Marina Oyster Barn is an interesting spot on the gumbo map. Nothing chi-chi about this place located on Pensacola’s Bayou Texar. It’s a testament to how good cooking can overcome the wrath of hurricanes, from Frederic in 1979 to present day. While waiting for a table in this small place (25 tables at the most) you can measure yourself against the hurricane high-water marks on the walls and view the photos of Marina Oyster Barn during flooding. Other photos show the property as far back as early 1900. The restaurant (I don’t know why they call it a barn) and the marina, whose slips are filled with small craft, are a nostalgic visit to Pensacola, circa 1950. Locals love the place, especially for lunch. The Friday I was there I felt as if the driver of the nursing home bus had opened the doors and said “Everybody out.” There’s no better tribute than repeat customers, especially old ones.
The gumbo here, voted number two in the newspaper poll, is brown-roux based, and filled with shrimp, well-sauteéd vegetables and rice. It’s tasty with a tad of a hot afterbite, but it lacks that nutty roux flavor and filé flavoring I love. It’s served with saltines, and my cup was good and hot. I had to add salt to mine, which I rarely do, but considering the age of the customers, it’s a wise decision by the chef. If you like oysters in your gumbo, ask the waitress and they can add them. Locals say the fried shrimp here is the best around, and plenty of folks were ordering fresh oysters. The food is good, but I think the “local” flavor and atmosphere are the best parts of Marina Oyster Barn.
The Marina Oyster Barn has kept itself afloat, hurricane after hurricane. The one thing that might sink this place is the BP Oil Spill. The few months when there was a lack of seafood to prepare, an increase in the price of seafood, and the decrease in seafood diners is taking its toll. On a recent TV news spot, the owner explained his plight in receiving oil spill money – only a trickle so far. When there, I overheard him to talking to a customer pondering why the local steak house received tens of thousands from BP rather than his seafood restaurant. Good question. Better try the gumbo while it’s hot.