Lee and Rick’s Oyster Bar is an easy 30-minute drive from Orlando’s massive Walt Disney World, yet it’s like stepping back in time. I’m not saying this place is sketchy, but it’s a world away from the choreographed theme parks and tourist destinations that make up Orlando 2019.
Our home-base for the week is Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, strategically located north of Orlando and Lee and Rick’s. The park is huge with miles of hiking trails, kayaking, canoeing, tropical hammocks, and of course the spring which feeds the river with crystal clear water at a constant 72-degrees. Wekiwa Springs meets all my preferences with full hook-ups, miles of trails to walk the dogs, and proximity to food-worthy destinations.
I last set foot in the Oyster Bar two decades ago and returning now was another tic off my bucket list. Was it as good as I remembered? A laid-back joint with endless mounds of tasty, little bivalve mollusk, a well-worn concrete shucking-bar heaped with shells, and the musty smell which already seemed ancient back in the 1990s. Of course, my memory tends to get colored by how many times I tell the story and I’ve told the Lee and Rick’s story a lot of these past 20 years.
The neighborhood around Lee and Rick’s is what you might call industrial gritty. For the most part, it’s a mix of steel buildings, service businesses, and vacant lots dotted with an occasional gas station-convenience store. Among this—ok, I’ll say it— drabness, is an exterior hard to miss. A building-sized, white and red Noah’s Ark stuck in dry dock.
Inside this almost 70-year old landmark things seem unchanged from my last visit. Yellowed newspaper clippings framed on the wall that tell the story of the founders. Booth dinettes that look original to the 1950 grand opening. The obligatory nautical-themed do-dads. Fortunately, something else that has remained the same at Lee and Rick’s is the quality of the seafood. Although Orlando is landlocked, the Gulf and the Atlantic are close by so fresh—really fresh—fish is not hard to come by. For a moment I was tempted to explore the extensive menu, that is until the painted-blue concrete shucking bar talked me down from the ledge. I was here for the oysters and the oysters it would be.
Eating oysters at a raw bar is an experience to be savored. For me, a big part of that experience is the person behind the bar doing the shucking. I prefer a mix of efficiency and entertainment, and my “shucker” delivered both with a smile. Kristina is an eight-year veteran of Lee and Rick’s, and a master-shucker.
The restaurant serves about 500-600 bushels of oysters a week, 200 bushels alone on the weekend. I’m no math whiz, but at 100-150 oysters per bushel, that’s a lot of shucking. Kristina doesn’t shuck them all, but she sure shucks her fair share, all the while adding lively banter to our feast.
My re-visit to Lee and Rick’s lived up to my expectations in every way. The next time you are in Orlando and want to escape, if only for an hour or two, make the drive to Old Winter Garden Road. It’s not far.
Family establishments like Lee and Rick’s are fast disappearing, not only in big cities like Orlando but everywhere I travel. These businesses require long hours and a commitment to the lifestyle. Many second or third generation owners feel it’s just not worth it. When I find a place like Lee and Rick’s I want to celebrate. When I find it twice in 20 years, well, that’s epic. Cheers.
Lee and Rick’s is located at 5621 Old Winter Garden Road, Orlando.