Skippers’ Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill, 85 Screven St., Darien, Georgia, 912-437-FISH
Have I introduced you to Mz. Skeptical? No? Well, when Mz. Skeptical hears that oysters are from Apalachicola—and when she isn’t actually in that corner of the Florida panhandle—she isn’t 100% convinced that she won’t be given something else, say, an oyster from another area of the panhandle or even oysters from Texas of Louisiana. On a recent drive through Georgia, she encountered some bivalves that she hoped were the real thing.
Thanks to a tip from friends Lee and Ray Elman, my driving companion, Sterling Mulbry, and me detoured to Skippers’ Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill in Darien, Georgia. Located a short drive off I-95, where we were journeying from South Florida to Beantown, this tiny town touts itself as the “second oldest planned city” in the state (founded 1736). It was easy to find the restaurant on the banks of the Darien River with a view of marshes, shrimp boats, and a waterfront park.
Located on the site of a former lumber mill from the 1800’s (its bar and table tops are made from 19th-century wood) and after that a fish camp, the place has two distinct venues, both serving the same menu but with completely different vibes. The main restaurant—aka grill—is the formal dining side (think: where you might take mom) however it’s comfortable-casual and not at all stuffy. (“You have to at least wear flip flops,” says one of the owners.) Across a wide patio with circular pond where gar and turtles swim with decoy ducks, we found the Oyster Bar, a dark and get-down funky feeling space with an outdoor deck and a “bathing suits optional” dress code. We chose to dine out on the deck.
Though the place serves all manner of fresh-caught seafood, shrimp from local boats, as well as barbeque ribs and steaks—we were there for some oysters. They serve them raw, steamed, fried, and baked in four varieties including Casino and Rockefeller, the latter made—surprisingly, with a Southern twist of collards in place of spinach.
But as close readers of this blog know: I prefer my oysters nekkid…aka raw with maybe a tiny squirt of lemon and—when I’m feeling madcap—an even tinier drop of Tabasco. We ordered a half dozen to start ($7.99) and were told they were Apalachicolas. At first Mz. Skeptical was—ahem—skeptical. However—Oh happy day!—our half-dozen bivalves were so crisp and salty and sweet and full of flavor, all doubts about where they were harvested slipped away. (Curiously, they were served in a salad bowl, with no bed of ice. Eat 'em quick!)
Alas, Darien was not where we planned to spend the night, so we had to rouse ourselves from our oyster delirium and get back on the road for a few more hours. Maybe next time we’ll stay at the nearby Darien Waterfront Inn, and eat oysters, oysters, oysters till we close the place down. One can dream.
Skippers’ Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill, 85 Screven St., Darien, Georgia, 912-437-FISH
It was a spectacular day on Sunday in Boston: sunny, warm (well, warmish in the mid-50’s), and over 500 oyster lovers all partying for a good cause—raising money for the Barbara Lynch Foundation—at the B&G Oysters 5th annual Oyster Invitational.
The 5-hour extravaganza paired shellfish farmers and purveyors with chefs and restaurants, and guests could sample both raw and embellished bivalves.
I was honored that B&G asked me to judge the shucking competition (along with the incomparable Annie Copps), and between my hourly duties I made the rounds of each oyster station, slurping and sampling my way along the street, down in the garden-patio, throughout the interior of B& G Oysters, and across the street along Lynch’s the Butcher Shop. (Apologies in advance to any vendors I may have missed in the crowds. And mea culpa, dear chefs, if I describe your creations and misreport an ingredient detail.)
First up: I met Dave Roebuck, the man behind the Shuckin Truck in Boston and Rhode Island. “We bring oysters from farm to plate, as in license plate,” said Roebuck. He was serving his own farm-raised Salt Pond Oysters, from Point Judith in Rhode Island. Nicely salty and bright, the oysters are “well flushed in a tidal pond” and go straight from the pond to the truck, along with scallops (from his brother’s boats) and lobster (from his dad’s traps). Salt Pond was paired with Neptune Oysters, presided over by sous chef Daniel Karg who offered me an oyster with a bright red spot of pickled beet juice and tiny sprig of chervil.
Next I met a trio of farmers from Riptide Oysters in Westport, Mass.: Kerian Fennelly, John Ryan and Christian Minnock. The oysters themselves held a triple medley of flavors: I tasted salty first, then sweet with a grassy finish, an analysis confirmed by Ryan: “There’s a little freshwater spring nearby. They (oysters) seem to like it quite a lot.”
