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The World Is Your Oyster

It was Shakespeare who first coined the phrase, “The world is your oyster.” Put simply, it means you can go anywhere and do anything because your future is bright. Around here, we take the whole oyster thing a bit more literally. Our position on the Gulf of Mexico, combined with the plethora of oyster harvesters dredging the sea, means we have a nearly limitless bounty of the briny creatures dotting tables all along the coast.

Tyler McMahan is an oyster whisperer. McMahan works for Water Street Seafood, the largest supplier of seafood in the Florida panhandle. He and owner, Steve Rash, gave us the lowdown on gulf oysters, perfect pairings and whether there really is a “best time of the year” to indulge.

“Anytime is a good time to eat them,” McMahan said. “Typically, oysters spawn in the warmer times of the year and, usually, months that end in ‘R’ are the peak time to enjoy them, though they tend to be a little saltier [then].”

Rash said there are definite differences between gulf oysters and those on both the East and West Coasts.

“Gulf oysters grow quicker and are much larger than East Coast oysters. Some West Coast oysters get very big as well but are a different species,” he explained. “Gulf oysters usually are saltier … and have a thicker, heavier shell.”

He continued by saying there are a number of West Coast oyster varieties, from small to very large, but have a less salty and much sweeter taste. 

“From the East to West Coast, all oysters are great, but nothing hits home like an old Apalachicola oyster,” Rash offered.

Officially known as Crassostrea Virginica, the Latin name for the gulf species of oyster, these jewels are both farm-raised and wild-caught from natural oyster reefs. Harvesting methods include tonging, dredging and hogging (or gathering by hand). 

Oyster consumption dates back to the Greek and Roman empires, when they were enjoyed as a delicacy, and even prior to that. McMahan said oysters are not only great to eat, but also provide important ecological services.

“They are the keystone species and the canaries in the coal mine that reflect the health of our bays and estuaries,” he offered. “We desperately need to protect our wild oyster reefs; over 80 percent of North America’s wild oyster reefs are gone.”

For the majority of us, it’s the taste we’re concerned with. But, did you know oysters have a plethora of nutrients? They’re an excellent source or protein, are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and are even known to reduce blood pressure, relax arteries and tame cholesterol — whether raw, baked, fried, stewed or steamed.

And, just maybe, they’re a bit of an aphrodisiac?

“Ice-cold beer is the favorite drink to go with oysters. Wine is certainly a great pairing, too, as well as vodka. A classical favorite is champagne,” Rash said. “I think that’s where the ‘aphrodisiac’ portion of consuming oysters comes into play. Mix a little spirits with your oyster and everyone starts feeling good!”

Whether you’re a studied connoisseur or an oyster novice, you can find oysters at menus all along the Emerald Coast. Here are a few favorites (in no particular order, of course):

  • Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar: When “oyster” is in the name, you know it’s going to be good. With both grilled and naked oysters on the menu, there’s something for everyone. Recommended dish: Grilled oysters with Meyer lemon garlic butter.
  • Acme Oyster House: Ask the locals and this option at Seascape Resort will surely be on the list. Acme, with its decidedly Louisiana flair (there are locations in the French Quarter, Metairie, Baton Rouge and Gulf Shores, Alabama, as well), offers oysters in all their iterations including an oyster shooter with cocktail sauce and vodka. Try them fried, raw, chargrilled and even on a po’ boy.
  • Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House: A Destin staple, Boshamps does oysters five ways — cornmeal fried, raw “nekkid,” oysters Boshamp with caramelized onions, the classic oysters Rockefeller and oysters Bienville with a rich, creamy sauce.
  • The Great Southern Cafe: Located in Seaside, Florida, chef Jim Shirley has created multiple ways to enjoy oysters on the menu. From a baked oyster trio appetizer to oyster po’boy, you can’t go wrong.
  • Boathouse Oyster Bar: If you want lots of oyster options, this may be the stop for you. The menu has its own oyster section with everything from oyster shooters to steamed and chargrilled to Oishii Ollie oysters that feature wasabi, kimchi and panko.
  • High Tide Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar: Travel to Okaloosa Island to experience these oysters, which are shucked to order. Choose from options like oysters casino with cheese and onion to oysters royale with bacon and jalapeños to crabby oysters baked with crab meat stuffing.
  • Hunt’s Oyster Bar and Seafood: A trek to Panama City Beach isn’t complete without a stop at Hunt’s Oyster Bar and Seafood. Try them raw, baked, steamed, cheesy, cajun-style or Rockefeller with spinach, parmesan and mozzarella.
  • Harry T’s Lighthouse: A perfect spot on the water, Harry T’s oysters are available by the dozen or in oyster Rockefeller or oyster Augustus style with creole cream, peppers and cheese. 
  • East Pass Seafood And Oyster House: Looking for something a little outside the box? East Pass offers raw oysters as well as the traditional Rockefeller option, but got creative with options like chipotle bourbon, “The Mayor” with bacon and smoked gouda, and “The Boardwalk,” slathered in garlic parmesan butter.
  • Hurricane Oyster Bar and Grill: They aren’t known as the “pearl of 30A” for nothing. Hurricane will serve them up any way you like them — raw, steamed, grilled, based and fried with toppings that have worldwide flair, from southern traditional and Peruvian to Japanese and German.
  • Stinky’s Fish Camp: You can’t talk about oysters without mentioning Stinky’s, where they serve them “all day, all ways.” Choose from gruyere and bacon champagne butter to a platter with a sampling of flavors.

“There are plenty of options out there,” McMahan said. “You just have to find the spot where you enjoy the service and the ambiance.

“Or, grab a box and shuck them yourself! My fondest memories are gathering around on a cool winter game day and shucking oysters for my family to enjoy together.”

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