Dining in Apalachicola


If you’re not from Florida, you may not be familiar with our “Forgotten Coast.” Surprisingly, many who live in our odd state are even unfamiliar with the best of what Florida has to offer. I’m not going to get all specific on you and tell you where it is, for I don’t want clouds of golfers and shoppers descending and turning it into the rest of Florida. If you want to go there, you need to search for it, earn the right to be there. (Bring your fishing pole.)

I will tell you this much: the Forgotten Coast’s industry is fishing and oyster harvesting. Apalachicola, a historic port town, in 1851 received the first patent for mechanical air conditioning. Oh yes, doctor and inventor John Gorrie is considered “the father of air conditioning” because of his invention of a machine that made ice to cool the rooms of his yellow fever patients. Thank you, Dr. Gorrie, especially in August.

I’ve loved Apalachicola and the neighboring fishing village of Eastpoint since I first came upon the area on an aimless road trip 24 years ago. And I’ve returned for brief weekends, thrown a line under the bridge, pulled in a flounder or trout, cooked it and ate it. But for this first vacation of mine in three years, I had four days here. And fishing wasn’t so hot the first few days. After a trip to a seafood market and a cookout on the beach, in between fresh and lovely oysters expertly shucked at Papa Joe’s at Scipio Creek, I had to go pay someone to feed me a meal.

I avoided the two restaurants flanking the Apalachicola River Inn where we stayed, although the breakfasts at Caroline’s were quite good. The first afternoon I walked into Boss Oyster and waited for three employees to stop chatting so I could ask about live music. Well I wouldn’t eat THERE, a joint with undisciplined servers doesn’t deserve my money. There are a handful of restaurants scattered around the tiny town but they seem so modern, which would wreck my retro-Florida-coastal mental mode. Could I survive on oysters alone? Would I feel guilty forcing my husband to subsist on Papa Joe’s fried grouper for four days?

At the nearly empty local hole-in-the wall bar, formerly known since the thirties as The Oasis, over a two dollar pint I ruminate about my obsession for all things “authentic” and “historic” and where to eat when Hubby gets up from his nap. Looking out the window to the street, a couple wanders by, heads uplifted, as if their car has broken down en route to Disney and they’re now forced to spend the night in Podunk-ville. I want to yell out to them, “Best oysters are at Scipio Creek!” An old lady in pink sitting catty-corner is telling me she knows Bob Dylan and that he’s singing the southern rock tune now playing. Her lips are applied in hot pink like Greta Garbo. She should go eat some oysters.

Leaving the bar formerly known as The Oasis, I walk across the tiny street to the Tap Room, look in the window, crowded. What the hell. Hubby and I are there later, paying this time $3.75 for a bottle of domestic beer. We could be anywhere––Chicago, Tampa, Seattle ––but I’m impressed with the sense of humor of this place. The beer menu sports a quote: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer,” Henry Lawson. And I’m googling the guy on my cell phone, knowing this acts blends me with the rest of the geeks sitting at the bar. More humor: above the restroom door a sign reads: “Beer return.” Okay, I like the place. Even though it’s so TRENDY.

Having dipped my toe into 21st century Apalachicola via the Tap Room, we venture over to Tamara’s Tapas Bar on Market Street for non-oyster and non-fried food eats. I’m feeling brave, I can do this, I love tapas when I’m anywhere else, so why not? The interior is sleek-modern, complete with stemless wine glasses and a nod to cocktail culture, but housed in an early 19th century building, so it still IS Apalachicola. Hubby’s now a convert from fried grouper to sesame crusted tuna. My mixed greens with goat cheese is so sweet and delicious, I don’t even bitch about the lack of a chilled plate, a major peeve of mine.

We’re back at the tapas bar the next night in fact, hubby chowing on his new favorite tuna dish, and I’m told the soft-shell crab is fresh, not the watery frozen puddle of stuff we’re offered in Sarasota, so I’m all over the Thai crab tacos. I’m happy here but I feel like a traitor, like I’d packed up for camping but snuck off to a MacDonald’s instead of heating the can of beans on the butane stove. It’s too easy to huddle into the comforts of casual fine dining, when I should be cooking my own fish that I did catch on this last day. But I am tired and we’re going home tomorrow and when I look out the window to the quiet street, I see the lovely old buildings of Apalachicola, a quaint scene from a comfy tapas bar, while eating fresh soft shell crab tacos and sipping Pinot Grigio from a stemless glass.

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