If you haven’t ventured to the smallish town of Wilmington, North Carolina, put it on your bucket list. Poised nicely on the Cape Fear River, Wilmington is roughly half the population of Chattanooga. The quaint downtown area is easily navigated and filled with restaurants, art galleries, gift shops and a farmers market each Saturday morning down on Water Street. With several nearby beaches, including the touristy Paradise Island, any weekender can find plenty to do. It’s about an eight hour drive from Chattanooga, so make it a long weekend to allow time to enjoy all that the town and beaches have to offer.
Our mission during this visit was to experience coastal oysters during prime season. In fact, oyster “prime time” there is kicked off in October with annual events—like the ℹ️ North Carolina Oyster Festival in the Brunswick Islands, further south—and continues through March.
Wilmington has a thriving downtown with restaurants ranging from bar food to fine dining to farm-to-table. It was decided that the best way to take in the culinary scene at this coastal town was a self-guided oyster crawl, taking advantage of the season. In planning the evening—much like the age old pub crawl—the destination list was chosen based on overall online reviews, proximity of within about 15 blocks of downtown Wilmington and, of course, reviews from the locals.
A handy tourist map was used to determine the walking tour for the evening. The original list included eight eateries, but well into the evening it was decided to be an aggressive plan—one tends to slow down after a few beers. We were, however, able to thoroughly enjoy four restaurants in close to five hours, leaving everyone full from the season’s oysters and local craft beers while enjoying the town’s nightlife.
[Before deciding on an oyster crawl a few things need to be considered: oyster eating is subjective and personal, likely an acquired learning process; don’t overdo it at one restaurant, it’s surprising how quickly a half dozen oysters and a beer will fill you up; walk don’t drive and lastly; four to six restaurants is plenty to fill an entire evening.]
Stop 1: ℹ️ Bourbon Street (35 North Front Street)
The order consisted of one-half dozen of the seasonal raw oysters and a half dozen of Charbroiled Oysters Trump which were steamed and topped with lump crabmeat, craw fish, garlic butter sauce and parmesan cheese. Local brews were also ordered up as we took in the eclectic scenery of this restaurant which had a festive Mardi Gras theme.
Results: Raw is king. The trumped-up version was just that, the oyster itself was diminished in size and taste after being smothered with all of the extras and making it more akin to a bite of crab cake. Next!
Stop 2: ℹ️ The Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar (109 Market Street)
We chose to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful spring air and the bustling of Market Street. After ordering a dozen raw oysters on the half shell we watched the evening take shape with live music in the air, couples strolling and plenty of leashed dogs being treated to an evening on the town.
Results: The oysters were good, but not noteworthy. It should be noted that the service was great!
Stop 3: ℹ️ PinPoint (114 Market Street)
This farm-to-table restaurant boasts a beautifully crafted wood bar as a centerpiece to the lightly lit atmosphere. The staff, upon hearing of our adventure, was happy to tell us about their offerings, homemade sauces and specials. Sticking to our oyster-only evening, we refrained from the many other offerings that jumped out on
Results: The raw oysters here were delicious with a nice, fresh bite. They were uniquely served with home baked breads—a nice change-up—and a variety of delicious and unique sauces to compliment. We thought this one might be our favorite but then we kept crawling…
Stop 4: ℹ️ Dock Street (12 Dock Street)
This one made the list because of the sign on the front window declaring that they had been voted “best oysters for 15 years in a row.” That’s a tall order. Again, local beers were ordered and raw oysters on the half shell. The menu at Dock Street also included a few of the topped oyster options with ingredients like bacon, cheese, spinach, etc. but we had already decided raw was the way to go.
Results: The waitress was friendly and very knowledgeable about the menu. The atmosphere here is very casual with a terrific outdoor porch. After we each had our first oyster we knew we had a winner. These large—but not too large—oysters were briny and smooth with a tasty mild crunch…truly standouts.
MAKE IT LOCAL:
Try a self-guided oyster crawl right here in Chattanooga! It’s easy to Uber around the downtown area and visit a handful of great restaurants offering oysters this month. Here’s a list of our favorites in an easy–crawling order.