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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

With Crazy Fresh Oysters, Shrimp, Crab and Crawfish, Bozo's Ain't Clowning Around.

Fried oysters at Bozo's in Pascagoula, MS.
What started out as a little bait-and-grocery on Pascagoula's south side has grown into an establishment that draws crowds, food lovers and journalists - a dependable spot for fantastic locally-caught and harvested seafood, po'boy sandwiches and such. We drop in at Bozo's Grocery and Seafood for a Sunday morning bite.

Eight in the morning on a Sunday, with a hankering for seafood and a check-out from a Moss Point hotel. While Grav packed his camera equipment and checked his batteries, I was scanning my phone. I knew The Shed (a barbecue joint I've written about before with outlets in Mobile, Kiln and Vancleave) would open at 10 a.m. since we had dropped in the night before (to discover they were out of almost everything, though the chicken and wings were as expected utterly delightful) and I could see all the national outlets for Wendy's, Waffle House and Cracker Barrell were open nearby. But I don't travel to eat at chains I can dine at while home. I go for an adventure. And frankly, it's been too long since we've spent much time adventuring. 

I'm scanning my phone for local spots and see Bozo's listed as a seafood grocery and sandwich shop, low-key. I mention it to Grav, and he's game, so we check out and take the long route, spiraling down into town on MS 613, looking out over the shipyards and gawking at the too-early-to-be-open businesses about town before heading to Bozo's.

The original front entrance of Bozo's Grocery and Seafood.

I almost missed it because there was this really big building on the right that said Bozo's Too - and got confused. By the time I slowed down enough to pull in, we'd come to the corner, so I turned, meaning to pull in. Yet, every single parking spot to the back of the property on its east side was full. I'm thinking that's a good sign.

Bags of fresh crawfish in the garage at Bozo's.

I went ahead and made the block and came back around, parking in the Bozo's Too lot and walking to the front. On the west side of the building, a garage door was open, and a young man in orange boots was taking in crawfish from a couple of guys carrying in bags. Grav was out front taking his shots. The scent of freshly fried fish hung in the air, enough to draw folks out of their slumber or church, I was sure. This was a really good sign.

Opening the door cinched it. 

The dining room at Bozo's.

To the left, the dining room sprawled, with a cobbled-together selection of booth seats, four top tables, diner chairs and crawfish tables - four-station round bins with cup holders and holes for shoving the shells after pulling the meat and sucking crawfish heads.

Room containing coolers for condiments and fresh fish at Bozo's.Cooler room to the side at Bozos

 To the right there was a room full of coolers, a shelf unit packed with seasonings and hot sauce, and a serve-yourself fountain. 

Inside Bozo's Grocery, a host of tables in the front, with separate counters for boiled and fried seafood in the back.

The back of the room to the left was an entry to the fish market, and to the back right a stand for taking orders in front of a window that lead to the kitchen.

Women work the fry counter at Bozo's.

And there were signs - a LOT of good signs, old ones and new ones, hand-painted and wooden and what-have-you. The big ones were over the fish market enclosure and the grill, painted and, on the grill side, adorned with a giant art piece of an oyster po'boy sandwich. The one over the fish market indicated the age of the place, stating it had been open since 1956.

A man exits the hot boil room at Bozo's.

Yes. Looks like I'd chosen well.

Grav and I dithered a little over what we were getting. It all looked amazing, with a po'boy list that included shrimp, oysters, crabmeat, softshell crab, hamburger, ham and cheese, fish... a big list of dinners that came with baked beans, coleslaw, hush puppies and a choice of fries, potato salad and onion rings. There were shrimp and po-boy baskets, something called crab balls, and a host of other things. I wanted to try everything, of course, but Grav had one thing on his mind.

"Do you actually have oysters here?" he asked. 

Bless her heart, the lovely lady at the stand looked at him as if he'd grown a horn from his forehead. "Yes, we actually do!"

