There is a certain type of restaurant that pops up just about anywhere that has a picturesque body of water. You know the place; It's got a campy interior full of "flair". There might be nets, plastic lobsters, fish tanks, antiques on the wall, fake marlins, old license plates, or other maritime detritus. A gigantic bar serving potent tropical drinks always rounds out the decor. What about the food? Who cares, really. It's all about the atmosphere, being near the water, and having a great time.
Such is the case with Wintzell's Oyster House of Northport, AL. Wintzell's sits in a huge, open space right on the edge of the Black Warrior River. Glass garage doors open up for a quasi-outdoor experience with a great view of the river. The atmosphere is boisterous and cheerful due in part to the potent rum drinks many patrons can be seen drinking from large hurricane glasses.
Wintzell's is a well-known Mobile, Alabama institution. It is famous for its oysters which can be ordered "fried, stewed, or nude." My grandfather, Pappy, tells me that he and my grandmother used to eat there in the 1960's in Mobile. The other trademark of the Wintzell's are the thousands of folksy bumper sticker-esque signs with sayings covering practically every square inch of wall space. A few examples:
Honest bread is very well. It's the butter that makes the temptation.
If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense in making them.
Any mother can tell you a teenager's hang-ups don't include his clothes.
Always put off until tomorrow what you shouldn't do at all.
Nowadays the rising generation retires when the retiring generation rises.
I had a good time reading the signs, and I'll admit that many of them seem truly clever when one has had a couple of rum punches.
What about the food? Well, it was a mixed bag. The freshly shucked raw oysters were fresh and delicous. Wintzell's spike their cocktail sauce with what tasted like horseradish for a nice kick. We all enjoyed the complimentary bread, toasted slices of baguette slathered in real melted butter. Shannon, bless her heart, ate from an extremely limited menu due to her seafood allergy. She soldiered on and had some adequate pasta and a burger.
Both nights we ate at Wintzell's I ordered the J&O platter (broiled). Every gulf seafood joint has a monstrous sampler entrée like this. It featured tiny, but delicious crab claws, oysters, shrimp, tilapia, and a stuffed crab. The whole thing was swimming in cardiac inducing seasoned butter. I hear they also serve a good grilled fish and some of the best shrimp and cheesy grits around (another Gulf coast standard).
Overall, our group of ten definitely had a great time. It was a perfect place for a noisy and cheerful evening with family. The food wasn't half bad either.