Who was the first person to eat a raw oyster? Without a doubt, this is one of the most vexing questions of all time. I don’t have the answer…I’m just glad it happened.
Helen (adorable wife) and I love raw oysters. In fact, we shared our first dozen together at Felix Oyster Bar, New Orleans, 1970. I wasn’t prepared to like them, but I was ultimately moved to act due to strong peer pressure from fellow Tennesseans gathered there to cheer for our Vols in the Sugar Bowl. It was love at first gulp.
On one of the first days of our visit to Panama City we were told by many, including AAA Guidebooks and Trip Advisor, that the best raw oysters were to be had at Hunt’s Oyster Bar. The day was a little gloomy and overcast which made it perfect for a long lunch. In addition, I was in the middle of my weight loss regimen therefore, a mere 86 calories per dozen fit perfectly into the program.
We arrived at Hunts at around 11:30 and promptly took two seats at the lunch counter. This was fortunate because within minutes there was a line forming outside. We ordered a dozen each and split a small plate of batter fried shrimp and coleslaw. The oysters were shucked right in front of us but we didn’t know we were in the presence of a celebrity. It turned out that our “shucker”, a young man named Honor Allen, was the 2016 Oyster Shucking National Champion who will be competing in the World Championship in Ireland later this year. An article about his championship can be read by clicking here. Honor was very skilled in his craft and our lunch was served quickly. Helen and I both agreed that these were the freshest and best tasting oysters we’ve ever had. Having them shucked by the champ only added to the pleasure.
A couple of days later we were in the mood for another dozen or so as well as a little sightseeing, so we decided to head east to the capital of the Oyster Republic–the city of Apalachicola. We left our cozy cabin at NSA Panama City and drove along Highway 98. After a stop at the Base Exchange at Tyndall AFB for Helen to add to her wardrobe we continued eastward. This part of the state is what I refer to as “Old Florida”. Southern Living referred to it as “Florida’s Quieter Side”. Driving past the older homes along the waterfront and the 50’s style motels, I am reminded of the Florida we visited as young children with my parents. It is a comfort to know that some things never change.
We passed through the towns of Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe before we arrived in the quaint city of Apalachicola. This town of slightly over 2,000 residents has a lot of charm and we had a grand time browsing through the small stores, galleries, and antique shops along the streets. Nevertheless, we were here for the oysters and kept an eye out for a shucking spot. We assumed that there would be plenty of choices since about ninety percent of Florida’s oyster crop come from Apalachicola waters. We checked out two of them.
We first walked to Up the Creek Raw Bar and though it had a great view of the waterfront from the deck, it wasn’t quite what we had in mind in the way of atmosphere. We walked back to our eventual lunch place at Hole in the Wall Seafood and Raw Bar…good choice. The small restaurant was crowded, but the tables were large and would accommodate several patrons. A very polite couple let us know that they were leaving and gave us a table to ourselves.
The Hole in the Wall Raw Bar had captured the same quaintness as the city of Apalachicola. There were baseball caps hung on the wall behind the bar and pictures on the walls of bygone days. Three men worked behind the bar shucking oysters while chatting with customers seated in front of them. Leaning against the bar was Barbara, the principal driver of the entire operation. This gal ran the place like an Army mess sergeant. She welcomed patrons with a throaty and direct, though polite, voice that could be heard by all. She took orders and relayed them to those responsible—again loud enough for everyone to hear. She chatted up the “shuckers”, occasionally sprinkling in a salty phrase here and there but, overall, this lady kept the joint moving like a well oiled machine.
Barbara arrived at our table when it was our turn to order. We promptly asked for two dozen of her finest and a grouper sandwich to split. She announced our order to the “shuckers” (and the crowd). Our oysters arrived after a bit and I did a double take when they were placed in front of us. I think these babies were some of the largest oysters I have ever seen. “Big Fatties” is the only way I could think to describe them. They left Helen and me wondering if we could get this done. We managed however and, although they were delicious, I have to give Hunts the nod for this trip mainly because they seemed a bit fresher. Nevertheless, I would recommend Hole in the Wall to anyone (and have).
After we downed our last cracker, we paid up and tipped Barbara and the boys generously and took off on a walk for some more exploring before heading back to Panama City. We were in search of antique shops which is our favorite browsing activity. Helen likes to look for Vaseline glass to add to her collection and I enjoy looking for old watches and (don’t laugh) souvenir sewing thimbles. We found none, but had fun anyway.
Our last stop in Apalachicola was at Oyster City Brewing Company. Earlier in the week Helen had tried Hooter Brown, a brew from this company at the Main Deck Grill and Pub at NSA Panama City. The beer was lightly flavored with chocolate and honey, and while such a thing was unthinkable to me, Helen had taken a liking to it so we picked up a small growler to go. My honey is pictured here with her purchase. (More pictures in the Gallery).
Although our day had been delightful, it was time to depart the Oyster Republic. We wanted to make the return drive along the scenic gulf coast in the daylight. After loading up, we moved on…heading back to Hunt’s in time to pick up gumbo and lobster bisque for dinner back at our cabin. We do love good food!
We returned home the next day, but left Panama City content and convinced that retirement is still the best gig going. We are so grateful that we can enjoy it at the pace we call Easin’ Along.
Weight loss…down 20 lbs.