Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Up the Creek with Kate Upton
Up the Creek
313 Water Street
They call this the “Forgotten Coast.”
And a trip to the small town of Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast of Florida’s Panhandle will help you understand why.
There are no interstates here. The nearest airport is an hour and a half away.
This is the northwest corner of Florida with more in common culturally, geographically and politically with Alabama than Miami or Orlando.
The tea and Southern drawls are sweeter here.
The Spanish moss hangs thicker here.
And the pace of life is slower here.
Apalachicola’s quaint beauty and rustic isolation is probably why Sports Illustrated chose this town to shoot its 2012 Swimsuit issue with Kate Upton.
Any town good enough for Kate Upton is good enough for me.
Mickey Mouse has his charms, I suppose, but when I travel the backroads of the Sunshine State, it is sugary beaches, cold beer and salty oysters that I’m looking for.
Apalachicola and the “Forgotten Coast” is where I come to find them.
A tiny town of just 3,000 people, Apalachicola is synonymous with oysters.
The Apalachicola River drains out of the farmlands of Georgia and Alabama spilling its contents into Apalachicola Bay where fresh water collides with the salty Gulf of Mexico, creating the ideal brackish cauldron of seawater that oysters crave.
Blessed by geography and God’s grace, this town is perfectly situated to take advantage of the bounty of one of Earth’s perfect oyster estuaries.
90% of the oysters consumed in Florida (and two thirds of the oysters consumed in the Southeast) come from this little bay in the “forgotten” corner of Florida.
As you might expect, Apalach, as the locals call it, has quite a few options for knocking back cold beers and the local delicacies served on a half shell.
Like Apalach itself, Up the Creek benefits greatly from its location.
Rising high into the air hard against the waterfront, Up the Creek is the ideal place to eat oysters in this ideal oyster town.
Fresh Apalachicola oysters always taste good. But they just seem even tastier when you eat them outside on a big porch overlooking the water with an ice cold India Pale Ale in hand.
Since this is the middle of winter -- and as I already explained, this is a world away from the warmth of Miami -- I opted for the heated glassed-in half of the deck.
Somewhat surprising for this remote crevasse of the Deep South, Up the Creek had a very nice selection of craft beer along with the usual ubiquitous mass produced stuff.
On tap were two of my favorite IPAs on earth -- Southern Tier out of Upstate New York and Cigar City Jai Alai out of Tampa.
I alternated between the two, hoping to settle the debate in my mind as to which one I liked best.
Unfortunately the results of my testing were inconclusive as my palette and mind got foggier as the afternoon wore on.
The Cigar City Jai Alai IPA was a little sweeter with a fuller alcohol kick than the Southern Tier but both are top notch facsimiles of the style.
I think. The details are a bit fuzzy.
It was an expensive experiment as Up the Creek charged six bucks a pint -- triple the price of the Bud and Miller Lite taps.
I think these small town places in the rural South are catching on that big city tourists want good beer -- but they are going to charge the hell out of them for it.
Meanwhile the locals snicker as they suck on their two dollar long necks of red white and blue.
Oh well. That’s American entrepreneurship at its best.
I’m certainly not going to fault them for giving me what I want and making a profit off it.
In this case, good beer was just an added bonus because I was here to eat local Apalachicola oysters regardless of beer selection.
Up the Creek didn’t disappoint.
I’ve eaten a lot of oysters in my day, but these were some of the most exquisite.
I ordered them in two ways -- steamed and “Southern Fella”.
They looked like a work of art -- almost too good to eat.
Decadent is the only way to describe them.
Unlike oysters baked with goops of melted cheese, these gourmet oysters allowed the toppings to complement the oysters rather than overwhelm them.
I mean, isn’t that the point of eating oysters? To actually taste the oysters?
You are paying a buck a piece for them -- an absolute bargain, by the way, compared to the price you’ll pay for oysters in Portland, Oregon or New York City. You want to make sure you get that taste of the sea you can only get from a freshly shucked oyster.
If I wanted lasagna on the half shell, I’d have gone out for Italian and skipped the oysters altogether.
The parmesan butter and the tender greens enhanced the flavor of the oysters while the bacon lended a smoky crunch.
Bacon enhances the flavor of EVERYTHING!
But as good as the gourmet “Southern Fella” oysters were, I have to say the more simple steamed oysters were even better.
Unencumbered by competing -- though complimentary -- flavors, the succulence of Apalachicola’s famous shellfish shone more brightly with nothing but some butter, parsley and seasoned salt.
I jazzed a couple up with some Ed’s Red Hot Sauce, a local cocktail/hot sauce hybrid made up the road in Port St. Joe.
Like a miracle bra on Kate Upton, it was good…
What made these oysters so extraordinary was the labor and care that went into serving them.
First of all, Up the Creek only serves the freshest, plumpest oysters.
Each and every oyster is shucked by hand, freed from the shell by severing the attaching muscle and left to steam in a bath of butter for the absolute perfect duration of time.
There is no grit or grime or shell fragments to deal with. All the work is done for you. All you have to do is pop the oyster in your mouth and enjoy.
Easy and delicious.
Almost too easy.
I found myself exclaiming the virtues of my oysters to my waiter while ordering up another couple dozen.
“I know what you mean! I’ve been enjoying them my entire life,” said my friendly attentive waiter in a coastal drawl.
I say too easy because the tab for my afternoon of oysters and beer came to nearly seventy bucks.
But worth every penny.
In fact, the next day I came back again.
While the temperature wasn’t any warmer, this time the sun was out.
So I opted for the open air section of the deck facing the bay and the oyster trawlers tied up to the pilings.
I scored the only picnic table in the sun, a crucial coup considering that 60 degrees with a breeze off the bay wasn’t going to work for me in the shade.
If possible, the beer and oysters tasted even better in the sweet salt air with warming sunshine beating down on a bright blue afternoon.
After more of those delicious oysters and a couple more pints of IPA, I decided to explore the Up the Creek menu a bit further.
You think I would pass up the alligator, sausage, shrimp and crab gumbo?
Not a chance.
As good as it sounded -- big chunks of gator and sausage in a spicy crab meat broth warmed me up as the pelicans enviously swooped by searching for their own meal.
I had to try the alligator burger too.
Made with fresh ground up alligator meat and topped with a sweet mayo and a spicy slaw, this was one of the strangest sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
It’s hard to describe.
Okay. I know that is not helping much.
Like a gatorey chicken salad? Is that better?
I don’t know.
It was odd. The meat was white, crumbly and surprisingly bland. Most of the flavor came from the tasty condiments. And the dousing I gave it with some tableside “Tiger Sauce”.
Oh, well. At least I can now say I’ve tried an alligator meat burger.
That might be the most I can recommend about it.
The side dish was the highlight -- fried green beans.
Vegetables taste so much better when they are breaded and deep fried. Especially when dipped in Up the Creek’s homemade rémoulade sauce available on the topping bar inside.
As I paid my tab and hit the road for civilization, I realized that this place is the ideal personification of everything an oyster-eating journey to the Forgotten Coast should be.
Up the Creek has the freshest plumpest oysters and the nicest views of this quaint bayside town.
Now I can see why Sports Illustrated chose this place as the backdrop for shooting Kate Upton in her various states of undress.
The American South never looked so good.
I wonder if she’ll ever come back to Apalach.
I know I will.
Hey, Kate, if you want to meet me on the deck at Up the Creek for a few dozen oysters, the t-shirt is on me.
Rating: Bought two shirts! (One for me and one for Kate.)