Sunday, March 02, 2008

Oysters Please!

My fiancée and I both enjoy seafood. However, her family, who we live with, absolutely hate it. So, whenever we want fish and seafood we have to go out to get it. This past Friday, we decided to do just that because I had a craving for it, and besides that we hadn't had a “date night” in awhile either and needed to get out of the house as a couple.

After a bit of deliberation about whether to go to Sandpiper Seafood or its sister location, Hudson Bay, Roxanne mentioned 316 Oyster Bar, which is only a stone's through from where we live compared to an across town drive for either of the other two. Having never been to the 316, we decided to give them a try.

We arrived at the restaurant, which derives its name from its address of 316 Owen Drive and the oyster bar located near the center of the restaurant, just before 6pm on a Friday evening. Naturally, since this is the south and “fish on Friday” is mainstay in the region even for non-Catholics, the parking lot was packed full and we actually had to use the overflow parking lot behind the Baskin Robbins next door. I was very hungry and the parking situation was not a good omen, but we decided to park the car and go inside anyway. I was further disheartened by the crowd of people waiting to be seated and just knew that we'd be waiting at least an hour (my stomach seconded the thought by grumbling loudly). I started to suggest that we try elsewhere, but Roxanne reminded me that it was a Friday evening and any place we went would have just as big of a crowd, so we decided to tough it out. I went to the hostess station to request a table for two; when asked if I wanted smoking or non-smoking, I requested 'first available' as I figured that would be better odds. The hostess then asked me if that included the oyster bar; never having been there before I said “Sure, why not?” and proceeded to step back outside with our vibrating coaster so I could have a cigarette. It was a chilly evening, so after about ten or fifteen minutes we decided to wait inside where it was warm. I no sooner opened the door than our coaster call began blinking and humming letting us know that they had a place for us to sit and dine. I was quite pleased with myself for letting the hostess know that my selection of “first available seating” included a willingness to sit at the bar as it led to a fifteen minute wait instead of my estimate of an hour. We were escorted to two open seats at he oyster bar itself and thus began our dining experience for the evening.

We began looking at the menu and I have to admit I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw the prices. I wasn't expecting a seafood combination plate of flounder, shrimp and oysters with a salad and choice of two side items to be $23.99 when a deluxe plate from Hudson Bay which includes deviled crab, fries/baked potato and coleslaw in addition to the above items runs about $10 less than that. So, we decided to share; I ordered the three item combination plate and Roxanne ordered two items off of the appetizer menu, namely the shrimp cocktail and alligator bites (yep, that's right, we had alligator and it was awesome!).

In a simple phrase, the food was incredible! The hush-puppies, which were served in a basket as soon as we were seated, honestly have to be some of the best I've ever had; bite sized and not the least bit greasy, I would've happily eaten them with the honey butter that accompanied them all night. Our salad and shrimp cocktail were served next. I'm not a big salad person, but I swear that was the freshest salad I've eaten at a restaurant. The shrimp cocktail was perfect; large juicy shrimp served chilled with 316's own blend of cocktail sauce that had a little kick to it, unlike other cocktail sauces which are usually very bland. The alligator bites, though they're on the appetizer menu, were served at the same time as the combination platter. Neither of us had ever tried alligator and we were pleasantly surprised. I was expecting it to be much tougher and have a more gamey flavor, but it was quite tender, about the texture of clam strips with a similar, if somewhat spicier taste. As mentioned above, we chose flounder, shrimp and oysters for our combination platter along with a double order of fries for our two side items. My initial shock at the prices subsided a bit once I saw the size of the portions and I have to wonder where they managed to find such large oysters and flounder fillets. Everything was fried to perfection although I should mention that they do offer the option of broiled instead of fried for you health nuts out there. I commented to one gentleman sitting next to me that I felt 316's fried oysters were the best I had ever had. He mentioned that he had just move to Fayetteville from Texas but that he was originally from New Orleans, so I was quite interested in his opinion once he was served; I'm happy to report that he agreed with my assessment.

Now, it wouldn't be a complete review if I didn't mention the service at the place, and I have to say, beginning with the fairly efficient way of handling their wait list to the very attentive server we had at the oyster bar, 316 Oyster Bar definitely gets a thumbs up from me, and I've pretty picky when it comes to restaurant service. We had a great server at the bar who was not only friendly and efficient, but was johnny-on-the-spot with keeping our glasses filled with Coke. He even brought us an extra plate, without us even asking, since he knew we were sharing the main course.

Yep, I'd say it's safe to say that we'll be visiting the 316 Oyster Bar many more times in the future. A quick Google search unfortunately didn't turn up a website for the place, but I did find a website announcing the restaurant's status as the TheLocalNewspaper.com's Reader's Choice Winner for Seafood Restaurant of the Year 2006. If you love good seafood, go there... that is all.

~ JC

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