Half Shell Oyster House is on Emerald Coast Parkway, between Mid-Bay Bridge and downtown Destin. The bright yellow-and-white sign is an eye-catcher. My family ate there on a recent weeknight. The facade of the restaurant is largely glass, allowing a look inside. It’s theatrically decorated to look like the Vieux Carre, MGM-style. Colors are from the dark palette, with polished wood, stained glass and wrought iron accents.
The dining room is subdivided by partitions into both open and enclosed dining areas, allowing privacy and conversation. There’s a bar partly down the length of one wall. Playing over the sound system were some rousing Mardi Gras Indian songs, followed by Wynton Marsalis playing Jelly Roll Morton, and other Louisiana music.
Our server (Terri) was friendly and efficient, anticipating the needs of my daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner). We got menus, gave drink orders, and sat back.
Oysters get plenty of attention at Half Shell. They have their own section on the menu, and the walls of the restrooms have a decorative border of lacquered oyster shells.
I was looking forward to my first raw oysters of the holiday season. I ordered six on the half shell to start, and my wife chose a cup of seafood gumbo. TD still thinks there are many foods she doesn’t like—some of which she’s actually tried—so she settled for coloring the kids’ menu.
My oysters arrived on a plate of ice, with lemon, cocktail sauce and extra horseradish. When I picked up the first one, I noticed how clean the shell was. It had been carefully scrubbed, almost polished. The oysters were cold, plump, juicy, briny, and too few. I hope the rest of the season’s oysters are as good.
My wife’s gumbo, topped with rice, was crowded with shrimp, crabmeat and crawfish, in a stock that was mild but flavorful. There’s hot sauce on the table if you want to add heat.
Oysters can also be ordered charbroiled, Orleans (broiled with smoky Cajun sauce), Bienville and Rockefeller, all in half or full-dozen portions, or in a sampler. Non-oyster starter options include fried green tomatoes and crab cakes, boiled royal red shrimp, lobster quesadilla, crab claws, crab cakes, smoked tuna dip, voodoo wings or shrimp, crab and lobster dip, and tempura battered asparagus. There is also a lobster, crab and corn bisque.
My wife had never tried royal reds, so she ordered them, with a side of fried okra. I chose bacon and pecan crusted redfish, with sides of fries and grilled asparagus with Gorgonzola butter. Half Shell also had grouper and snapper as their fish of the day, which can be prepared several ways.
TD ordered a children’s meal of fried shrimp and seasoned fries, which came with a drink, all for $5. The portion was substantial. She ate about a third, describing the shrimp as having a “sea-ish” taste. It was a compliment.
Royal reds are delicious shrimp, though I don’t agree that they taste like lobster (but rock shrimp do). Half Shell sends out 3/4 of a pound, hot from the boiler, with a cup of drawn butter. My wife took home half. Redfish tastes great any old way, but bacon and pecan gave it an added salty, chewy, crunchy kick that was well balanced by the orange beurre blanc. Grilled is easily the best way to have asparagus, but adding Gorgonzola butter puts it into a class by itself—sweet, crunchy and tangy. I only regret not having bread to get all the sauce.
Other mains include a seafood sampler, fried shrimp or oysters, shrimp and grits, seafood pot pie, seafood stuffed mushrooms, cheeseburger, shrimp or oyster po’ boys and sandwiches of BLT fried green tomatoes, tuna, chicken and ribeye, fish served grilled, blackened, Orleans, herb crusted, or Lameuse (cream sauce with mushrooms, garlic and crabmeat), steaks, surf and turf, pasta with chicken or seafood, and almond-encrusted or paneed chicken.
Other sides include broccoli, pork stock turnip greens, Cajun boiled parmesan and garlic fried potatoes, salad, cheese grits, sweet potato crème brulee, and jalapeno hushpuppies.
There were four desserts—key lime pie, bananas Foster cheesecake, chocolate obsession, and cinnamon roll bread pudding. We got the last, to share. It came in a large martini glass, which is actually a handy way to share—just grab the stem and pass it around. The pudding was hot and dense, very sweet, with a warm and boozy sauce.
Oysters are back, better than ever at Half Shell.
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