Everglades City was first an American settlement after the Civil War, at first a trading post for sugar cane and a fishing and hunting destination. To this day, stone crab harvests (Everglades City is probably the largest commercial stone crab supplier in the US) and alligator hunts are a big part of the local economy.
So are tourists such as ourselves. We had decided to explore the Everglades and settled on an airboat ride with Totch’s Island Tours, the sole location offering a short 30 minute ride, which was deemed most suitable for the toddler and baby we’re carrying around South Florida with us.
And so, after a fun ride taking us through the Mangrove jungles and shallow water bays of the Everglades and the Waffle Jr. getting to hold a baby alligator, we were quite hungry.
We decided to drive around the area a little bit, searching for a suitable lunch spot while enjoying the scenery, all the way from Everglades City to Chokoloskee and then back.
We finally settled on the Oyster House Restaurant, “World Famous” stated the big red sign, avertising fresh seafood and steaks and calling itself “Stone Crab Central”. Quite the pitch.
The parking lot was almost empty, despite the noon hour fast approaching. Of course, we’re in the middle of the week in the middle of the winter.
The Oyster House is part of Miller’s World Resort, which includes cabins, a marina and of course a restaurant and bar.
Owner Robert Miller, a New York City developer and entrepreneur, bought the Oyster House in 1992 and renovated it, using Georgia hardwood pine, old shrimp boat latches and Seminole Indian woodcarvings. Regional artist Skip Gage was commissioned to paint a lifelike mural of Chokoloskee Bay in the dining room.
His son Jr. is co-owner of the place and is also a professional chef. The Oyster House’s signature Pan-Seared Grouper was featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation.
Inside, the walls are covered with photos of famous people who’ve came by, including Craig Melnick, Joe Peschi, James Billie, Sean Connery, Joe Peschi, numerous Miami Dolphins, Arnold Palmer, Joe Peschi, Danny Glover, Joe Namath, the crew of “Gone Fishin’ and Joe Peschi. The rest of the decor is very Florida kitschy, with hunting trophies of all kinds, including mounted fish and wildlife hanging on the walls, as well as an 8 foot alligator hanging around in the bar.
The Oyster House’s menu is obviously focussed on seafood, either broiled, blackened, fried or sautéed. Clam, Alligator, Shrimp, Stone Crab, Frog, Conch, Oyster, Grouper, Scallop, Tilapia, Lobster – your pick! There is also a few “Land Lover” options, but why would you bother?
I hesitated for a long time. This place is World Famous for it’s Oysters. It is Stone Crab Central. The Grouper is highly recommended. The Shrimp are fresh from the Mexico Gulf. They have Gator meat! And so on…
I ended up ordering a few items: the Florida Gator Appetizer and the Kicked Up Oysters to start, then Mrs. Waffle talked me into ordering a salad for my main – I picked the Large Shrimp Grilled on a Tossed Mixed Green, which came with a cup of Clam Chowder.
The appetizers, which I intended to share, came fairly quickly.
The Gator was cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed in olive oil with herbs and spices and served with corn chips. The owners claim they serve around a 1000 pounds of gator meat every month. Alligator is usually quite lean so I was not surprised to find these nuggets a little on the chewy side. However, the meat was fairly moist, all considering. Since the meat was sautéed, it’s delicate flavour was not overwhelmed by a batter nor was it covered up by the spices and herbs. What does alligator taste like? Well, it taste like chicken. Just kidding. Alligator taste like a rabbit who ate a lot of fish. I am not sure why they were served with corn chips, which were too dry. Perhaps a little bit of their famous mango salsa on the side would have helped?
The Kicked Up Oysters were indeed kicked up. 6 Gulf Oysters garnished with tomatoes, spinach, garlic and loads of jalapeños, covered with cheese and broiled. They were large, loaded and delicious. Served with a wedge of lemon and a garlic sauce, they packed a good level of heat without being overpowering.
It had been a lot of food already, thankfully I got help around the table before their mains arrived.
The New England clam chowder was a hit at our table, as many had ordered it.
They didn’t skimp on the clams, that’s for sure. The bacon was harder to find, but the flavour was there. Everything was thickened with the potatoes’ starch.
The chowder was really thick, rich, flavourful. Thankfully, we were served only a cup – the perfect portion.
Next up, the actual main course. Mrs. Waffle had opted for the Broiled Grouper Sandwich while I was glad my salad dressing was served on the side.
The grouper sandwich was quite simple. A big grouper filet, lettuce, one slice of tomato served on a bun. The fish was delicate and flaky, nicely done. The sandwich itself was pretty good, though the garnish could have been more creative. The sweet potato fries were golden dark, very crispy -maybe a little on the overdone side of things.
The base of my salad was a combination of iceberg and romaine lettuce. A couple of tomato wedges, a few slices of cucumbers, some shredded carrots and a couple of red onion rings completed it. On top, half a dozen plump cajun grilled Gulf Shrimp. They were pretty good, snappy and juicy. The cajun seasoning was quite mild, if flavourful. Not bad, and I got a good intake of fresh veggies in the process. Both dishes were served with a tasty hushpuppy- crispy on the outside and tender inside.
The service was efficient and friendly, and we all ate merrily – though we skipped dessert!