Chef Seth Morrison of the Gallows served these oysters soaked in buttermilk with a ramp dressing, pickled mustard seed slaw and a fleck of crispy chicken skin on top.
American Mussel Harvesters were shucking Beavertail Oysters from Rhode Island (nicely plump, not too salty, and sweet), and Myers & Chang topped these bivalves with saki kimchi ice and pickled cucumbers.
Matunuck Oyster Farm—also from Rhode Island—served oysters packed with flavor and high salinity, and were paired with…themselves (Matunuck Oyster Bar), adding a drop of wasabi, soy sauce, pickled ginger and micro greens grown outside their restaurant.
Around this time my sister Melon showed up and joined me in an eating frenzy, only pausing to buy a tee shirt at the Shuckin Truck.
Chris Quartuccio, owner of Blue Island Oyster Company brought along a (nearly) naked singing cowboy to promote his wild (as in not farmed), diver-harvested Naked Cowboy Oysters. “With a name like that, could it be anything other than wild?” he asked. Um, nope. Nearby, the Biltmore Bar & Grill stuffed these oysters in a kind of scallop mousse roll topped with a black garlic puree.
Last but not least, Pangea Shellfish served small and tasty (plump, metallic and salty) Salish Sea oysters from British Columbia. Chef Tony Messina, of Uni Sashimi, topped these with oxalis mignonette, pressed cantaloupe, shallot essence and a Darjeeling tea espuma.
In case anyone (me) was still hungry after all-you-can-eat oysters, B & G was serving its famed lobster rolls, Guchi’s Midnight Ramen handed out kickass-good fish tacos, the Shuckin Truck slapped down scallop rolls, and all kinds of other foods—including veggies, burgers and sausages—were being grilled, skewered, fried and roasted. Wellfleet, Mass. was represented by Barbara and Pat Woodbury, serving their salty-sweet, perfect littleneck clams, and Picco scooped ice cream to end the day.
Oh yeah, and the wine was fab too.
And I almost (almost) forgot to mention the shucking competition, a relaxed event by most standards (only eight oysters!) but fun nonetheless. After hourly heats featuring oyster farmers, B&G staff, and guest restaurant shuckers, the winner, edging out steep competition from the Summer Shack, was Daniel Notkin, representing Pangea Shellfish. A bit of an out-of-town ringer from Montreal (he came in second in the Canadian Nationals last summer), Notkin donned his winning crown and medal and in true shucker spirit, raised his beer glass to the sky. It was the perfect end of a perfect day.
Many thanks to all involved, especially the B&G staff who all deserve a round of applause (and a nice big bonus check) for keeping things running so smoothly and with a smile.
The almost-full moon was rising over Miami last night when I headed to The Dutch with my writer pal Lynne Barrett. Maybe it was the moon, maybe it was the 80-degree South Beach breezes, or maybe it was the effects of the craft cocktails we imbibed at the Living Room Bar in the W hotel, but when I saw OYSTERS on the menu…I just had to order some.
Our choices: Blue Point, CT; Browne’s Point, ME; Totten Inlet, WA; Wellfleet, MA.
We avoided the Blue Points and ordered two each of the others, making a perfect half dozen served in an ice-filled white ceramic bowl with lemon, mignonette, and cocktail sauce—with hots on the side.
I sampled West Coast first. The small bivalves from Puget Sound were less buttery than I expected from a left coast oyster; nicely salty, strongly flavored with a taste of algae. Yum.
Lynne’s favorites were the Browne’s Points, saying they had “a multiplicity of flavor and are much richer” than the other two. Me? I could taste the funky, silty, murky influence of the Damariscotta River, their harvest region. I liked their plumpness and sweetness, but my personal preference leans to a little more brine.
For me, the hometown favorite wins. I know, I know, I’m biased toward Wellfleets, but what can I say? They taste like “home.” As I picked up the shell last night, I nearly shouted, “Someone I know could have grown this oyster!”
Lynne spent part of her childhood eating oysters in Cape Porpoise, near Kennebunkport, Maine. (Perhaps her own bias?) “I think how cheap and abundant things were when I was a kid. We were buying oysters and clams by the bucket. We had gobs of them.”
In Wellfleet, I have similar memories of getting oysters from the flats, and of digging for clams with my cousins at dead low tide on Mayo Beach. We’d squeal trying to avoid stepping on periwinkles, and imagine being swallowed by quicksand as our feet sunk deep into black muck. After an hour or so, we’d gather our heavy buckets and head home tired, salty, and ready for a feast.
