In September of last year, I had the opportunity to visit the beachside community of Gulf Shores, Alabama, an idyllic vacation spot famous for its plentiful seafood. Here I discovered The Royal Oyster, a quaint, unassuming seafood shack that turned out to be a true culinary gem. Owner Marissa Wilkins and her team serve a variety of oysters topped with unusual condiments like pickled watermelon, salsa fresca, and peppadew mignonette. In a category by themselves, and slightly more expensive, the menu highlights Shellbank Selects, grown less than 10 miles away in Bon Secour.

Lew Childress, who has a full-time job as a mechanical engineer, started Shellbank Selects in 2016 as a hobby, on the eastern edge of Mobile Bay where the Bon Secour River empties into the bay. “Hey, let’s see if any of these will grow, this is cool,” he says of his start as an oyster farmer. Wilkins met Childress at the Alabama Seafood summit in 2017, when she had just opened the restaurant and he was starting out in the market trying to sell his oysters.

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