I’m “old school” and only eat oysters in months whose spelling includes an “R”. Yes, I realize we now have cleaner waters flowing over oyster beds these days and have excellent refrigeration technology, but I’m still not a fan of oysters taken from warm water. Warmer conditions mean an increased danger of contamination, and oysters are filter feeders with the potential for concentrating harmful bacteria, like Vibrio vulnificus, in warm water. For that reason, I consider February to be the peak of oyster season here in Florida.
I don’t get many arguments when I say that the nation’s best oysters come from Wakulla County on Florida’s Big Bend. Oystermen from Panacea and Shell Point have carefully protected their “crops” for generations, and those “fields” produce some of the tastiest oysters available. Salty and fat, these oysters are best savored either “raw” or with just a touch of horseradish or cocktail sauce. And they’re certainly not the oysters you let slide down the back of your throat without chewing. However, many folks like to eat oysters “dressed” and complex recipes like Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville headline menus from Florida to Texas. And every so often, something simple just jumps up off the table, begging you to take a bite.
That’s the story behind the Oysters Supreme and the Oysters Nacho at Ouzts’ Too Oyster Bar, located on the west side of the St. Marks River in Newport. This Wakulla County watering hole has been there for over three-quarters of a century, and is going strong, attracting an array of characters eager to chow down on fresh-shucked oysters and smoked local mullet. Owner Dorthy White and her crew pride themselves in oysters shucked “as they’re ordered” and a relaxed atmosphere that includes live music, karaoke and even guitar pickin’ in the “toilet garden” out back. And while oysters “on the half shell” headline the Outzs’ Too menu, they offer these two simple twists for patrons who enjoy their oysters warm or spicy. These variations are easy to make and will certainly please even the least adventurous guest at your table or happy hour.
Oysters Supreme/Oysters Nacho
Arrange a dozen or so small or medium shucked oysters (Save the large ones to eat raw!) on a microwaveable plate or platter. Take care to free the oyster from the bottom shell when you’re shucking as that makes eating easier. Put about a half-teaspoon of butter on each oyster, and then add either a teaspoon of chopped cooked bacon or a slice of pickled jalapeño pepper. Top with some shredded Cheddar cheese and microwave on high power for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how well done you like your oysters. Serve with cold beer—of course!