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Oyster Love on the Gulf

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If you love oysters like I do, any place that calls itself an oyster bar is going to get your attention. Having lived in New Orleans for 10 years, I have a pretty clear idea of what an oyster bar should look like. If you’ve been someplace like, say, Casamento’s on Magazine Street, you know what I’m talking about. Lots of white tile, spotless, scrubbed-down, clean scent, and plenty of shellfish, specifically raw and fried. I don’t miss New Orleans, but I do miss Casamento’s.


I recently got a healthy shot of nostalgia when my family and I went to Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar in Santa Rosa Beach. It sits in a large two-story wooden building at the southern tip of County Highway 393. Directly gulfward is Ed Walline Park.


It was a weeknight, and they don’t take reservations, so we tried to get there early ahead of the crowd. The place was half-full when we arrived—me, my wife, and our newly seven-year-old daughter Grace (The Tiny Diner). A guitarist was covering some ‘70s songs, and we were taken to our table amid a buzz of eating and talking diners.


We were eating on the second floor (there appears to be a downstairs area as well). The dining room is anchored by a bar on one wall, with tables of assorted sizes, plenty of windows, and free-standing space heaters (it was a cool night). There’s white wood and shining tile, the ceilings are high, and TVs hang on most walls.


Our server (Rachael) brought us drinks and menus. The bill of fare offers appetizers and oysters, soup and salad, sandwiches, full entrees, and desserts. There’s also a kids menu, complete with crayons.


Shunk Gulley offers raw oysters at $6 for six, and $8 for a dozen. I ordered a dozen, along with potatoes fried in duck fat. Other apps include garlic parmesan or bacon cheddar jalapeno oysters, fried crab claws, key lime rum shrimp, tuna dip, and tuna poke with guacamole.


The oysters were a picture (I took one), 12 beautiful mid-sized mollusks on a bed of crushed ice, with cocktail sauce, horseradish, lemon slice and crackers. I put the world on hold and dug in. They were chilled just right and tasted clean and briny. Neither my wife nor the TD care for them raw, so they enjoyed the fries.


I’d never had potatoes fried in duck fat (it’s vaguely un-PC), but it makes for a richly caramelized and crunchy-textured potato. They’re dressed with olive and truffle oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and come with garlic aioli dip, which had an intriguing, slightly fruity taste. We boxed about half of them for home, they’re that filling.


For the main course, TD got popcorn shrimp with mac and cheese, my wife ordered fried chicken that had been brined in sweet tea, and I stayed the course with fried oysters (why switch gears?). Both entrees are served with regular fries.


I have had brined turkey before, but never chicken brined in sweet tea. Brining’s principal function is to make the bird tender and juicy, but I was wondering about flavor. The chicken (white meat, boneless), was crackling crisp on the outside (and hand-scorching hot, so either use a fork or be patient if you prefer finger food), very tender and juicy inside.


As for tea flavor, there may have been a slight herbal touch there, just a hint. Still, mission accomplished. Like the chicken, my oysters (another dozen) were likewise crispy hot, with a mound of thin and crunchy fries, and cocktail sauce. I finished the oysters, but the fries (with my wife’s and the leftover duck fries) were boxed.


Other main course choices include shrimp and crab bisque, house, wedge or Caesar salads, shrimp and oyster po’boys, fried fish sandwich, cheeseburger, fried fish or shrimp basket, beef filet, and crab cakes. You can make a meal of apps, soup and salad, or just sit back and keep ordering those $8-a-dozen oysters.


Desserts deserve planning ahead. There’s key lime pie, beignets with white chocolate ganache, a grownup rum beverage called the Bushwhacker, and Mac’s Pie. We ordered the latter, a house favorite, according to Rachael. The pie (large enough to share) is vanilla-laced cream cheese and white chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries, on a flaky bottom crust. TD stuck mostly to the berries and cream, leaving the rest more or less mine. Vanilla lovers, rejoice. It’s rich but actually rather light. It’s picture pretty, too.


1875 South County Highway 393
Santa Rosa Beach
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Children’s Menu: Yes
Dress: Casual
Get your raw oyster craving satisfied at Shunk Gulley, where they’re eight bucks a dozen, all the time. They cook them, too, along with fried chicken, shrimp, Gulf fish, bisque, even a cheeseburger and filet. Beautiful dining area and bar across the street from the beach access on the Gulf. Be sure to try the potatoes fried in duck fat, and save room for Mac’s Pie. Open daily, full bar, $6-34.


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