Come Monday morning hundreds of oysters selected by Foley fish house in Boston will take a plane ride to Detroit and eventually to Grosse Pointe Park, where they'll be the star–and slimy–attraction at St. Ambrose's annual .
Oysterfest, a community event that's hosted by a church but really is not at all churchy, is 21 years old this year. St. Ambrose pastor Fr. Timothy Pelc jokes about the milestone: "We've finally come of age."
When Oysterfest started it was all about oysters, of course.
Oysterfest is still a regular draw for the oyster lovers who can "eat their weight in oysters," Pelc says, but it's also won followers looking to try the best and latest foods of all types served by local restaurants, chefs and bakers.
With music as a backdrop as well as beer, wine and bar drinks, Oysterfest brings fun and food together in one spot, under a big white tent in the a parking lot next to on Kercheval between Lakepointe and Beaconsfield.
"This has transformed from being a little, small event to being very broad-based. Now we have restaurants calling us," Pelc says. "Once people show up they realize the kind of energy, a neighborhood energy, an urban kind of energy that's here. It's really a good feeling for the Park and the parish."
For $25 per adult and $12.50 for kids 12 and under, 45 restaurants and beer and wine vendors will serve up their goodies–as many and as much as guests crave from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday.
The Edgar Wallace Trio, regular entertainers at the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit, will perform.
For tickets, call St. Ambrose at 822-2814 or stop by the parish office at 15020 Hampton, Grosse Pointe Park, near the and the .
"It's a huge value for $25," Pelc said.
Oysterfest is Grosse Pointe's own version of Arts, Beats and Eats–or even larger tastefests around the country.
"I was reading the other day that Arts, Beats and Eats in Royal Oak had 70 restaurants and had beat out the Chicago (food festival)," Pelc said. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, here we are with our little festival and we have 45 restaurants and we don't have a city or a corporation behind us.' It's a very small, homegrown event, but you're getting the full experience."
Come hungry because the food sampling is plentiful.
- Blue Bay Fish & Seafood
- Cadieux Café
- Detroit Yacht Club
- Harry’s of Grosse Pointe,
- National Coney Island
- Pepperoni Grille
- Rojo Mexican Bistro
In addition, Fred Whaley, the chef at The ARK at St. Ambrose, Mulier’s Market and Super Suppers will serve special dishes.
Takeout restaurant , Johnny B.’s Cookies, and the Kroger bakery, along with bakers from St. Ambrose, will serve desserts.
Wash down the food with beers–some locally brewed–from Atwater Brewery, Traffic Jam and . Wine will be poured by, , and . Soft drinks, bottled water and fresh-brewed coffee from Cadillac Coffee will be for sale as well.
Pelc, who is celebrating 25 years this year as a St. Ambrose parish priest, was part of the beginning of Oysterfest. It started when Tom's Oyster Bar owner Tom Brandel wanted to host a party to mark the opening of a new Tom's Oyster Bar location 21 years ago.
Brandel wanted to tie the grand opening to a community cause. One waitress at Tom's, a teacher at what is now Merit Academy, a charter school, proposed using the profits to support the school. At the time it was the church's parochial school.
That's where the money went for years until it became a charter school. Since then, the proceeds fund religious education in the community, including Summer Bible School, World Youth Day and an after-school Bible club.
"Tom said he wanted to do an oysterfest. I said, 'Who in their right mind is going to come for oysters? Food festivals are for nice stuff like strawberries and apples and bananas,' " Pelc recalled. "He said, 'Trust me, they'll come.' "
And they did.
After Brandel took Tom's Oyster Bar downtown, Oysterfest moved to its current location in the parking lot next to Mulier's. And it stuck with the successful combination of oysters being served on Monday night. "No one has anything on Monday night," Pelc says.
Pelc has come close only once to trying a raw oyster. "It's on my bucket list," he says. He knows that the oyster lovers expect the good stuff and they will get it in four to five varieties from Foley fish house, which will make the oyster delivery to Sindbad's restaurant on Monday.
"It's become a signature event for the parish. It's a little bit offbeat but so is St. Ambrose," Pelc says. "We saw at the beginning it was a young singles crowd, Jell-O shots and the whole thing. When we came to Kercheval it morphed into something we didn't expect. More kids, families. For years we didn't have a kid's price. The young singles are still there in force and families are there too. And the seniors, who get their early. It's really cross-generational."