The last time someone walked into a restaurant and ordered a dozen bivalve mollusks was, well…never. But talk to me of a dozen fresh oysters and oh, boy, you’ve hit on one of the most popular restaurant items on 30A.
They are high in calcium, iron and protein and known for grossing out young children who have never laid eyes on them before. With a rough, rock-hard shell that is nearly impossible to open unless you’ve perfected the shucker knife and aren’t afraid of raw knuckles and self-inflicted stabbing, the oyster is legendary for culinary feats, wive’s tales, and a taste like nothing else on land or sea. Ah, the oyster.
We talked with two local oyster aficionados, David Phillips of Hurricane Oyster Bar & Grill and Chef Todd Misener of Stinky’s Fish Camp about the perennial 30A favorite and the tenuous state of the Apalachicola Bay oyster industry.
Give Me The Gulf
30A customers have long preferred Gulf oysters and for good reason. Gulf oysters don’t tend to have the ocean taste, the metallic tinge that most East Coast oysters bring with them.
Gulf oysters are meaty with just the right amount of brine and brightness, a taste you won’t find, let’s face it, anywhere else in the world.
For as long as anyone can remember, the most well-known and well-loved oysters in these parts have come from right here in Florida in Apalachicola Bay, located right off the Gulf of Mexico, just a two-hour drive east of 30A.
Sadly, over the past several years, the oyster harvest from Apalachicola has begun to dwindle. This has happened for a number of reasons, including less fresh water flowing into the Bay from rivers upstream, over-harvesting young beds and, at least in part, the BP oil spill.
“If the salinity and re-seeding issues in Apalachicola persist, we may see the Bay shut down forever,” Misener said. “Everyone around here is watching the situation very closely.”
Not All Doom and Gloom
Stinky’s has already secured other sources for Gulf oysters from Panama City’s West Bay, though.
“We never thought West Bay would be an oyster fit for our tables, but it has been a big success with patrons from the get go,” Misener said. To keep up with year-round demand, Stinky’s also secures oysters from Texas and Louisiana.
Grayton Beach’s Hurricane Oyster Bar is one of the bigger movers of oysters on 30A and also gets its main supply from Texas and Louisiana. Hurricane’s David Phillips said, “We are all watching and hoping that Apalachicola does make a comeback over the summer, not just for us but for the lifelong oystermen and their families who rely solely on the industry. Time will tell.”
Phillips added that they work hard to keep their supply plentiful and affordable because their focus is “locals first.” This could be why Hurricane Oyster Bar & Grill has been named 30A’s Hottest Spot for Raw Oysters for the past three years.
Raw is King (But Try the Nachos)
Raw oysters are far and away the most popular, according to both Phillips and Misener, but each of their restaurants has a cooked oyster dish that keeps patrons coming back for more.
For Hurricane Oyster Bar that dish is Oyster Nachos, delicately fried oysters placed on tortilla chips topped with a spicy sauce and pico de gallo. Add to that specialty list the World Tour, a raw plate of oysters representing Russia, Japan, Germany and Mexico, each with a unique flavors representing each of the countries on the list.
For Stinky’s Fish Camp, we’d just like to say to you: The Oyster Log. It’s as if the oyster gods smiled down upon you. Order this and you will be presented with a yard-long piece of driftwood topped with three dozen of the most succulent baked and fried oysters you’ve ever dreamed of.
Seriously, this is the stuff of dreams. Dreams, people.