NORWALK, Conn. – It was 8:30 p.m. Friday, and the ladies of Norwalk's St. Ann Club had already gone through 800 balls of dough. And the dough was rolling in for the Norwalk Seaport Association, as thousands of people descended upon Veterans Memorial Park for the 35th Annual Oyster Festival.
St. Ann's Pizza Fritta, a traditional treat, was selling well. Loraina's Italian Specialities was drawing curious people at its nearby booth, where a young man handed out samples of gluten-free cannolis. Oysters were for sale at another booth, and patrons squirted hot sauce on their catch.
But the oysters in one booth were headed for the trash. Bred for pearl production, they weren't edible, Jack Chiaramonte of Sono Silver said.
Daniel Derraugh, 14, of Wallingford counted himself lucky as he got a white pearl from an oyster shucked at Chiaramonte's Pick a Pearl booth. He resurrected the attraction this year, because people said they missed it after the woman who used to do it retired.
Daniel's mother, Chelsea Seresin, said she grew up in Norwalk and wanted to bring her son to the festival.
The Pirates Cove wasn't open – a man said the pirates had gone festival wandering, a tradition for the first evening. He expected it to be swarming with children Saturday. But the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show was in full swing, allowing Laura Blair of Wilton to go home with a "chair" from a freshly hewn piece of log. The show's chainsaw-bearing performer, who had comically dueled with two younger men using crosscut saw, gave it to her at the end of the performance.
The layout was unfamiliar to longtime visitors. Things were rearranged in the hopes that the athletic fields would survive the trampling better than in past years. Ryan Essig, 15, said he didn't like the new layout. But he enjoyed himself and planned to return Saturday. "You have to see the Village People," he said.
Vendor Lee Dascole of Long Island, N.Y., who bakes beer bottles in a 2,000-degree oven to flatten them into decorative bottle openers, said the festival was better this year. She stopped coming after 10 years, but started again last year after a three-year hiatus. Things have been "revamped," she said, expecting to do well.
Patti Cimitile of Norwalk bought one of Dascole's products, "a good Christmas gift." She agreed the craft area is better. "There are a lot of different things I've never seen before."