Fun in the sun and delicious fried shrimp are signs of a great beach vacation. The fun part can happen at any of our state’s sugary sand beaches. “The best fried shrimp in the entire civilized world” might be found at Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar.
The menu, to-go cups, souvenir T-shirts and Doc’s owner Richard Schwartz all say it’s so, and lots of Doc’s customers agree. It’s a cute and clever slogan that easily applies to the fried oysters, too.
Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar has been an Orange Beach dining destination for more than 30 years and was named one of the “top 10 seafood shacks in America” by Fox News. The original location on Canal Road has evolved over the years from a small space with just two plywood booths to a sprawling dining room that probably seats about 80. There’s a second location in nearby Gulf Shores at Sawgrass Landing shopping center.
Doc’s is not fancy. Flip-flops are welcomed and even encouraged here, and that’s part of the laidback charm. “They come in here and they’re all presidents of something somewhere,” says Schwartz about his customers. “They’re leaders in their communities and they will walk in here in Bermuda shorts … and sandals, and they wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere else dressed like that. They can be themselves.”
They also can count on things to stay the same from summer to summer.
Schwartz, who owns Doc’s with his son, David, says, “The secret to Doc’s is you come here next year, you’re going to see the menu that’s here now. I’ve found that customers like that.” He did add clam strips to the menu recently because customers like those, too.
“People come here time and again because they like seeing the same faces waiting on them,” he adds. “That’s my granddaughter right there. She’s a sophomore at the University of Alabama,” he says, pointing to Molly Sokol, who has come back to the coast to help her Poppy by working as a server.
“It’s a family restaurant. People bring their children and you watch the kids sitting there and their feet don’t touch the floor,” he says, looking at a nearby table where the kids outnumber the adults. “Their legs are swinging, and everybody’s having fun. They’ll be back.”
Doc’s customers are locals as well as tourists, and that’s a sure sign of authenticity. Many of the out-of-town visitors are repeat customers who eat here at least once during every vacation, says Schwartz. It’s not unusual to see manager Cindy Holden, who’s been working with Schwartz for 28 years, hugging folks she sees only once or twice a year. “They know the customers,” Schwartz says of the staff. “And it’s really interesting to see them talk to people, give them hugs. … The staff makes a point of speaking to every customer who walks in the door.”
The bestselling dish at Doc’s is the create-your-own seafood platter with a choice of two, three or four portions of fried, grilled, boiled or baked shrimp, fish, oysters, stuffed crabs, clam strips or chicken strips. The super seafood platter features some of most all of that and comes with a free cup of gumbo. This gumbo is dark and rich and filled with succulent seafood. There’s variety in a soft-shell crab burger and a Conecuh sausage dog. Freshly shucked raw oysters and ice-cold beer draw visitors to the small bar. Those famous fried shrimp are plump, briny and nicely cooked inside a crisp, crunchy crust.
Schwartz serves Alabama seafood, and Bon Secour Fisheries is one of his main suppliers. “I like to get the oysters and seafood from there,” Schwartz says. “The reason is, they are a first-class operation. We go to Billy’s (Seafood in Bon Secour) sometimes and Jubilee (Seafood in Bayou La Batre). We serve Alabama seafood, and we buy local. Mobile is local for us.”
Sometimes, customers bring their own fish to Doc’s.
“People go fishing on these boats – they’ve been wanting to go fishing for a long time – and they catch the fish,” Schwartz says. “And then they have an armload of fish, and they think, ‘What am I going to do with these fish?’ So … they can come here and bring their own fish and … we cook it up the way they want. They get to eat their own fish, and that’s a big thrill.”
It’s also nice that they don’t have to clean up, he adds.
“That’s just something we do. There are other places in town that do it, but I believe we’ve been doing it longer than anyone else because we’ve been here longer than anyone else.”
Schwartz says he doesn’t count the number of people Doc’s serves each day. “We take care of people. We’re a people business. We’ve always been a people business. We try to make our decisions based on what’s best for the customers. Usually, what’s best for the customer is for the customer to get comfortable and for us to do what we do. And then we do it the next time they come and the next time and the next time. We do what the customer wants.”
Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar
26029 Canal Road, Orange Beach, AL 36561; 251-981-6999
Sawgrass Landing shopping center, 1140 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores, AL 36542; 251-967-4800
Hours are seasonal, and these are the summer hours. Times will change during cooler months.
Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.