Show of hands: who has bought seafood out of the back of a van? If your hand is politely in your lap, you’re probably imagining a shady character selling substandard product while promising it’s not stolen. If your hand IS raised, you know it means fresh shrimp brought up from the Gulf daily and great prices.
We’re lucky in the Pine Belt to be close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to have easy access to some of the freshest, most delicious seafood to come out of American waters.
We’re both picky and spoiled, so if you’re going to open a seafood restaurant in the ‘Burg, you have to bring your “A” game.
Half Shell Oyster House has opened 10 locations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida since 2009, which seems like a pretty good indicator that they are onto something.
The Hattiesburg location opened in Newpointe Shopping Center in February 2013, and has made a name for itself as home to some of the freshest seafood in town, with a side of great service.
Their spacious dining room accommodates groups large and small, and is decked out with white tablecloths, reclaimed architectural pieces of stained glass and wrought iron, and colorful murals that would be just as much at home in the French Quarter as they are in the Hub City.
Offering lunch and dinner seven days a week with brunch on Sunday, Half Shell Oyster House provides a diverse menu with something for everyone.
If you are a Half Shell newbie in the mood for oysters, but unsure where to start, the Oyster Sampler will start your meal off on a high note.
Perfect for sharing, this sampler treats diners to four different Half Shell specialties – three each of their Charbroiled Oysters and Oysters Orleans, Rockefeller, and Bienville.
Half Shell shucks their oysters fresh to order, tops them with flavor-packed sauces, and broils them to a perfect state of doneness.
I think we can all agree that overcooked seafood is one of the biggest bummers a diner can face, Half Shell is having none of that nonsense.
Their Charbroiled Oysters arrive at your table plump and dressed with a mixture of white wine, butter, garlic and herbs. They are classic and perfect.
Oysters Bienville comes topped with an herb-infused mixture of mushrooms, shrimp and crab and a generous shower of Parmesan cheese – a great choice for seafood lovers.
The iconic Oysters Rockefeller features a golden crust of broiled Parmesan atop a bubbling mixture of cream cheese and spinach with a kiss of the hauntingly-flavored liqueur Pernod.
The hands-down winner in our group, though, was the Oysters Orleans. A Half Shell original, these seductive beauties benefit from a quick dip of their buttery, smoky Cajun sauce. This dish will make oyster-loving converts out of the pickiest eaters.
Oysters, of course, play a starring role in the menu, but also tempting steaks, ever-popular royal red shrimp, burgers, po-boys, pasta, salads, and crab, crab, crab.
Seriously, Half Shell does not skimp on the lump crab meat. They sprinkle it on dishes the way some chefs use parsley, and you’ll hear no complaints from us.
But not just oysters
The starters menu at Half Shell offers a lot more than great oysters, though. The Fried Green Tomatoes and Crab Cakes arrive at your table a feast for the eyes and a treat for the senses.
Half Shell delicately breads thin slices of green tomato and fries them golden before layering them with tender crab cakes and topping them with lemon aioli and crab ravigote.
Crab ravigote boasts a serious New Orleans pedigree, having been served at both Antoine’s and Arnaud’s. Half Shell’s take features lump crab in a creamy, piquant sauce. Spooned liberally over the top of the tomatoes and crab cakes, it gives the dish a luxurious touch at a very reasonable price point.
Salads & Fine Details
Most entrees at Half Shell come with a choice of two sides, and we definitely recommend you make one of those a Half Shell salad. The crisp spring mix comes topped with a unique mixture of avocado, goat cheese and slivered almonds. The house dressing, a roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette, provides the perfect sharp contrast to the smooth avocado and tangy, rich goat cheese.
Hat tip to the prep cook preparing garnish and salad toppings at Half Shell. Those small diced tomatoes and carrots are impressively precise and your knife skills are on point!
Attention to details like a fine dice on garnish and two sauces on an appetizer give a professional polish to Half Shell’s fare.
Jumbo lump crabmeat
A quick perusal of the Half Shell menu reveals an often-repeated phrase – “Topped with jumbo lump crabmeat.” We don’t want to undersell this point, because those might be our favorite words on any menu.
Naturally, we chose entrees topped with jumbo lump crab.
The Redfish Orleans starts with an oversized redfish fillet, seasoned with their own blackening blend, flash cooked in a hot, buttery pan and topped with their take on a New Orleans-style barbecue sauce. They follow this with lush and perfectly-cooked shrimp, a shower of Parmesan shreds, and, yes, jumbo lump crabmeat.
Like all the dishes we tried at Half Shell, this dish lets the quality of the ingredients do most of the work. Sure, their smoky Cajun sauce is great, but it complements the fresh seafood rather than covers it.
This is our favorite kind of seafood dish. A lovely piece of fish, a well-seasoned sauce, a little shrimp and crab lagniappe, and we’re in heaven. Round this out with a vegetable side (you can’t go wrong with any of them) and a finer meal cannot be found.
If you are feeling more turf than surf, though, you cannot go wrong with the Big Easy Surf and Turf. Half Shell pairs your choice of a six- or eight-ounce filet cooked to order with one of their spectacular crab cakes.
The steak is buttery tender, cooked to temp, and seasoned with Half Shell’s own blend. The result is a beautiful steak with a flavor that you won’t find anywhere else in town.
And let’s talk crab cakes.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you get that we love crab and maybe it's time to move on to something else, but we aren’t done yet!
The crab cakes at Half Shell are made with care and very little breading. If you’re going to splash out jumbo lump crab, there’s no need to mask its gorgeous texture with breadcrumbs and over mixing. These are done well.
The filet and crab cake are topped with an herbaceous sauce Béarnaise, a drizzle of balsamic reduction, and – of course – a generous shower of jumbo lump crabmeat. Be still our hearts!
A little something sweet, but not dessert
We usually like to wrap up these articles with a bit of dessert, but y’all, we were stuffed. We
did not save room for even one bite of one of Half Shell’s tempting offerings.
Instead, we’ll spend a little time reminiscing about one of their unique side offerings – Sweet Potato Crème Brule.
This utterly decadent dish pairs velvety mashed sweet potatoes with a caramelized brown sugar crust and a completely shameless pat of whipped cinnamon butter.
We love it when a restaurant lets us order dessert as a side dish and call it a vegetable. Promise us you will order this.
By paying attention to little details, serving fresh, well-prepared fare, and providing friendly, attentive service, Half Shell Oyster House offers the unbeatable combination of food that feels a little fancy in a relaxed, comfortable environment.
Plus jumbo lump crabmeat.
Long-time Hattiesburg residents Jason and Autumn Perry have done their time in local kitchens. Jason started the menu at T-Bones and is currently in the kitchen at the Keg and Barrel. Autumn and Jason created the menu at the Thirsty Hippo and are excited to work together again on Signature restaurant features.