National Oyster Day, August 5, arrives just in time for that final family trip to Alabama’s coast before school starts back.
Coincidence? Shucks, who cares?
From farmed oysters served raw to fried, baked, grilled, and steamed preparations, you’ll find the best bivalves from the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama’s bays at coastal restaurants like these.
Oysters are a prime example of what farmers call “merroir,” the sea version of the more common-used terroir, describing how a food’s flavor is affected by where it grows. Eating oysters raw on the half-shell is the best way to appreciate the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, taste differences.
If you’re worried about potential for food-born illness from uncooked shellfish, seek out restaurants that specialize in oysters. They keep the freshest and best in stock, and know how to handle them.
Here are a few places near the water to satisfy your craving for these briny-sweet jewels, just in time for National Oyster Day.
Magnolia Springs, Fort Morgan
Raw: A recent menu includes boutique oysters from four Alabama farms (Murder Point, Navy Cove, Admiral Shellfish, Point aux Pins), plus Divine Pine of Topsail (farmed in North Carolina). A half dozen is $18. House raw oysters are $12 per half dozen, $23 per dozen.
Cooked: Baked Oysters Jesse (creole compound butter and gruyere cheese) $18 per half dozen; $19 if boutique oysters.
Non-oyster: Paw Paw Shrimp: mango habanero glaze, cucumber crème fraiche, mint ($15)
Gulf Shores, Mobile
Raw: Oysters “(a)lways fresh… Always good!” are market price.
Cooked: Three styles of baked oysters include Rockefeller ($17.99 for eight, $25.99 for 12), parmesan-garlic ($15.99/$22.99), and Joe and Dave’s favorite with garlic cocktail sauce, bacon, and parmesan ($16.99/$24.99). A sampler with three of each is $18.99.
Non-oyster: Homemade Seafood Gumbo ($5.99 cup/$8.99 bowl), made with crab, shrimp, fish, and bacon, is thickened with a bacon-fat roux.
Raw: You won’t find fresher unless you slurp one on the boat. Half-dozens and dozens from the oyster bar are sold at market price.
Cooked: Five versions of baked include Oysters Tin Top (house crawfish sauce) and The Dirty Dozen (house tasso ham cream sauce). Steamed oysters also are available, as well as a fried-oyster entrée, and a platter with crab cake, fish filet, and shrimp. All are market price.
Non-oyster: C’mon. You’re in a fishing village. Fresh catch – fried, grilled, blackened, pecan-encrusted, or topped with house crawfish sauce – ranges from $30 to $32.
The Royal Oyster Bar
Raw: Options include farmed oysters from Alabama, and half-shells from other waters in the United States. Available sauces/flavorings include bloody mary, pickled watermelon, and peppadew pepper. Prices vary for single, half-dozen, and dozen options. Flights are $12 for a half dozen, $22 for a dozen.
Cooked: Six versions of roasted oysters, some with creative toppings like creamed spinach (the Popeye), chipotle bourbon, or coconut curry. Available in singles, half-dozens, and dozens, prices vary by preparation. Flights are $15/$25. Fried oysters and oyster grit cakes also are available.
Non-oyster: Chorizo-crusted cobia with local grits from Bayou Cora Farms and seasonal vegetables ($30).
Raw: Sold at market price by the half-dozen and dozen.
Cooked: Served fried in the Oyster Loaf sandwich ($18.79), an entrée (market price), or as part of a seafood platter ($35.89 for the Super Seafood Platter; create-your-own is market price).
Non-oyster: Doc’s, in business for some four decades, says its “almost-famous ‘sho-nuff’” seafood includes “the best fried shrimp in the entire civilized world” and the “WORLD’S BEST SEAFOOD GUMBO.” Folks swear by the fried chicken, too.
Raw: Gulf oysters are sold at market price by the half-dozen and dozen.
Cooked: Find fried oysters in a sandwich ($11.75), an entrée (market price), and in a dinner combo ($25.50).
Non-oyster: The fried shrimp is on the Alabama Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama” list. Gumbo, made from a 45-year-old recipe, also is a specialty. Bonus tip: They sell quarts of gumbo to go, too ($18.75).
Nearing the half-century mark, the restaurant perched on a pier over the beach proudly recycles its oyster shells as part of a program to create habitat for sea creatures in the Gulf.