After the oysters on the half shell, we sampled “Little Oyster Sandwiches” made with fried Blue Points served on tiny buttery sesame-studded rolls. With a shot of The Dutch’s bottled “Hot Sauce” (tasting suspiciously like Sriracha) they were a perfect mix of crunchy-buttery-spicy wonderment.
Thanks, Lynne, for a fab evening, and thanks to The Dutch for offering such tasty bivalves.
I’m so excited to hear about this event! B&G Oysters kicks off the summer season with the Oyster Invitational (Sun. May 5, 1 p.m.- 6 p.m.), a day when chefs, shuckers, and oyster-lovers gather to benefit the Barbara Lynch Foundation. Chef Barbara Lynch will be joined at the festivities by two special guests: Top Chef Season 10 winner Kristen Kish and finalist Brooke Williamson.
Many notable restaurants from Boston and New England will participate, including The Gallows, Neptune Oyster, Myers & Chang, Green Street, JM Curley, South End Buttery, Oleana, Summer Shack, Tavern Road, and more. Oysters will be provided by farmers and purveyors including Woodbury Shellfish, Salt Pond Oysters, The Shuckin’ Truck, Blue Island Shellfish, and Matunuck Oyster Farm.
In addition to oysters, guests can enjoy a selection of non-bivalve “Turf” bites, including sausages from The Butcher Shop, hamburgers from JM Curley, and a pig roast from Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar, and will be able to quench their thirst with beer from Harpoon Brewery and a selection of food-friendly wines.
In the name of friendly competition, each oyster company will be paired with one restaurant to vie for best dish, and guests will vote for both the Best Raw Oyster and Best Overall Dish.
Speed and skill will also be on display throughout the afternoon with shucking contests between the restaurants and oyster farmers, culminating in a final shuck off at the end of the event.
The festivities will also include a DJ, dancing, and a silent auction which will offer an array of items including a private cocktail class for six at No. 9 Park with Bar Director Ted Kilpatrick, a weekend stay at a New England Relais & Chateaux property with a Champagne tour of the kitchen, and an exploration of New Orleans’ cocktail culture with Drink’s John Gertsen.
Tickets go on sale Tues. April 16 at 10 a.m. and will be available online here. Please note that all tickets must be purchased in advance and guests must be 21 years of age or older. General Admission tickets are $175 per person (excluding tax). Ticket price includes admission, three drink tickets, all-you-can eat oysters, Lobster Rolls, competition dishes, and items from the Grill and Fry stations.
“Pearl” VIP tickets are $300 per person (excluding tax) and include early admission to the Pearl Reception from 12pm-1pm with passed appetizers, an open bubbles bar, and an opportunity to meet and mingle with chefs Barbara Lynch, Kristen Kish, and Brooke Williamson, as well as the many oyster farmers.
B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116, 617-423-0550, www.bandgoysters.com
Took a little trip down to the Florida Keys today to research a story on where to find fish tacos, tuna nachos, burgers and such, and when I got to Snapper’s in Key Largo I just couldn’t resist ordering a half dozen fresh-shucked oysters, especially when the bartender said they came from Apalachicola, the bivalves of wonder harvested in the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle.
The place is a typical sand-in-your shoes place, part open-air restaurant, part tiki bar, sitting on a pretty little marina on the ocean side of the keys where you can dock your skiff or kayak, hop out and join the crowds at the bar, plastic tables or on candy colored Adirondack chairs.
Our oysters arrived on ice, kept perfectly chilled on a metal scallop-shaped tray. They were plump and slightly salty, with a brackish aftertaste, and were softer and less chewy than I like. Were they really Apalachicolas? Not sure, though I’d order more and wash them down with another Key West Ale. Why? Well, it’s Good Friday, and I can’t exactly order a steak now, can I?
MM 94.5, Key Largo, 305-852-5956
What’s better than oysters and beer? How about oysters IN beer?
My pal Dabney Oakley just alerted me to a brew that debuted last November called Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.
From the website: “A dry stout brewed with local oysters, Pearl Necklace was the brainchild of Flying Dog, Rappahannock River Oysters, and Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen.”
Originally released on draft only in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC., I’m hopeful to get a taste someday as their website now shows it’s available in bottles “all day, every day.”
Links on the site show at least three locations in Miami that I can get to with too much trouble. And it’s great to know that proceeds from the beer benefit oyster recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
Now I just need some Rappahannock River Oysters to accompany the beer. Hmmmm. Maybe a road trip to Richmond is in my future....
