Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Fresh Florida Oysters? There’s No App for That
Bayside Seafood Restaurant
500 East Highway 98
No doubt about it. The internet is a great tool for finding cool places to eat and drink while cruising America’s back roads.
But sometimes even the Google Maps app on your smart phone isn’t smarter than just plain old dumb luck.
Yep. No matter how high the IQ of your smart phone, just driving through town is the only way to discover a place like Bayside Seafood.
That’s because Bayside Seafood just opened a couple days before I cruised through Eastpoint.
The place literally isn’t even on the Google Map yet.
The NSA still hasn’t confirmed its existence.
In fact, this review you are reading just may be the first and only review of Bayside Seafood you’ll read on the entire World Wide Web -- at least for a few weeks anyway.
Eastpoint is situated at the eastern end of Apalachicola Bay, perhaps the most productive and famous oyster estuary in the world.
While the namesake town of Apalachicola across the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge may get all the glory and bed and breakfast tourists, Eastpoint is the business end of the bay.
The wharf here is lined with all work/no play oyster processing houses and docks.
Refrigerated eighteen wheelers back up and pull out of the loading docks from sunrise to sunset, hauling the Southeast’s best oysters to fancy expense account steak houses in Manhattan and DC to be sold for $40 Oysters Rockefeller appetizers.
Wouldn’t it be cool to find a little shack among all these bustling docks to sit a spell and slurp down some fresh-from-the-bay oysters, long before they end up on some feeding-at-the-federal-taxpayer-trough lobbyist’s expense account?
Oh well. According to Mr. Google, no such place exists in Eastpoint.
But sometimes Mr. Google isn’t quite as up to speed as Suit757.
I couldn’t help but notice the gleaming “Bayside Seafood Restaurant” signs lining both sides of Highway 98.
“Perfect,” I thought as I wheeled my car into a parking spot by the front door.
The signs may be fresh out of the Vista Print boxes, but the building Bayside Seafood occupies has plenty of weathered charm.
Built on pilings anchored to the oyster shell-lined shore, clearly Bayside Seafood is not the first rodeo for this rustic bayfront shack.
But she cleans up well.
Nautical knickknacks and beer signs decorate the freshly painted walls.
Unfortunately the brand new Sweetwater Brewery metal signs do not translate onto the actual beer menu.
The South’s most ubiquitous microbrew, Sweetwater 420, may serve to liven up the décor, but you can’t order one here.
Like many rural joints along the Florida coast, the most exotic brew available was Yuengling, my eternal second choice beer by default.
On this bright sunny but chilly winter afternoon, my oyster eating companion and I bravely chose to be the only people to sit outside on the screened-in porch.
As long as I could feel the February sun on the back of my neck, I could forget about the fact that the temperature was hovering in the upper 50s.
But the sights, sounds and smells of the bay more than compensated for the chill in the air.
Tiny oyster skiffs hardly big enough for two oystermen motored into the wharf laden with bushels of freshly harvested oysters.
Minutes later, they would motor back out into the bay, oyster tongs at the ready.
Oysters don’t get any fresher than this.
I watched the young guy shuck my oysters by hand at the outdoor oyster bar.
If you are adventurous enough to take a bit of a risk, raw oysters are the best way to go.
Freshly shucked from their shells, freshly plucked from Apalachicola Bay, these beauties had the subtle salty flavor of the sea.
If you are particularly concerned about hepatitis, you can opt for the more touristy baked oysters.
Baked oysters are for oyster eaters who don’t like the taste of oysters.
Kinda like how Bud Light Lime is the beer for beer drinkers who don’t like the taste of beer.
That being said, baked oysters can be tasty -- if you don’t overload them with distracting ingredients that camouflage the briny goodness of the oyster itself.
With that in mind, I opted for the more subtle parmesan and butter baked oysters rather than the more exotic concoctions on the menu.
Unfortunately the stringy gobs of melted cheese overwhelmed the flavor of the oyster. I’ve never found cheese to be a good complement to the subtle flavor of oysters.
Oh well. Next time I’ll go with just garlic and butter.
But the most exquisite menu item of all was Bayside’s oyster stew -- an ideal warm-me-up for this winter afternoon.
Thick with fresh, plump oysters, this was the best oyster stew that has ever graced my taste buds.
Thicker, creamier, butterier than most oyster stews, it was decadence in a bowl.
As I paid my tab at the front register I complimented the owner on her stew -- and asked her what set her oyster stew apart from the thin, skim milk-like concoctions most restaurant serve.
“Good fresh oysters,” she said modestly.
True. But I’m pretty sure there is more to it than that.
Coincidently, I bumped into her first cousin the next afternoon at Apalachicola’s venerable Dixie Theatre. In small Southern towns sometimes it seems that everyone is kin to everyone.
I just happened to be raving about the fantastic oyster stew I had across the bay.
“Yeah, that’s my cousin,” she said proudly. “She just opened that place a couple days ago. She’s a great cook.”
I tried to coax the secret from her.
The best I managed to get was, “I think she uses that canned cream,” which I took to mean evaporated milk.
She claimed ignorance beyond that.
I’m still not sure if she was just guarding the family secrets, but there has to be onions, Old Bay and lots and lots of butter in there too.
Oh, and good fresh oysters fresh out of Apalachicola Bay.
That’s what I came to this “Forgotten” corner of the Florida coast to eat.
And guess what? There’s no app for that.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.