Oysters Bayou Bay

Knoxville Eats: While we may lack an official cuisine, local original dishes like Oysters Bayou Bay taste like our hometown

MAIN INGREDIENTS: oysters on the half shell, crabmeat stuffing, provolone cheese, bacon bits

FUN FACT: The three-cheese Lucy Burger on the Bayou Bay menu is named after co-owner Andy Cantillo's sister, while all the children's menu items are named after the owners' daughter Marley, who is 8.

When Cindy Cantillo was 18, back in the late 1970s, she sampled raw oysters, 10 cents a piece, at the old Doodles restaurant on Kingston Pike. "I thought, ‘That's gross,'" she says. "I probably never ate another one until I moved to Panama City five or six years later. I had taken my 3-year-old, Cristi, there for a vacation and ended up staying to work out the summer. The restaurant where I worked served oysters baked and spicy—I fell in love with them."

She also fell in love with Andy Cantillo, a native of Lutcher, La., about 40 miles up the river from New Orleans, who worked at the same place and wouldn't let her leave when the summer ended. They married, but within a few years, Cindy was yearning to come home. "If you're from here, you can leave, but you gotta come back," she says. "You have children, you start thinking, ‘You know, Seymour wasn't so bad.'"

When they finally returned in 1992, Cristi was 11, and a second daughter, Whitney, was 2. "It was a God thing—it took a lot of praying," says Cindy. "We had $14,000 from our house in Florida to live on and open a restaurant. But somehow, we did, and the first four weekends we ran out of food." One of the menu items flying out of the kitchen: Oysters Bayou Bay, a souped-up version of Cajun baked oysters Andy concocted. "They are unique, and they've been popular since day one," says Cindy. "I don't think people here even knew they liked oysters until we got here—oysters with crabmeat and bacon and cheese laying all over it. They're not fattening, either," she adds with a laugh.

And the seasoning that draws out the flavor of the Chesapeake oysters works in flavors of Old Bay, garlic, salt, and pepper, in proportions Andy jokingly calls, "an ancient Cajun secret. The way I tell people, Cajun cooking is not really hot, it's flavorful. But we have the ability to make it hot if you want it that way."

The couple's daughter Whitney has been eating Cajun food so long she was just 2 when they named the restaurant's spicy-shrimp po' boy "Whitney's Favorite." The other daughters love Cajun cooking, too, but Seymourian Cindy has done most of the cooking at home during the Cantillos' 21 years of marriage. "She's a spectacular cook," Andy says. "She's got the ability to taste something and tell you what's in it." His favorite is her homemade spaghetti, because of the way she spices it. Using? "I guess that would be an ancient hillbilly secret," he says.