Southern Agenda

Oysters for All

Like many of us, chef Jasmine Norton remembers her first oyster. “My dad would bring a sack home, open ’em up, and add a little lemon or hot sauce,” she recalls. “He promised they were good, so I threw one back, and loved it. I want to do that for others.” This past winter, after years as a popup, Norton’s restaurant the Urban Oyster landed a permanent home in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood, where she can continue encouraging folks to shuck their trepidation and give oysters a go. The long, sleek raw bar serves four varieties on the half shell daily, and she also offers four chargrilled preparations (including Volcano, a spicy bite splashed with chili garlic sauce), as well as deviled eggs crowned with a golden-fried oyster fritter. And contrary to persistent myth, there’s no wrong season to eat these treats. “With initiatives contributing to the health of bodies of water, along with aquaculture, oysters are more sustainable and healthier, year-round,” she says. Norton’s oyster evangelism isn’t the eatery’s only distinction; it’s the country’s first oyster bar owned by a Black woman, something Norton hopes to build on. “Our culture has historic ties to oysters; we were the ones harvesting them back in the day,” she says. “I want to see more minorities enjoying oysters, raising oysters, and selling oysters too.”