If it weren’t for all those oystermen, the Apalachicola Bay estuary would be heaven for an oyster. The nutrient-rich flow of the Apalachicola River mixes with saline waters of the Gulf of Mexico, enabling oysters to grow big and fat in as little as two years from spat to plate. Conditions are so optimal that the bay is the last place in the country where wild oysters are harvested with tongs from small boats. Hauled up with what look like a pair of hinged garden rakes, Apalachicola bivalves have a buttery, nutty flavor. Every eatery in town serves oysters, but these three do it especially well.
Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar & Grill
At Scipio Creek Marina, a few blocks from Apalachicola’s blinking traffic light, Papa Joe’s is good for oysters on the half shell with cold beer — or for sitting down in the screened porch to a po’ boy or a plate overflowing with fried oysters. Watch the pelicans cruise past on the creek while you eat. Oyster po’ boy $8, fried oyster dinner $15. 301-B Market St., 850-653-1189, www.papajoesoysterbar.com
Larger than the name suggests, this downtown institution is crammed with local memorabilia. Debi Fletcher is the chef, while hubby Jeff runs the bar and shucks to order. “We don’t fry anything,’’ says Jeff. “That’s why the place smells so good.’’ He grew up around Apalachicola, where oysters were plentiful at family gatherings. “We had baby bird syndrome,’’ he says. “We’d walk around with our mouths open waiting for someone to drop an oyster in.’’ Don’t forget Debi’s homemade buttermilk pie for dessert. Dozen oysters $8-$11. 23 Avenue D, 850-653-3222
Up the Creek Raw Bar
Chef Brett Gormley styles himself as “culinary artist-alligator slayer.’’ He’s certainly earned the
first half. Purists who believe oysters need only a squeeze of lemon or splash of Tabasco to attain perfection might change their minds after trying some of Gormley’s bivalve variations. Oysters Mediterranean are steamed and served with an olive, garlic, and caper tapenade, while Oysters Moscow are raw with a dressing of horseradish, sour cream, and caviar.
When the wind blows “fresh’’ (flooding the oyster beds with more river water than ocean water), Gormley recommends eating Oysters Mignionette [sic] with a sauce of minced shallots, habañero pepper, and white balsamic vinegar. In nice weather, slurp your oysters on the outdoor deck overlooking the river. Dozen oysters $8-$11. 313 Water St., 850-653-2525, www.upthecreekrawbar.com