Wintzell’s Oyster House, Montgomery/Mobile, Ala.
There’s no doubt about it, to get the best oysters at any time of year, you head to the warm waters of the Gulf Coast. Oysters Rockefeller was invented in New Orleans, and with the population thriving in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s almost a given that you’re going to find the rich treat served the way you like it somewhere in the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, as we got a glimpse of at Skipper’s Smokehouse.
It’s not so sure that you’re going to find the best oysters inland in these states, but that’s exactly what you get at the Montgomery location of Wintzell’s Oyster House, an Alabama seafood institution. Wintzell’s is based in the much more aquatic city of Mobile, located where Interstate 65 meets the Gulf of Mexico, but at 170 miles to the northeast, it’s a natural move for it to have a location in the state capital, given the concentration of Alabama’s population in the northern part of the state.
I’m darn glad they did, because even after the short trip, the oysters at Wintzell’s are fantastic. Wintzell’s has been around since 1938, and it now offers a location as far north as Huntsville, just under six hours north of Mobile and a lot closer to Kentucky than it is to the Gulf. Apparently, it works, because Wintzell’s is planning to expand to Birmingham soon. That’s what happens when you serve the best oysters in the state, and Wintzell’s has proven itself time and time again over the past 74 years, serving up witty sayings and jokes on its walls along the way.
The main reason for Wintzell’s success is the quality of the oysters. Being based in Mobile, Wintzell’s knows how to spot good oysters, and they’ll serve them to you raw, grilled or fried depending on your preference. Personally, I don’t trust raw (maybe someday) and while the fried oysters are based on a 75-year-old secret recipe, I couldn’t pass up the sheer variety that is Wintzell’s grilled oyster sampler platter.
Wintzell’s offers four different kinds of grilled oysters, varying in the kinds of toppings used. First, there’s the standard grilled oysters, which Wintzell’s covers with butter and a mix of Parmesan and Romano cheese. Those are followed by the standard in the Gulf Coast, Oysters Rockefeller, with a delicious spinach topping. Up next is the Monterey, aimed at the person who likes a little bit of heat and a little bit of meat. It’s covered with cheddar cheese, bacon and a slice of jalapeno. Finally, for the seafood lover, the Bienville covers the oyster meat in a Parmesan cream sauce that includes crabmeat and shrimp.
It adds up to 16 oysters in all, and there’s not a bad one among them. My personal favorite was the Bienville, but the grilled oysters give it a great run for its money. All of them are delicious, and all will give you a true taste of why Wintzell’s will celebrate its 75th year in business next year.
That’s not to say that you should stop at the oysters. Fish can also be found throughout the menu, with favorites such as flounder available. Prior to your entree, you’d be remiss not to try one of Wintzell’s homemade soups, and good luck trying to decide which one to go with. Wintzell’s menu includes four soups that all sound excellent, with each providing something different. It proudly proclaims its seafood gumbo as the Gulf Coast’s best, it touts its L. A. (Lower Alabama) Seafood Chowder for its rich and creamy taste, its cream of crab soup features a bit of sherry and if you’ve had enough seafood (what are you, nuts?), they feature a Jamaican Jerk chicken chili.
While gumbo and chowder are certainly intriguing, there are few creatures I love eating more than crab, and Wintzell’s didn’t disappoint. The soup is loaded with good crabmeat and has a creamy taste and texture that makes it simply one of the best soups I’ve ever had. With dried parsley on top, it’s just perfect.
New Orleans might be the place that started the Gulf Coast’s love of oysters, but it’s hard to see how the Crescent City could do better than Wintzell’s. Should you find yourself anywhere in the Yellowhammer State (it’s the state bird, and I seriously think they just made up the species name to rhyme with Alabama), you’ve got some great seafood nearby.
Time to go: Lunch/dinner. Oysters are a perfect dinner meal, but work well at any time after breakfast.
Wait during my visit: None beyond the standard wait on your meal. I got a table immediately.
Location: Pretty much anywhere in Alabama. My visit was in Montgomery, which is located at 105 Commerce Street near the state capitol.
Cost: Oysters aren’t cheap, and you’ll pay over $20 for the sampler, plus another $5 for a cup of the soup. This is one time to just throw caution to the wind and pay the extra money, though, because the oysters and soups are that good.
Parking: The city had some, but it was metered. I would wager other locations for Wintzell’s do have parking lots.
Website: Wintzell’s Oyster House
Signature items: Oysters, soups