Sugar-white sand lines gem-toned waters in Mexico Beach.
We found it! The ultimate restaurant in Mexico Beach. After forsaking Yelp and TripAdvisor, we gut-instincted it to Highway 98’s roadside Shipwreck Raw Bar. Well, technically, it’s just east of Mexico Beach – an unlikely named town in Panhandle Florida, free of trumped-up walls and border-crossings – in neighboring Port St. Joe.
I wanted oysters. More and more oysters. Toucan’s Tiki Bar had whetted my appetite with a basket of succulent, salty fried oysters straight from the source in oyster town Apalachicola, some 30 miles to the east.
Oysters, Hush Puppies, and Beachfront
So our first stop on our Mexico Beach chowdown mission was Toucan’s, which has been the go-to place since my first visit some 20 years ago. Toucan’s constitutes, aside from the beach, the town’s biggest tourist attraction. Funky and colorful in an Old Florida way, it settles right into the snow-white sand. Folks come for the day to sun, play volleyball, and bite into its big juicy burgers, Apalach oysters, and classic Panhandle fried food. But fried in a good way. The best way. I don’t even like hush puppies, but I could not stop eating Toucan’s. In short: a tough act to follow.
Breakfast at Sharon’s Café stuck to the Southern theme: neighborly with counter seating and booths and a waitress welcome of “morning y’all.” Of course we had to order biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak, although the waffles and pancakes were awfully tempting.
For lunch, we figured a place called Killer Seafood would serve us some raw oysters, but alas, not an oyster on the menu. I can roll with the punches when it comes to seafood, so the Killer Bread Bowl ended up on my plate.
On a chill January afternoon, it not only hit THE spot it hit every spot. Port St. Joe is known for its bay scallops and they, along with local pink shrimp, floated in a tomato-y broth well-seasoned with thyme, a bit of fennel, and other sundry savories.
I doused it with the house Killer Seafood Hot Sauce, bite-y with a horseradish base, and didn’t stop scooping and dipping until I reached the bowl’s gooey, doughy bottom, which made a sort of thickener and each bite a new delight.
My husband, Rob, had settled on a fried shrimp po’ boy. Southern-born, he thrives on the Panhandle’s penchant for fried. And the hush puppies here may have even trumped Toucan’s. Our vote was split there.
So when we landed at Shipwreck to find NO fried food, Rob was a bit disappointed. I, on the other hand, reveled in the selections of raw and baked oysters on the half shell – and at considerably more reasonable prices than at Toucan’s. Act followed!
We split a tray of half-dozen raws, which actually held eight. Eight squeaky fresh oysters with a cup of horseradish, a bottle of Crystal hot sauce, a squeezer of ketchup, and a sleeve of Saltines.
Next course: oyster stew for me and Wench’s Crab Bisque for him. The menu promised three oysters to a cup but, again, the kitchen seems a little rusty on math, and I happily slurped down five oysters stewed just to tender doneness in a rich broth of cream, butter, and oyster liquor. Absolutely perfect, like Christmas Eve all over again (a family tradition). The bisque was thick enough to stand the spool up in, and the high-flavor result of long, loving prep.
The Kicked Up a Notch steamed shrimp fired away with sriracha, cayenne, and Old Bay. Then the piece de resistance: The sample platter of oysters gave us the choice of three out of eight styles of oysters offered, four of each style.
The St. Joe Beached was our favorite – baked with bacon, cheddar, and feta. The Mexico Beached earned its name (and our love) with fresh pico de gallo, lime, and Mexican cheeses. Spinach and basil with panko bread crumbs and garlic butter filled the baked Rocky Beached oysters with subtler flavors.
We left quite proud of ourselves for discovering this gem without Yelp help, but as it turns out, it didn’t pop up because we were searching Mexico Beach. We did eventually find it rated 4.5 stars, but not listed among the top 10.