Lee & Rick's is an experience; it's an event, not to mention a tradition. You go with lots of people. You dress so it doesn't matter if you drop a Tabasco-laden raw oyster down your shirt. You eat way more than you expect to, and it's all good -- even when you do things that you normally would not, like gesture wildly with a shrimp tail or eat great stacks of saltine crackers covered in horseradish and cocktail sauce.
A restaurant doesn't stay in business for 50 years by accident, especially not one shaped like a dry-docked old boat and about as unfancy as they come on the inside, particularly not one on the far end of Old Winter Garden Road. I am told on very good authority that the place hasn't changed an iota since the early '60s, so we can probably say with some safety that it has never changed at all.
And why should it? Not when you can order a dozen oysters (raw or steamed, $6.95), and a large plateful of the ocean's jewels are laid before you, the raw mollusks straight from Apalachicola Bay and so fresh that they're sweet. When steamed, they are cooked just enough to satisfy the squeamish, but they're every bit as good.
The best deal is a bucket - three dozen for $14.95 - but you have to sit at the room-length oyster bar to get it. Settle in with a group at the bend of the bar, on the right side, so you can talk and watch some world-class shucking at the same time.
A pound of shrimp (hot or cold) is $12.95, and a big helping of fresh shellfish it is - firm enough to give your teeth some resistance, steamed spicy but not overbearing.
Fish dinner platters, like stuffed flounder ($9.95), come with a heap of fries. There's a lovingly uncomplicated piece of flounder, filled with a crabmeat (real and faux) and cracker stuffing. My companion described the fish as tasting "like my dad just took it out of the water," and I can't think of higher praise.
Those same plump shrimp can be ordered fried ($11.95 platter) with just enough breading to satisfy your craving for carbohydrates without masking the shrimp.
The servers don't lack from experience; this is a fast-paced atmosphere, and you've got to know your stuff to work here. So it's a pleasure to get food delivered quickly, to never have to worry about running out of beer and to be called "honey," all at the same time.
Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar just kicked off its 50th year in the business this month. They're going to be shucking like crazy, so take along a few friends and an old shirt, and have yourself a time.
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