By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – They are among the most sought after and most frightening things you can eat: oysters. And over the past several years, no one restaurant has done more for the bivalve than Meritage in St. Paul.

“For us it’s a celebration of oysters,” Russell Klein, chef and owner of Meritage, said.

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Klein grew up in New York.

“I love Minnesota, but miss the ocean. So, for me the oyster bar was an opportunity to bring the ocean to me a little bit,” Klein said.

In 2011, the ocean arrived in downtown St. Paul when Meritage opened its spectacular oyster bar with dozens of oyster varieties from both coasts.

So which coast is best: East Coast or West Coast?

“I don’t think you have to pick. I eat them both, love them both. They’re definitely different,” Klein said.

East Coast oysters tend to be a little firmer and saltier, he said, like those from Duxbury Bay in Massachusetts. West coast oysters are more gnarly-looking and have more flavor, like the Hama Hama Washington oysters.

“In wine we talk about terroir, in oysters we talk mer-oir. It’s the idea that the water flavors the oysters, it tastes of where it’s from,” he said.

Many varieties will be available at Meritage’s 5th annual Oysterfest, taking place Sunday, October 11 from noon to dusk.

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Founded as a small street festival in 2010, Klein now expects 1,500 people to go through 25,000 oysters on the Sunday afternoon.

“It works out to 52 oysters per minute, every minute, for eight hours. It’s a lot of work,” he said.

There’s a shucking contest, live music and food from Meritage and its sister restaurant in Minneapolis, Brasserie Zentral.

Oysters have often been considered aphrodisiacs. So, what does Klein thing?

“Absolutely,” he said.

He also happens to run his restaurants with his wife Desta.

There is so much romance to the oyster; that shell, that slurp and that moment of bliss when the taste transports you to the ocean.

“Yeah, it feels like, I need a cold beer, a Jimmy Buffet song and I’m good,” Klein said.

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Meritage Oyster Bar is located at 410 Saint Peter in St. Paul. Oysterfest takes place on Sunday Oct. 11. For more information, visit Meritage online

Jason DeRusha