FLORIDA

Chatting with Locals: Jimmy NcNeill, owner, Indian Pass Raw Bar

In the South, the story and the people behind a restaurant can be just as good as the food.

At first glance, the Indian Pass Raw Bar in Port St. Joe, Fla., doesn't look like much. In fact, if you're heading to Apalachicola, you might glance at the restaurant out of curiosity and keep going. And if you do, you don't know what you missing on the inside.

"People come here to be themselves," comments Jimmy McNeill, owner. "They come here to relax and to get away from it all. This area is truly the Forgotten Coast; the personification of old Florida."

The restaurant, which has been passed down throughout the generations of McNeills, has been in existence since 1903. It's been a general store/gas station.

However, it took a storm for it to become a raw bar.

"The business was destroyed after hurricane Kate in 1985 and after the storm, we weren't sure what we were going to do. Prior to the hurricane, we were selling oysters by the half shell," recalls McNeill. "So my father and I drove from Florida to North Carolina to get some ideas. We discovered this place in Tallahassee that had a concept we liked , and so we decided to implement something similar here."

And they did. After a somewhat bumpy start, the Indian Pass Raw Bar has definitely grown into a local and non-local hot spot. In fact, it's hosted a few celebrities, like Johnny Cash, ambassador from Egypt and others as well.

The Raw Bar, as it is referred to, offers a simple (and affordable) menu of raw, baked and steamed Apalachicola oysters (the McNeills lease the oyster beds); stuffed and steamed shrimp, seafood gumbo and steamed crab legs. For those needing a break from seafood, there's non-seafood items (like hot dogs) as well. Nothing is fried here, which is part (or maybe all) of the Raw Bar's charm.

There are about a dozen tables with roll of paper towels in the middle, along with Ed's Red, a locally made sauce for the oysters, if you so like; and the required saltine crackers. For those needing a kick, Horseradish sauce is available at the counter.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the Raw Bar's honor system when it comes to drinks. Grab a drink out of the standing coolers and keep your top. You pay for your drinks and food when you're done. It's as simple and laid back as that.

"We are probably one of the only places to have a honor system with beer," he chuckles,

There's no reservations or waiting list. On any given day, you might drive by and see people milling outside, waiting for tables, enjoying the atmosphere or both. Yet, may be it's the food or the general good feeling, but the Raw Bar never feels overcrowded.

"People have wanted to franchise this place," he says. "We've had people, especially from Nashville, Tenn., interested in doing so."

"It could've have worked, I guess; but it gotta have the ambiance. This place matches the overall personality of Port St. Joe."

Indian Pass Raw Bar, 850/227-1670; indianpassrawbar.com . Check their website for their Fall hours.

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