You might not think Jackson, Mississippi, when you imagine robust oyster culture. And you might not expect to find a sleek eatery in a repurposed schoolhouse. But Jesse Houston has created such a spot, where he is wholeheartedly supporting a resurgence of American oystermen, such as Murder Point Oysters off Dauphin Island, Alabama. Inside a former elementary school that was built in 1927 in the city’s Fondren District, Houston has turned a series of classrooms into a nautical wonderland worthy of Jules Verne—complete with a massive octopus mural. In this unexpected setting, you can slurp down a pristine dozen and get your fill of wood-fired half shells lacquered with tangy white barbecue sauce or loaded with crawfish tails, bacon, and hot sauce butter. Through his consistently killer collection of seafood dishes, Houston has earned his diners’ trust and the right to play around with his menu. Most notably, every Monday (no doubt, locals mark it on their calendars) he serves up Southern ramen, transforming familiar Mississippi ingredients into rich, brothy noodle bowls. He might use ham hock-laced collards or Gulf shrimp to create his dashi (the broth base). From there, his creativity truly knows no bounds. In a recent creation he called Pond Ramen, Houston loaded the dish with lemongrass-braised frog legs, fried frog legs, and smoked Mississippi catfish. Saltine might be located in an old school, but it’s anything but textbook. saltinerestaurant.com

Photo: W. Rush Jagoe

Turns out the South’s favorite seafood is chock full of goodness.

They say whoever first ate an oyster was a very brave individual. We agree, but we’re also eternally grateful as the oyster is one of the South’s signature foods whether broiled, fried, blackened, or just straight-up. It also turns out no matter how you serve them, oysters also have a bevy of health benefits inside their shells. Here are five pearls of health wisdom before you get started on our best recipes using oysters

  1. Oysters are high in protein, but also low in fat. In fact, six ounces of oysters has 16 grams of protein helping with tissue repair, immune system functioning, and hormone production.
  2. Oysters have high amounts of zinc, around 28 milligrams in 6 ounces. We only need 8, but that means even a small deficiency can throw you off your game. More zinc means more energy, less colds, proper digestion, even fully functioning taste reception. It also helps with focus and even how your eyes adjust to darkness. Essentially, oysters are the secret to life. But don’t go crazy either, you don’t want to have too much zinc in your system either.
  3. Oysters also have high levels of selenium, a mineral that’s been said to decrease coronary heart disease and plays a key role in metabolism.
  4. Oysters also produce special amino acids that you can’t find in the pharmacy section. While they help regulate stress and improve your mood, people are more interested in their aphrodisiac-like properties.
  5. The other minerals in oysters like B12 vitamins may also help with hair loss and help in the never-ending battle against dark under-eye bags.