I recently had the great opportunity to sit and chat about all things oysters with David Bracha, executive chef and restaurateur at The River Seafood and Oyster Bar in Miami. (His other fab place is the newly opened Oak Tavern in the Design District.)
The best—and possibly the only—true oyster bar in the city, the River serves a selection of eight to ten East and West coast bivalves that arrive three to four times a week.
“If you’re going to have an oyster bar you have to be really busy,” said Bracha. “We’re selling seventeen to eighteen thousand oysters a month. It’s really becoming popular.”
Yeah. I’d say they’re popular.
When you go—and if you’re in Miami you must—sit at the mahogany and slate bar overlooking stainless bins filled with oysters on ice, and place your order with the bartender.
One of the benefits of bellying up to an oyster bar is that I often make new oyster-loving friends. On this visit I met Kenny Gee (ordered a dozen) and Paula Shaw (doesn’t touch them) who—it turns out—live not far from me in South Beach.
At happy hour (4:30- 7:00 p.m. daily) you can get half priced oysters and nightly drink specials. On my visit, Sean the bartender happily described my oyster choices, but demurred when I asked if I could photograph him shucking: “I only take the orders. They don’t let me touch the knives. And that’s probably a good thing.”
On this particular day the choices included: From the East: Little Island, Bagaducci River, Maine; Sunken Meadow Gems, Cape Cod, Mass.; South Bay, Long Island Sound (listed as Mass. but I suspect they meant Great South Bays from NY); Blue Points, Long Island Sound, Conn.; Ichabod Flats, Plymouth, Mass.; Peter’s Point, Cape Cod, Mass. and Beavertail, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. From the West: Royal Miyagi, Sunshine Coast, B.C.; Kumamoto, Humboldt Bay, Calif.; Mirada, Hood Cana, Wash. and Fanny Bay, B.C.
“Some people like oysters from just one region. I like ‘em all,” said Bracha.
Me too. In fact I’ve decided my new mantra is: “So many varieties of oysters…so little time.”
There were many on this list I’d never tasted, including varieties not even listed on Oysterpedia, my go-to easy reference app. (It's free!) Also missing were any Florida oysters, the wonderful Apalachicolas (Bracha assured me that he loves them but—for complex reasons involving where they are packed—he can’t always get authentic ones) and any varieties from Canada. (Bracha is participating in the Canadian seafood boycott sponsored by The Humane Society, though I’m doing my best to change his mind when it comes to buying from hard-working oyster farmers who have nothing to do with slaughtering seals.)
Born in Israel, Bracha came to the U.S. as a boy and grew up in Brooklyn. He’s lived in Florida for “twenty-something years,” spending the last ten at the helm of The River. I asked him why he thinks oysters seem to be such a booming business these days.
“Every three or four years a new food trend comes up. There are bloggers and foodie intellects. In the last couple of years, oysters got really popular.”
We ordered three varieties: Royal Miyagi (surprisingly wonderful, clean and light with dimension); Ichabod Flats (a first for both of us—and not very briny for Mass. oysters) and Sunken Meadow Gems (one set were mild and the other had more punch), and slurped them with a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.
“I love eating oysters and drinking Muscadet. It’s the white wine you want to drink with oysters.”
And so we slurped. We sipped. We chatted.
About what? Oyster farming. Sustainability issues. Moms who eat oysters. Moms who don’t. Shucking competitions. Wild Belons. Lustau Almacenista Amontilllado. Vacations in Spain. The Florida Panhandle. Oyster suppliers. “Training-wheel” oysters. Wellfleet. Galway. East coast versus West. Oysters-oysters—sis-boom-bah. Too soon it was time for the chef to get back to the stove, and for me to be on my way back to the beach.
“Oysters are the perfect food. They’re very sustainable. And good for you. And delicious, though not everybody likes them. There’s no better way to start a meal. It gets you ready to eat.”
Agreed. Though I’d add: Ready to eat…more oysters.
The River Seafood and Oyster Bar, 650 South Miami Ave., 305-530-1915
Marina Oyster Barn
A no-frills restaurant with a dozen tables and booths overlooking the Bayou Texar, the Marina Oyster Barn originally opened as a boathouse and bait shop in 1968.
The following year the Rooks family began serving raw oysters, boiled shrimp, gumbo, chowder and fried mullet. The menu has expanded to include catfish, grouper, flounder, scallops and shrimp, available fried, broiled or grilled.
For baked oysters, try the sampler platter: Oysters Rockefeller, Texar Crabsters, Texar Shrimpsters, and Supreme Steamed with blended gooey cheeses.
If you like them raw, local East Bay oysters are big, plump, and slightly salty.
