Apalachicola : Florida's pearl on the panhandle

  • Article by: TRACEY TEO , Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Updated: February 22, 2013 - 10:51 AM

The state’s “forgotten coast,” along the panhandle, supplies Florida with wild oysters.

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St. George Island State Park and nearby Apalachicola are part of Florida’s “forgotten coast,’’ beloved for its non-touristy vibe and oysters.

Photo: William Kronholm, Associated Press

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For oyster lovers, Apalachicola is Florida’s pearl. There are many reasons to visit Franklin County, that conglomerate of tiny panhandle communities often called the “forgotten coast” because of its non-touristy, Old Florida vibe. There are the uncrowded beaches on St. George Island, the St. James Bay Golf Resort in Carrabelle, charter fishing in Alligator Point and bird-watching in Eastpoint. For many people, though, there’s nothing as satisfying as Apalachicola’s world-famous oysters.

 

Most oysters are farmed, but Apalachicola, or “Apalach” as the locals call it, is home to miles of wild oyster beds that supply 90 percent of Florida’s oysters. Apalachicola River and Bay converge with the Gulf of Mexico to form the ideal oyster incubator.

At Up the Creek Raw Bar, which overlooks Scipio Creek and the Apalachicola River, a small crowd gathers around a chalkboard to check out the specials.

A delicate, pan-fried flounder cake served atop a mountain of house-made gnocchi drizzled with a light white wine cream sauce is a big hit. Chef Brett Gormley, an Apalachicola native, is known for his culinary creativity, and he has a special talent for marrying fresh local seafood with globally inspired flavors.

But first and foremost, this is a raw bar, and Gormley can shuck an oyster faster than you can say, “Pass the hot sauce.” That’s not something he learned in culinary school. Like many locals, he’s been doing it since he was a kid.

With to raw oysters, Gormley says, less is more.

“I treat them delicately and add as little to them as possible,” says Gormley. You want to enhance the oyster’s actual flavor, not cover it with other flavors.” Gormley knows not every oyster lover is a purist, content to eat them raw on the half-shell, so he’s happy to prepare customer favorites like oysters Moscow, raw oysters topped with horseradish-infused sour cream and a sprinkle of sustainable American caviar.

Gormley also prides himself on his oysters mignonette. He makes a mean mignonette sauce, putting his own spin on the French classic by adding fiery habanero peppers fresh from his garden instead of the milder white or black ground pepper.

The Blue Parrot Oceanfront Cafe is one of the few restaurants on St. George Island. In fact, it’s one of the few businesses, and it’s as close as anything comes to being a “happening place” on this 28-mile barrier island that can be reached only by crossing a four-mile bridge that spans St. George Sound.

City dwellers come to the island to decelerate because there’s nothing stressful there beyond maybe losing a flip-flop while chasing their pooch in the waves.

Rows of pastel-colored beach houses with names like “Amazing Sunrise” and the tongue-in-cheek “All Daddy’s Money” are hideaways for those who want nothing to come between them and endless stretches of exquisitely white sand.

There’s not much here, and that’s the attraction. No fast-food restaurants, either, so for a quick but delicious meal, sun worshipers head to the Blue Parrot for a basket of crunchy, deep-fried conch fritters, peel ‘n’ eat shrimp or a plate of raw oysters.

Oyster enthusiasts can be assured they will get the very best the bay has to offer. That’s because owner Steven Rash also owns the Water Street Seafood Co. in Apalachicola, so only the cream of the oyster crop makes it to the Blue Parrot’s umbrella-covered tables.

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    WHERE TO STAY: Collins Vacation Rentals rents beach houses on St. George Island (1-877-875-9062; www. collinsvacationrentals.com).The Coombs Inn is a...

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