I went into this year’s Florida trip saddened by the fact that Avenue Sea had closed before I ever had a chance to eat there. Last year, my parents took Sam to dine at the restaurant at which the kitchen was under the direction of (real) Chef David Carrier, who had worked for Thomas Keller and with Grant Achatz. I had the flu and received a lovely doggie bag. I waited all year for the chance to go back and see what Carrier was doing, only to discover that Avenue Sea closed in December. Clearly, I would be eating well, but I would not be eating fancy on this trip.
Which really ceased to be a tragedy of even minor proportions as soon as I ate my first oyster. There are not many restaurants in Apalachicola where I have never eaten, but Papa Joe’s had somehow never come up. It’s a little remote from the center of town, situated on the quiet bay, bordered by docks and offering a beautiful view of shrimp and oyster boats coming in with their catch. The restaurant has the perfect non-ambiance for a seafood restaurant on the water; clean and nautical with a porch featuring huge, salt-pitted windows for watching boats, sunsets and fishing sea birds. It was my first meal in the South after a year, and I was delighted to have to order my tea “unsweet,” and to know that my lunch would be accompanied by the ubiquitous hush puppies. I hate them, actually, but I do not feel that I am really in thge South until I see them on my plate.
The menu at Papa Joe’s promises a veritable oyster wonderland. There’s oyster stew, fried oysters, fried oysters in sandwiches, oysters on the half shell, steamed oysters and oysters baked with a mind-boggling number of topping combinations. Think is, if you haven’t seen an oyster for a while, you don’t probably want it topped with jalapenos and cheese, or wrapped in bacon. You want to taste the oyster. A real purist would have started with an order of raw specimens on the half shell, but Sam is pretty squeamish about the way raw oysters look (and all that slurping) so I had them fried. My father ordered the oyster stew, which I tasted and found to be a perfect, subtle cream soup with plenty of plump oysters. My fried oysters were sublime – very lightly breaded, no grease flavor or feel, and lots of hot, sweet oyster. The fries were also excellent, and I actually ate a hush puppy (or, more accurately, I bit into one) and found it curiously sweet. Overall, Papa Joe’s was a perfect beginning to my week of unabashed oyster worship, and it’s my current gold standard for fried oysters.
We never went back to Papa Joe’s on this trip for all kinds of reasons – too many other restaurants we love, too many beautiful days when we didn’t want to leave the beach and cross the bridge to leave the Island. Next year, though, I am going to try to make it there twice; once to have oysters on the half shell, even if I have to sit at a separate table, and once to try one of the baked oysters with toppings.
301 B Market Street
Apalachicola, Florida 32320