Wintzell’s Oyster House: Guntersville, Alabama

The taste of fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico can be found in North Alabama, thanks to Wintzell’s Oyster House.

Location: Wintzell’s Oyster House, 14455 U.S. Highway 431 South, Guntersville, Alabama

Menu: Oysters figure prominently on Wintzell’s menu and is a number one attraction for many diners, to be sure. The plump bivalve mollusks can be ordered on the half shell, chargrilled, Rockefeller, Bienville, or Monterey style. If you want them fried, you can find a platter, a basket, a Po’Boy, a taco, or a fried oyster salad full of them. Wintzell’s looks for the best source, keeping in mind the season and the latest weather conditions. The ones I had recently were from Texas, and they were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Just give me some cocktail sauce and a cracker, and I could eat dozens of them.

Other seafood items available are crab cakes, salmon, scallops, redfish, shrimp, and crab legs. For those who prefer something other than seafood, Wintzell’s has a good selection of chicken and steak, plus a cheeseburger and several Cajun dishes such as Red Beans and Rice with Chicken and Sausage or Cajun Seafood Pasta. Fried items on the appetizer list include fried pickles, fried green beans, fried green tomatoes, and fried onion rings. Those are listed alongside, chilled shrimp, crab claws, hot wings, and smoked tuna dip.

It would be smart to save room for dessert with options like blackberry cobbler, key lime pie, homemade bread pudding, and chocolate eruption cake. The “eruption” is created with caramel.

Thoughts: From 1938 until about ten years or so, diners had to go to Mobile, Alabama to eat at Wintzell’s. Oliver Wintzell began serving his oysters “fried, stewed or nude” from a tiny, six-stool oyster bar. His idea filled a niche, and his homespun quotes and mottos along with his great food soon drew a loyal following. The downtown Mobile location on Lower Dauphin Street grew and is now considered a historic landmark. Those quotes and mottos line the walls of all six Wintzell locations scattered throughout the state and provide entertaining chuckles while guests wait for their meals. It is even rumored that “oysters are free to any 85-year-old man who can bring in his father.” Wintzell’s is now so well known that former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura chose them to cater a meal on Air Force One.

The atmosphere at Wintzell’s is very casual and laid-back. They hold a continuous raw oyster eating contest. All you have to do is show up at one of the locations, find a seat at the oyster bar, and try to eat as many oysters as you can in an hour. The current record holder downed 421 oysters on September 11, 2010! Mr. Willie Brown, the oyster shucker at the original Mobile location for 47 years, became an icon himself for his strong work ethic and amazing ability to steadily open oysters. He died in 2017, and a statue was erected in his honor shortly afterward.

Of the six Wintzell’s locations, five are in South Alabama with only this one in Guntersville in the northern part of the state. This setting is particularly conducive to inducing a seafood-eating mood because it overlooks a tributary of massive Guntersville Lake, a beautiful portion of the Tennessee River.

The current owners of Wintzell’s are very community-oriented and philanthropic. They are supporters of St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Montgomery Museum of Art, Ronald McDonald House, the Distinguished Young Women competition, the Bowl, and numerous schools, churches, and youth organizations. They have won awards for “Best Gumbo” and “Best Dessert” from several area magazines and events. The prices are reasonable, and the food is very good. What more could you want?

Price range: Appetizers range from $6.99-21.99. Oysters are $9.99-$24.99, depending on preparation method. Entrees are $14.99-28.99, and desserts are $5.99-7.99.

Connie Pearson

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