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The Fuss About Apalachicola Bay Oysters

June 11, 2014

For more than 10,000 years, the complex estuarine system and coastal environment of Florida’s Franklin County have offered up nature’s bounty in an unparalleled harvest. Oyster shell mounds give evidence that Apalachicola Bay oysters were first appreciated, valued and enjoyed by Native cultures. In contemporary times, the unique ecology of the Apalachicola Bay estuarine system has provided not only wholesome seafood and organic agricultural products, but also a cherished way of life for generations of local families.

Whatever, you must visit Apalachicola and taste the amazing oysters.

Shellfish aficionados concur that the Apalachicola Bay oyster is like no other—often described as “sweet” and “non-gritty.” It is ironic that the oysters, while providing so much culinary enjoyment, also provide a natural water filter which is essential to maintaining the water quality of the Apalachicola Bay estuarine system—one of the last pristine watersheds in the northern hemisphere.

Smokey Parrish, an Apalachicola native and fourth-generation seafood industry worker, notes that while Apalachicola Bay oysters taste distinctive and delicious, they also are both wholesome and nutritious. These oysters can be enjoyed guilt-free, as one dozen raw oysters contain only about 110 calories, are iron-rich and high in calcium and vitamin A.

Interestingly, Apalachicola has the only Oyster Industry Lab in the United States, maintained in affiliation with the University of Florida’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. The local lab ensures quick access to Apalachicola Bay for water quality monitoring, as well as the most advanced analytical testing of local oyster quality and safety.

Leavins Seafood, Inc., a seafood wholesale company located in Apalachicola for 36 years, has pioneered many industry innovations now accepted as industry standards, including plastic packaging buckets (which replaced the older metal buckets prone to rusting). It is the best known.

Though oysters have been commercially sold in Apalachicola for more than 170 years, cultivation of oysters by introducing oyster shells near natural beds to encourage juvenile oysters (commonly referred to as “spat”) to settle did not take place until around 1918. This process of active cultivation, coupled with the increasingly wide-spread use of pasteurization and arrival of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad, were primary factors in the development of the oyster harvesting industry in Franklin County. Today, oystering is a way of life for an estimated 1300 area families—many third or fourth generation oystermen—whose harvesting traditions have not changed in 100 years.

On the restaurant scene is Harry A’s Restaurant and Bar is a long-time local favorite for casual dining and serves a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oysters on the half shell, fish sandwiches, fried or grilled seafood baskets and salads all are available. Entrees include an “island low country boil” with shrimp, corn, new potatoes, sausage and a salad, and fresh seafood entrees such as shrimp, scallops and catch of the day can be prepared either fried, grilled or steamed. Anglers have the option of bringing in the day’s catch to be prepared by Harry A’s chef.

Blue Parrot Ocean Front Café on West Gorrie Drive has the island’s largest and most fun deck for outdoor dining, and offers the only tiki bar on the beach. Fresh seafood salads, sandwiches and entrees are featured, along with steaks and signature Po-boys. One of the area’s most popular hangouts.

Eddie Teaches’ Raw Bar on East Pine Avenue is one of the island’s newest gathering places, and a place where sandy feet are not only welcome, but encouraged! Small and intimate, the open-air bar seats only around 20 patrons, where fresh oysters, seafood gumbo, chili and grilled hamburgers are served. Each Friday night, a traditional fish fry is offered.

St. George Island also hosts an annual Oyster Spat Festival each October, a lively celebration of the beloved bi-valve. Tasty oysters and other seafood delicacies are readily available at the food court, and proceeds benefit pre-selected local charities. And for the “hands-on” visitors, oystermen participate with their boats to personally demonstrate the particulars of oyster harvesting. Live music, a 5k run, parade and fishing round out the festivities.

The first weekend in November is when Apalachicola celebrates The Florida Seafood Festival—the oldest festival of its kind statewide. For 44 years, seafood lovers have gathered here to enjoy two days filled with copious amounts of fresh seafood, the blessing of the fleet and the Miss Florida Seafood pageant. Festivities include an oyster eating and shucking contest, arts and crafts vendors, a parade, music, the Redfish Run footrace and crowing of King Retsyo. To round out the celebration, the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce hosts an oyster roast on Friday and oysters are the main attraction. Featured wines, microbrews, music and dancing help to ensure a good time is had by all.

From gourmet to down-home–whether you prefer to dress up or down—there is no shortage of memorable dining opportunities for everyone in Franklin County, the home of the world’s best oyster.

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Information compiled from Franklin County and from a recent visit to the area.

Keywords: FOOD, FOOD FACTS, OYSTERS
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