Wintzell's Oyster House brings Gulf Coast fare to Pleasant Hills
Five years ago, Gene Jablonsky of West Mifflin visited the original Wintzell's Oyster House in Mobile, Ala.
The Gulf of Mexico seafood entrees and Southern cooking so impressed him, Jablonsky was convinced he and his wife, Patty Felix, should bring a franchise to the Pittsburgh area.
Never mind that all other Wintzell's franchises were in the South. Jablonsky and Felix were persistent. It took a couple of years, but the corporate powers that be finally called Jablonsky and Felix and gave them the green light. Their local Wintzell's Oyster House franchise opened May 20�in Pleasant Hills, the first north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“It has a very unique Southern flavor,” Felix says of the local franchise. “We serve gumbo, catfish, fried green tomatoes.
“About 95 percent of our oysters come from Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama,” Felix says. “Or the Chesapeake if there's a shortage or delay. You get them where you can get them. We prefer the Gulf oysters — they're bigger, plumper.”
The chain began 75 years ago, when J. Oliver Wintzell opened his first oyster house. The chain has grown to 12 franchises, where the motto is serving oysters, “fried, stewed or nude.”
St. Jude Hospital is the chain's corporate charity, so the local outlet has had oyster-eating contests that have benefited the hospital. For the record, the local winner ate 216 oysters in five minutes.
One customer favorite is the Oysters Sampler for $18.99, which includes four each of Oysters Monterey, Oysters Bienville (covered with shrimp and parmesan sauce), Oysters Rockefeller and Wintzell's Grilled Oysters. Wintzell's proudly states that Willard Scott, formerly of the “Today” show, rated the chain's oysters and crabs as No. 1.
But Wintzell's doesn't just serve oysters. Diners can choose a Low Country Boil — with Gulf shrimp, Conecuh sausage usually only available in Alabama, redskin potatoes and corn on the cob — for $14.99. Half and Half features two fried features, with fish, shrimp, oysters or scallops from which to choose.
Diners have choices other than seafood, including New York Strip or Ribeye steak, each for $19.99, and Blackened Chicken Alfredo for $11.99.
Southern favorites include the Seafood Gumbo at $4.99 a cup and $6.99 a bowl, Fried Green Tomatoes for $7.99, Fried Catfish Dinner for $14.99 and Po Boys that range from $8.99 for a fish po boy to $9.99 for shrimp and $10.99 for oysters po boys.
The local franchise has both a main bar and a cigar bar with separate entrance, leather seating and sports mementos. A patio features parties with disc jockeys and live bands. A party room seats up to 40 diners and a back dining room seats 80. The entire restaurant has room for 282, including the patio.
Inside, the restaurant walls are decorated with a few seafaring mementos, such as life preservers and oars and plenty of the laminated adages of J. Oliver Wintzell. Some of his favorite aphorisms include “Egotism is the anesthetic that deadens the pains of stupidity” and “Small town: Where the only place open all night is a mailbox.”
Felix says customers who have familiarity with the Gulf Coast in general or Wintzell's in particular have visited, including Steelers coaches and players.
“We're bringing the Gulf Coast to Pittsburgh,” she says.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
The Seafood Martini that Wintzell's Oyster House features among its “lighter side” dishes is a perfect way to prepare a light meal in advance. Once the main ingredients are mixed, they can be refrigerated all day or overnight and then combined at the last minute for an attractive appetizer or a light, fresh meal with a glass of wine.
1 pound shrimp, plus 8 large shrimp, boiled and cooled
1 pound scallops
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced red onions
4 ounces chopped green onions
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
4 ounces olive oil
2 ounces lemon juice
8 lettuce leaves
8 lemon wedges
Heat the margarine in a large saute pan over medium heat. Saute the 1 pound of shrimp in margarine for 5 to 7 minutes, or until done. Set aside to cool.
Repeat the sauteing with the scallops until done. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped, halved and quartered vegetables with the cold sauteed shrimp and scallops. Next, add the dry seasonings, oil and lemon juice.
Mix all ingredients well, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.
To assemble, place one lettuce leaf in each of eight martini glasses. Place 1⁄8 of the seafood mixture atop the lettuce. Garnish each with one of the large boiled and cooled shrimp and a wedge of lemon.
Makes 8 servings.