From Bay to Plate: A Tradition of Delicious Oysters in Panama City Beach

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Shuckum\'s along the main beach drag in Panama City is known for its PCB oysters, says manager Joseph Young. Photo by Anne Braly

by Anne Braly

Oysters differ from sea to sea. On the Pacific Coast, they’re small and plump and are farmed in brackish waters. Along the Irish Coast, they’re larger, flat, more meaty and harvested from local farms in bays along the coast.

But along the Gulf Coast, places such as Panama City Beach take pride in their wild oysters harvested from Apalachicola Bay.

Panama City Beach is known for its fresh, delicious seafood, and namely its Gulf Coast oysters which are renowned for their unique flavor profile,” says Jayna Leach, chief marketing officer for Visit PCB.

The Fastest Shucker In the States

Honor Allen is a tall, lanky 30-year-old with calloused hands and a wide smile as he talks about the road that led him to be crowned the National Oyster Shucking Champion – not once, but four times.

Allen grew up in nearby St. Andrews, Fla., a small town where oysters come in fresh from the bay.

“I always heard about shucking competitions,” he says, reeling off names like Floridians Mike Martin and Robert Dothan, legends in the shucking community and past national champions. “Hearing about them, I knew I wanted to compete for fun.”

That fun turned into serious business as Allen kept winning state, regional and the prized national competition, a feat that opened the path for him to compete in the World Oyster Opening Championship, held annually on the last Saturday of September as part of the International Oyster and Seafood Festival in Galway, Ireland. Allen’s not yet won the biggest of all, but has his eyes on the top prize as he travels to the Emerald Isle in September.

“There’s nothing like going to Ireland and sit down with winners from Sweden, Denmark, Finland or whoever is there at the time, having a beer and talking about the oyster industries that are so similar, but in so many ways completely different,” he says.

Speed and Precision

Oyster competitions are all about speed and precision. Allen says. On the national level, competitors are presented with 24 oysters to shuck, At the world competition, shuckers are given 30 oysters 

Shuckers are timed and while speed is the key, presentation is important. Seconds are deducted from the shucking time for improperly shucked oysters that cling to the shell or those showing less-than-perfect presentation, such as shells that may have been damaged during the shucking process. 

Allen’s personal best was at a state competition: 24 perfectly shucked, flawless oysters opened and presented in 1 minute, 42 seconds.

“It really is such an amazing craft, and the community itself around the oyster-shucking circuit is just amazing,” Allen adds.

The Champ at Work

Drive along the streets of Panama City Beach and it’s hard not to spot a restaurant advertising oysters on its signs out front, but here are a few of note.

Want to see the champ at work? Visit Dat Cajun Place (2705 Thomas Dr., datcajunplace.com) and watch Allen and other shuckers at work at the oyster bar. The restaurant is known for a myriad of Cajun specialties, but take a look at the oyster menu and you’ll find oysters prepared in ways you may never have imagined: Cajun Rockerfeller with Cajun spices; Surfing Swine with shrimp and bacon; oysters topped with three cheeses, Rockefeller sauce, jalapenos, bacon and onions; or chargrilled over an open flame with housemade garlic butter and parmesan cheese.

“Those chargrilled oysters are the best in the beach,” says Patricia de Treville, a Floridian who stops by Dat Cajun Place for her oyster fix whenever she’s in town. “I just can’t get enough of those.”

Or, just order them cold and freshly shucked with perhaps a little horseradish and cocktail sauce on the side.

Oysters By the Bay

The Grand Marlin (5323 North Lagoon Dr., thegrandmarlin.com) is a beautiful restaurant on the shores of the Lower Grand Lagoon. Manager Stephen Gilliland unabashedly claims the Oysters Rockerfeller are the best in PCB.

“They’re so rich and creamy,” he says.

But Grand Marlin is also known for an oyster dish unique to the area, one that’s loved by locals and visitors alike  – BBQ Baked Oysters with fresh garlic and Pepper Jack cheese along with housemade barbecue butter.

“Some people are adding bacon, too, and we’ll do that if they ask,” Gilland says.

Grab a seat by the water, enjoy the views and order up some oysters to start, followed by grouper picatta or prime rib. Or visit on Sunday when the Bloody Marys are $3.50; the crab cake benedicts are teeming with seafood; and the attitude is laid back and casual. Just the kind of thing you need on a Sunday morning after a weekend of fun in the sun and building castles in the pearl-white sands of Panama City Beach.

Oysters Along the Road

Shuckum’s (15614 Front Beach Road, shuckums.com) is one of those places you pass along the road, turn around and think to yourself: This is what a restaurant on the beach should be. 

People have been coming to Shuckum‘s for 58 years for several reasons. It’s a place to sing your heart out on karaoke night or quench your thirst with an ice-cold beer after a day in the sun. Foremost on the menu, though, are the tasty oyster choices. 

Order up a dozen raw or baked with so many toppings, it’s hard to decide. Keeping things simple, you might want to try the PC oysters, fresh Gulf oysters baked with butter and garlic and topped with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Other oyster favorites are oysters Rockefeller, Cajun baked, jalapeño baked, Italian baked, and Fresca baked oysters topped with tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, and Parmesan cheese.

Order up a cold one and dine outside along the main beach road or inside beneath a ceiling lined with dollar bills, something patrons have been doing for the past 58 years, says manager Joseph Young.

Festival Season

There’s always some kind of festival happening along the beach and in the parks of PCB. The UNwineD Festival brings oenophiles and food lovers from all around to experience a weekend of great food from area restaurants, wines from local wineries and beyond, as well as a cooking class from sponsor Southern Living and wine seminar that was led this year by sommelier Micheal Green. 

The Gulf Coast Jam happens in June with Jelly Roll, Morgan Wallen, Cody Johnson and others. The Grand Lagoon Bloody Mary Festival is scheduled for November 2, 2024, bringing bars and restaurants to compete for the Best Bloody Mary in the Grand Lagoon. And everyone is a Scot at the annual Panama City Beach Scottish Festival taking place March 1, 2025.

It’s not too early to make a reservation at an area hotel – the beach is lined with some excellent choices. For more information on what’s happening as well as suggestions for accommodations, go to visitpanamacitybeach.com.

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