“Our East Bay local oysters, in my mind, are the best,” said the young man shucking my order. “And I’ve eaten oysters from Apalachicola, Texas, and Louisiana!”
505 Bayou Blvd, Pensacola, 850-433-0511, www.marinaoysterbarn.com
In the not-to-be-missed category: Flora-Bama Lounge is a classic roadhouse bar, complete with live music on three stages, and an oyster bar that serves them raw or Cajun-steamed, as well as peel-and-eat shrimp, and all things fried, including pickles.
The slightly spicy gumbo, thick with okra and tomatoes, is laced with tiny shrimp. Located on the beach, a spit away from the Alabama border, it’s where beach bums and bankers mingle. “We get 10,000 people here in April for the ‘Mullet Toss,’” said Keri Ann Spitzer, a bartender who gave up her bank manager job to work here.
Save yourself a Yankee northerner’s embarrassment and pronounce it like the locals: Flora-Bama rhymes with the neighboring state, and not our current President.
17401 Perdido Key Dr., Perdido Key, 850-492-0611; www.florabama.com
Well, Perdido was the end of the road for my Florida Panhandle road trip. Hope to get back one of these days...and then keep heading west along the Gulf all the way to New Orleans!
The Boathouse Oyster Bar
The Boathouse calls itself “Destin’s Best Kept Secret.” I hate to tell them, but the secret is out. This tiny establishment, truly boathouse-sized, is packed to its dollar-bill covered rafters most nights of the week with crowds flocking there for live music, pitchers of beer, frozen drinks, award-winning crab and shrimp gumbo, and Apalachicola oysters shucked to order.
The menu also offers crab claws, all manner of shrimp, crab cakes, fried oysters, and grilled mahi-mahi or yellow fin tuna steaks served with corn on the cob, coleslaw and hushpuppies.
It’s quieter in the afternoon, when you might eavesdrop on conversations such as this:
“Is it beer-thirty?”
“No, it’s Long Island ice tea-thirty.”
(288-B Harbor Blvd. Destin, 850-837-364)
High Tide Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Thirty years is a long time in the restaurant biz, so you know they’re doing something right at High Tide Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Fort Walton Beach. A roadside lounge with an old-fashioned ambience, High Tide is renowned for its shucked-to-order oysters that arrive in boxes every other day.
“In the summer, we go through 175 to 200 boxes a day,” said manager-bartender-shucker Graham Skrivanie. “People are offended if we run out, as if we didn’t serve anything else!”
But they do. In addition to oysters, there’s gumbo, chowder, fried or char-grilled fish, soft shell crabs, farm-raised catfish, scallops, and all manner of shrimp. The grilled grouper sandwich is so good that it reportedly has a fan club.
(1203 Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, 850-244-2624)
Hunt’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant
“Shut up and Shuck,” reads the sign in Hunt’s. This 46-year old, family-owned establishment specializes in wild caught Apalachicola oysters that are trucked in daily in 60-pound sacks.
Sit at a table or the bar and eat them raw, steamed or baked. There’s also Cajun steamed shrimp, fried shrimp, fresh seafood sandwiches or dinners, and sides of fries, beans, fried okra and hushpuppies.
Located in a bright yellow building on Beck Avenue in St. Andrew’s, the historic district of Panama City, Hunt’s has a national reputation and local devotees. “Most people have been coming here since they were kids,” said expert oyster-shucker Robert Daffin (who currently works at Bayou on the Beach in Panama City Beach).
“Ninety-percent of our customers come in with their kids and their grandparent," said Daffin. "They’ll wait two hours to get in here.”
150 Beck Avenue, Panama City, 850 763-9645
Dusty’s Oyster Bar
“Hi, my name is Trouble,” said the woman sitting next to me at Dusty’s Oyster Bar in Panama City, the place where everyone in this beachside community gathers, trouble or not.
It’s the kind of sand-in-your-shoes place where graffiti-covered dollar bills are taped to the ceiling and walls, TV’s are tuned to sports, and the oysters, shrimp, and seafood can be baked, fried, grilled, broiled or boiled.
If you like your oysters raw, they can shuck ‘em fast. Behind the bar on any given day you’ll find the top-ranked Florida state shuckers and national oyster-shucking champs, such as Scotty O’Lear (see photo, below).
“It’s a little Southern honkey-tonk,” said the congenial hostess Carolee (“Everybody call me Mama”) Harper. (Pictured below with her award-winning oyster-shucking son, Robert Daffin.)
16450 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, 850-233-0035