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Oysters "R" okay

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  When you need an oyster dish or two, raw, fried or grilled are the predictable and delicious safe bets. But what happens when you need two-dozen different oyster dishes?

  In the case of the New Orleans Oyster Festival (June 2-3), you get smoked oyster boudin balls with Rockefeller aioli from Bourbon House; oyster and meat pies from Remoulade, the casual spin-off of Arnaud's; or oysters bonne femme, a gratin-style dish with crabmeat and cheese from Antoine's.

  Those are a few of the oyster dishes on offer at the third annual Oyster Festival, which this year will be held at Woldenberg Riverfront Park.

  The 20 restaurants participating as vendors are bringing more than oyster dishes to the event (Elizabeth's Restaurant will bring its famous praline bacon, for instance, and Antoine's will somehow make its baked Alaska into festival food), but of course the beloved bivalves are the focus.

  Underlying it all is a message about what the oyster industry means to south Louisiana. The festival, organized by members of the state's oyster industry, was first conceived to shine light on the bounty of the Louisiana oyster harvest and to cement New Orleans' reputation as the oyster capital based both on the tremendous oyster production from nearby waters and the volume of oysters that locals and visitors dispatch here. Organizers say proceeds will help support the local oyster community, as well as the NOPD's French Quarter-based Eighth District.

  The festival is held in June in part to challenge the conventional wisdom that oysters should be avoided in months with names spelled without the letter R, like, for instance, June. Oyster industry people will tell you the axiom took root in the days before modern refrigeration, when oysters were more likely to spoil during the hot journey from boat to bar. Louisiana oysters are not at their peak in the summer time, but they are available year-round, and some aficionados maintain that June can actually be the pinnacle of the oyster season before it falls off in the summer again.

  Special events at this year's Oyster Festival include the P&J Shucking Contest and the New Orleans Fish House Largest Oyster Contest on Saturday and the Acme Oyster House Oyster Eating Contest on Sunday.

  Local bands perform throughout the day and admission is free. Oyster Festival goes from 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and from 12:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday. For information, visit www.neworleansoysterfestival.org

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