysters, on the other hand, don’t change in flavor during the year like northern oysters do. They are fatter in the winter and thinner in the summer but always mild.”

Fans of Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and The Carpenter will recall that the two oyster-lovers ate them, every one, with bread, vinegar and salt. McCarty’s pairing are far more flavorful and include a raw oyster appetizer with lime caviar, pear mignonette and micro greens, as well as a distinctive twist on Oysters Rockefeller using Pernod, Swiss chard and hollandaise sauce. For the purists, The Lobster Trap’s oyster bar includes an array of freshly made sauces. And for all their customers, The Lobster Trap offers a robust selection of local beers and wines that bring out the best in seafood.

“For us, good food isn’t only about farm-to-table. We do that, but we also do what we call catch-to-table. We like to think of it as bringing the ocean to the mountains of western N.C. We’ve done if for ten years, and it’s why we love coming to work every day,” Murray said.

The Lobster Trap first opened its doors in downtown Asheville in 2005. Since then, it has earned the reputation of being one of the city’s premier restaurants and one of the top seafood restaurants in the Southeast.

The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.’