Boathouse Oyster Bar – 25 Years on the Half Shell
There are plenty of places in Destin to get oysters on the half-shell, but relatively few that have been serving them for a quarter of a century. Boathouse Oyster Bar is celebrating its 25th year on the harbor, proudly proclaiming itself as "Destin's Best Kept Secret." My family and I ate there for lunch on a recent weekend, and I guess the secret wasn't being very well kept that day. We had plenty of company, in the form of locals and out-of-towners. Most seemed to have eaten there before.
The Boathouse is pretty no-frills, though fans of hanging dollar bills as decorations will find a virtual grotto of George Washingtons inside. The currency creeps along both walls and ceiling, tacked side by side with photos of visitors, fishing triumphs and assorted comrades-in-beer. Dining is both inside and out, tables and chairs are plain but serviceable, and open windows provided a cross-breeze from the water, which is about 10 steps from the door. There's a bandstand, a small bar, and a hard-working staff that keeps things moving in good humor.
We got a booth, and though there were no high chairs, the Tiny Diner's traveling litter fit on a regular chair, from which she had a good view of the diners coming and going. Menus are already on the table, wedged between the napkin dispensers, cracker baskets and condiment bottles. Our server took our drink orders and left us to figure out what we wanted.
Boathouse is mainly a seafood place, but those who don't partake need not go hungry. Oyster lovers can get them raw and opened to order, baked two ways ("Action" are served with butter, bacon bits, mozzarella and onion; "S.O.B." with cocktail sauce, cheddar cheese, nacho chips and jalapenos), fried, and as shooters.
Other snacks and starters include seafood gumbo, salads, crab claws, crawfish, 'gator bites, bacon cheese fries, scallops, crab cake, grilled or steamed shrimp, mahi or chicken fingers, wings, Cajun boiled peanuts, smoked tuna dip, or "Bang Me" shrimp, with a special sauce. We got a dozen oysters on the shell and a cup of gumbo.
The gumbo was rice-free (all the more room for soup), with shrimp and whole crab claws sticking out of it. It was just spicy enough, with a dense and savory broth. As for the oysters, what can I say? Cold, plump, clean and flavorful, with plenty of horseradish and lemon, they remain one of life's simple pleasures, and always leave me wanting more. The TD watched and tried to grab a shell, but she's still in the don’t-touch-seafood stage, so Daddy will have to wait to share with her.
Among the non-seafood items are burgers, barbecue pork, grilled or fried chicken, a jumbo hot dog (Nathan's), and a Cuban sandwich. My wife got that, and I ordered a grilled mahi sandwich. Both came with potato chips. The Cuban was made in the traditional—and in my opinion, the only acceptable—manner, with tender roast pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickle on a Cuban sub sandwich, pressed and sliced crossways. Yet another of life's simple pleasures, and at the same meal!
Other choices for lunch or dinner (the menu is the same), are the Boathouse platter (fried mahi, shrimp and oysters), sea scallop dinner (fried, sautéed or grilled), snow crab legs with butter, steamed shrimp, fried shrimp or oysters, crab cakes, grilled yellow fin tuna steak, as well as tuna, smoked tuna, crab cake, shrimp or oyster sandwiches.
When we first got there, the recorded music was a mix of hip-hop and newer stuff, and it was a little loud. As the lunch crowd (younger) made way for the afternoon crowd (older), the music mix changed to My Generation stuff, and I was amazed at how much less loud it seemed. I'm sure it was just my imagination, running away with me. Anyway, I was impressed with how sensitive they were to the tastes of their clientele, and that they were willing to adjust the music to suit the demographic.
Boathouse offers one dessert, key lime pie. We had decided in advance to skip dessert and double up on appetizers, so I can't report on the pie. You'll need to try it yourself, but make sure you get some oysters first. They're in season, and after all, the place is an oyster bar.
Happy 25th, folks.
by Bruce Collier, courtesy the Beachcomber