Visiting The Oyster Capital On Florida’s Forgotten Coast
One very dreary, drizzly day followed by a day and night of torrential downpours, then finally sunshine! It did kind of dampen our plans for the week but no big deal!
How could we possibly justify complaining about a day of rain after hearing countless reports of record breaking, massive amounts of snow, blizzard conditions, layers of ice and frigid temps in New England! It’s one thing to have a major snow storm but to have multiple ones dumping over a foot of snow one after the other is just unbelievable. Icy roads and impassable walkways, frigid single digit temps and below zero wind chills, buried cars, mountains of snow making shoveling and snow removal impossible, transit systems at a standstill, roofs collapsing, and businesses losing revenue and with all the snow
days weeks, the kids will be going to school until August! Jeesh! We’ve experienced first hand bad winters but not quite like this one – New England is experiencing the winter from hell to be sure! To all our family, friends and everyone in New England dealing with it all, remember Spring will eventually come – it may take until July for all the snow to melt but it will eventually go away! Hang in there!
Oh and it figures this is the first winter we have ever stored Quantum Leap (our boat) in the water! So far as we know it is fine despite all the snow and the cove probably freezing over. The area around the boats have bubblers to keep the water from freezing and the boat is covered with shrink wrap so most of the snow should slide right off. Rob also installed a monitoring system we picked up at the Newport boat show last fall ($79) that reports battery voltages, inside temp, high water, bilge pump runs, if the door has been opened, gps location, etc. He checks daily and has various alarms set and so far all systems are behaving normally.
Anyway, with the bright blue sky, gleaming sun, and temps on the coolish side – no, we are not basking in 70 to 80 degree weather, we are on the panhandle of northern FL after all – off we went to the nearby historic village of Apalachicola. On previous visits on our way to “someplace else”, as we passed through the town we would comment on what a cute town it was and that we should someday take some time to visit. Well, “someday” was here.
As we headed out from the campground, driving down Gulf Beach Road, we couldn’t resist stopping to find a geocache hidden near an oyster skiff on display across from the beach. A nearby sign explained how the skiff was an example of a typical boat used to harvest oysters in Apalachicola Bay and the impact that hurricanes have on the industry. Lots of similarities to the Quahog Skiffs found in RI’s Narragansett Bay and thereabouts. After soaking in all the interesting information, we got down to business looking for the geocache. Eureka, another find!
Derived from an Indian name which has been interpreted to mean “friendly people”, Apalachicola is steeped in history with over 900 historic homes and buildings in the city’s historic district and a rich maritime culture seen on its working waterfront. The town has roots back to the early 1800’s when it was established as a port for the cotton trade and was considered the third largest port on the Gulf of Mexico. By the late 1800’s with the expansion of the railroads, lumber mills developed and many of the magnificent, historic homes were built during that time by the lumber magnates. By the end of the 19th century, oysters, shrimp, crabs and fish became a major industry.
Today, it is still a working port for oyster harvesters and shrimpers and in past years more than 90% of Florida’s oyster production was harvested from Apalachicola Bay providing 10% of the oysters consumed in the rest of the country. Note however that the Oyster population in Apalachicola is in trouble and may have to shut down completely if corrective action is not taken. We noticed Apalachicola oysters were available in most Apalachicola restaurants, but weren’t an hour or two down the coast. Let’s hope the trend can be reversed.
Shrimp, blue crab and fin fish are also very important commercially in Apalachicola, bringing in over $11 million worth of seafood to Franklin County docks annually.
Buildings from the 19th century that once served as ship’s chandleries, old net factories, and a sponge warehouse now house a mix of eclectic and trendy shops and boutiques, restaurants, galleries and meticulously restored hotels and B & B’s.
It was along the waterfront that we had a long conversation with Eric (and his wife, Caitlin) who turned out to be the first mate on the nearby shrimp boat named Miss Donna J.
With only three people on board (the captain, the first mate and another person), they travel the Gulf as far west as LA and as far south as the Keys harvesting shrimp for 30+ day stints at a time. Once the shrimp are caught using between two and four nets which are dragged in the mud, they are stored in a brine solution and then flash frozen so they don’t spoil while the boat is out at sea. Sounded like a lot of hard work not only catching the shrimp but also keeping the nets in good condition and sorting out all the other fish and junk caught in the nets. Eric said they are paid about $3.60/pound for the shrimp which the stores and restaurants sell for three times that price! Interesting people!
Strolling around the town, we popped in and out of a few shops looking at some of the goods produced by local artists. Neat place!
Of course, we couldn’t leave the “Oyster Capital” without our fix of oysters (cooked of course) so where to go for lunch? After reading reviews, we decided to try The Owl Cafe which seemed to be well liked. On the first floor is a gift shop and tap room where they serve 16 American craft beers on tap as well as appetizers and sandwiches. Up the stairs on the second floor is the main dining room which is where we were seated.
Nice ambiance and good service but we weren’t all that impressed with the food. An assortment of different sized fried oysters for an appetizer ($11) which were a little overcooked and didn’t have much flavor, followed by our entrees, both recommended by the waitress: Fried Shrimp ($16) for me and Fish & Chips ($14) for Rob. Unlike a nice fried filet of fish that we are used to, these were fish “fingers”, thin strips of fried fish. Each was served with a decent garden salad. Didn’t care for the coating on either the fish or shrimp so I would say our meals were just okay. After eating all of that so so fried stuff, I wish I hadn’t! Probably won’t go back or recommend it to anyone.
Afterwards we did a little more exploring while driving around the outskirts of the town followed by a stop at Lafayette Park where there was a long pier with a scenic view of the water.
Heading back towards town, we had a strong urge for some steamed Gulf shrimp thinking this would be a light supper after our big lunch. Stopping at the 13 Mile Seafood Market on the waterfront recommended to us by Eric that morning, we ordered two pounds of steamed medium shrimp. We were told that it would be about 10 – 15 minutes. No problem.
Guess we should have been a little concerned when the guy kept taking the shrimp out of the steamer to look at it, then putting it back in again but we were distracted, busy talking to another customer. Guess we should have been concerned when it was taking a lot longer than 10 – 15 minutes. Guess we should have been concerned when the shrimp was taken from the steamer and immediately placed in a Styrofoam box without being cooled or iced (unbeknowst to us until we were back at the coach, it had been covered in aluminum foil in the container). Guess we should have mentioned that we had a 30 minute drive and perhaps another hour or two before we would be ready to eat it. Guess we should have asked them to pack it in ice to stop it from steaming. Guess we expected them to ask us. Guess I should have cooked it myself.
Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! No it wasn’t good. Mushy, difficult to peel and totally tasteless! Worse shrimp we’ve ever had. We suspect that they overcooked it to begin with, then being covered with the foil, it continued to steam in the container for hours. Two pounds of shrimp in the trash! What a waste of food and money! Boy, oh, boy, were we disappointed! Ham sandwiches for supper anyone?
Despite our not so great food mishaps, it was a lovely day. Glad we took the time to visit the Oyster Capital!
The next morning we would be leaving St. George Island State Park, stay tuned to find out where.
ya ya ya, enough about the snow!
I AM interested in the boat monitor though. Love the Newport Boat Show.
see you (not) soon enough!
Pam and Byron
Hmm what a winter we came back too. Snowing currently….. Envy you now… Didn’t know about boat monitor…..we are keeping warm by our fireplace!
Of all the winters you could have spent in NH, you had to pick this one! When do you head back to Vero? Bet you can’t wait! Currently in AL where it’s been in the 30’s at night and only the 40’s during the day but at least we don’t have to shovel anything. Stay warm!
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