Looking for a Florida vacation but can’t get away? Now you can enjoy fresh, Florida-style seafood just like you’d get on vacation in the Gulf, but in Midtown Memphis. The famed Indian Pass Raw Bar has opened its first outpost outside the state of Florida next to Overton Square.
Since the mid-1980s, Indian Pass Raw Bar has been a destination for oyster and fresh seafood lovers. Located on the Florida Panhandle east of Panama City and just west of St. George’s Island, Indian Pass is a small community positioned between the entrance to Indian Pass Lagoon and a narrow passage formed by St. Vincent Island, where water from the west end of Apalachicola Bay flows into the Gulf of Mexico. This remote, pristine area is known as one of the best sources of fresh seafood and oysters on the Gulf, if not the world! Part of what is often referred to as “Florida’s Forgotten Coast,” Indian Pass is still remote by most standards and symbolizes a seafood tradition born from the rich history of this area: simple, but good.
The proprietors of the Indian Pass Raw Bar, the McNeill family, have been in the oyster business since the 1920s. The Indian Pass Raw Bar’s history began as the Indian Pass Trading Post, a shop that sold supplies and wares to local workers. The original family restaurant business began in the 1930s when Mrs. Gypsie McNeill began serving noon meals and catered dinner parties on the east end of the trading post. The family remained in the oyster wholesale business until 1986, when Hurricane Kate destroyed much of the area’s wholesale oyster industry. Discovering that they had too many oysters to eat themselves, but not enough to wholesale, the McNeills decided to keep the Trading Post open as the Indian Pass Raw Bar. Since then, their restaurant has become famous for providing the freshest and most delicious seafood around. Much of the seafood served is caught the same day, brought in from their leased site on Apalachicola Bay.
In March, Indian Pass Raw Bar opened next to Overton Square, bringing to Memphis the fresh Gulf seafood offerings patrons of the original location love. The McNeills partnered with Mississippi-based Gouras Restaurant Group for this expansion. “Chances are, if you live in the Memphis area, you are planning to go to Florida or the Gulf Coast in the near future, are reminiscing about the last time you were there, are longing to go back again or can’t wait to go for the first time,” says manager Kinon Keplinger. “Memphis’ proximity to the Gulf Coast is something many of us take for granted. However, it takes longer to get there than we’d like sometimes, so we hope to offer a little taste of Florida whenever you feel like you need a vacation but don’t have time to make the long trip.”
The concept is simple – it’s a laid-back Florida-style seafood restaurant where you can get fresh seafood simply and deliciously prepared. “Nothing fussy or pretentious, just a comfortable place to kick back with a beverage and enjoy a dozen oysters, a bowl of gumbo, some steamed shrimp or crab legs, baked or chargrilled oysters or even a cheeseburger or a grilled chicken sandwich, if land food is more your thing,” says Kinon. “Nothing is fried, and the oysters are raw only if you order them that way. Simple but good is how we like to do things.”
When you walk in the door, you are instantly transported to a Florida fish house. White shiplap walls, tall vaulted ceilings, and the unique live-edge tables and bar tops made of white oak from Sopchoppy, FL, create the illusion that you are on the Florida panhandle, not in Midtown Memphis, TN. “The outdoor landscaping and oyster shell accents are made of oyster shells brought back from the original Indian Pass location in Florida,” says Kinon. “You’ll see driftwood sculptures and maps of the original Indian Pass and Apalachicola Bay areas hanging on the walls alongside a handful of photographs honoring the history of the original Florida location.”
S. Berry Jones Architects designed the airy, open floor plan with big windows and a gorgeous covered porch that is sure to be a hot spot during the warmer months.
The menu is small, and it’s all about seafood. “We get Apalachicola oysters when we can, because they truly are the best. Otherwise, we get oysters farmed from the Gulf and Gulf-caught shrimp,” says Kinon.
The raw oysters are obviously the must-order dish. “If you are there on a day when the raw oysters are small, you’ve hit the jackpot because they are Apalachicola,” says Kinon enthusiastically, adding, “Quick, order a dozen more! They are by far the tastiest oysters you’ve ever put in your mouth!” We plan to heed Kinon’s advice.
The chargrilled Cajun oysters topped with cheese and Cajun seasoning, as well as the chargrilled three-cheese jalapeño oysters, are among the most popular entrees. They are both a spicy and fun spin on a classic baked oyster. “Besides the raw Apalachicola oysters, the chargrilled Cajun oysters are my favorite — flavorful but not over-complicated,” says Kinon. We also really enjoyed the broiled oysters. Served with toasted bread, they were buttery, briny bites of goodness!
If shrimp is more your thing, Indian Pass Raw Bar has you covered with several preparations of fresh Gulf shrimp. Order them boiled, steamed or crab-cake stuffed. Each dish comes in a metal pie tin. Ask for extra small plates and order more than one preparation to share, so you can taste them all!
And to wash down all this amazing seafood, grab a beverage from the self-serve soda and beer station. “It’s on the ‘honor system’ in that you keep tabs of how many you drink on your scorecard,” Kinon explains of their unique beverage service. “We are proud to offer the finest selection of local-made draft beer. You can pour your own cup of Memphis Made, High Cotton, Wiseacre, Crosstown or Ghost River. Wine, liquor and oyster shooters are available from the bartender.”
Plan to swing by on a weekend night. They’ll have live music Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays on the outdoor covered porch area. “Various genres will be featured, but primarily singer-songwriters and small groups,” says Kinon. “Brennan Villines, Chris Johnson, the Paul Taylor Ensemble, Marcella and Her Lovers, the Bo Spring Band and Kendell Marvel have performed for us already.”
See ya’ there! We’ll be on the porch enjoying a dozen raw ones with a cold beer!
Indian Pass Raw Bar Memphis is located next to Overton Square at 2059 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104. Open Sunday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight. For more information, call (901) 207-7397 or visit indianpassrawbarmemphis.com.
And thank you to Indian Pass Raw Bar Memphis for providing these beautiful images of their restaurant!
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