Orlando Classics is an occasional look at Central Florida restaurants that have been in business for at least 25 years.
Whenever anyone asked about Orlando dives — and you’d be surprised how often people ask — there were always two immediate answers: Wally’s and Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar.
Wally’s, as those still in mourning know, closed last year. And while it is scheduled to reopen soon with a new owner, its diveyness will have to be determined.
But Lee & Rick’s, now in its sixty-ninth year, is still around and just as unrefined as always. From the cheesy boat facade to the concrete bar with big hunks chipped away from years of shuckers banging their knives on it to pry open oyster shells, this Orlando institution is a delight for the senses.
Husband and wife Lee and Rick Richter opened the restaurant in 1950 as a nine-stool business that only sold oysters. They raised their family in the back part of the building. Rick had been in the navy and discovered oysters in Florida’s panhandle. But as odd as it may seem today, oysters weren’t common inland. So he decided that’s what they would specialize in.
And they still do to this day as the restaurant continues under the ownership of the Richter’s oldest son, Gene. In fact, oysters on the half shell may be the only reason to go to Lee & Rick’s.
My companion and I stopped by on a recent rainy evening and lucked out with a couple of just-vacated stools at the oyster bar. There are more than nine stools now, but they’re all usually occupied — and the only acceptable place to sit here.
We ordered a couple of beers and a dozen oysters and some “kitchen food” as well.
The beers were appropriately cold and the oysters were delightfully plump and chewy, but not at all tough. We were also presented with a whole sleeve of saltines (I have to admit I’ve never quite understood the saltines and oyster connection) and some cocktail sauce.
Meanwhile, we watched the shuckers shuck, and every now and then someone would use a long handled tool to rake shells and other debris down the concrete trough through a hole with a galvanized can under it.
For my kitchen food I ordered the Fried Fish, a fish and chips style serving of pollock with a beer batter coating served with fries, both undistinguished.
My friend had a half pound of steamed Peel and Eat Shrimp, a surprisingly large serving of shrimp sprinkled with bay seasoning (on the outside of the shells that were to be peeled away) served with something that for argument’s sake we’ll call drawn butter. They were good enough, and sufficiently messy.
But again, don’t come here for the hot food, come for the cold oysters.
Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar is at 5621 Old Winter Garden Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-293-3587.