Grav went into his schpiel, one he's raised so many times these past few months. In our visits to the Mississippi Gulf Coast this past several months, his luck has been sour. Many of the places we'd had them before were just out, mostly from pandemic recovery and such, some from the hurricane that swept up this past fall, but his efforts to get a good basket of fried oysters had just been fruitless.

"So, what do I need to order to get the most oysters possible??

"Well, the large oyster dinner has ten. The basket has eight. Or you can order them, they're $1.50 each."

Grav ended up ordering a basket, which came with coleslaw, hush puppies and fries, plus four extra oysters so he could get a round dozen. I went for the crab claws and shrimp dinner, which comes with coleslaw, baked beans, hush puppies and that choice of fries, potato salad or onion rings. I chose the latter, having heard the customer in front of us voice disappointment that the potato salad was still in the process of being made.

Inside Bozo's.

After ordering, you take your ticket across the restaurant to the front counter to ring up with what you want to drink. You're given your cup for beverages and then directed to a cooler to collect containers of tartar sauce, ketchup and cocktail sauce to go with your repast. 

As we're sitting there waiting, the place fills up. It's nine-a-somethin' in the morning and, while the staff is all female, I'm the only other woman in the shop. All of the customers at that moment were men. All of them. 

The steam room counter at Bozo's

The wall menu in the steam room at Bozo's.

And most of them were there on their own, grabbing a bite at one of the tables or waiting in line in the fish market,

Different types of shrimp on the ice in the steamer room at Bozo's.

Shrimp on the ice at Bozo's.

pointing out shrimp they wanted and walking out with paper grocery sacks full of steamed seafood.

A couple sacks of steamed seafood ready to check out at Bozo's.

My name was called, and I went to claim two clamshell boxes - a smaller one for Grav's oysters and a larger one for my more varied dinner. The oysters actually sent up a little steam as I opened the box to take photos.

Fried oysters at Bozo's.

There were more than a dozen oysters in the box, I think perhaps to compensate for a few of them being smaller than the others, or maybe because Grav had gone on quite a bit about his desire to enjoy some oysters after such a long break. It had been quite the break; the last oysters I believe he'd had were those I brought home with me from the McGehee Men's Club Oyster Supper in February 2020, right before the world went to hell for a bit. 

Fried oysters at Bozo's.

They took up the box side-to-side on a piece of wax paper, and were easily scooted over into the lid, revealing some tightly-packed coleslaw, a pile of French fries and two somewhat small round hush puppies. Grav picked up an oyster and bit in, and started pontificating loudly his joy and appreciation. 

Fried oysters at Bozo's.

I'm not even kidding. He was so very, very excited. The oysters were good. He offered me one and I took it. You know the term "melt in your mouth?"  Yes. Yes, that fit quite well. The batter was crispy, seasoned with salt and pepper, maybe a little house seasoning, but it was that fresh oyster flavor that was most apparent, the lightly salty yet substantial oyster itself needing no chewing, no more than to lay on the tongue and dissolve. Magnificent!

Fried crab claw and shrimp dinner at Bozo's.

My larger box revealed a mess of crab claws with their bright and light orange crab tips and slightly blue meat under a light batter, and what appeared to be medium sized tail-on shrimp, dusted with seasoning and a fine crust. 

Baked beans, coleslaw and onion rings at Bozo's.

Sliding my sheet of wax paper over, I found more coleslaw and the same hush puppies, alongside a compartment filled with baked beans loaded with chunks of sausage and a handful of hand-breaded onion rings. 

Fried crab claws and shrimp at Bozo's.

The shrimp was hearty and splendidly seasoned. They were great on their own but that cocktail sauce (!) was just... it had a nice balance with its horseradish, and I coulda eaten that with a spoon. 

A fried shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce at Bozo's.

The crab claws weren't the huge honkers you sometimes get (for a premium price) at the big seafood chains, but they were nicely flavorful and soft and I was very good with that.

Baked beans with bits of sausage at Bozo's.

Grav got into my baked beans, which were somewhere a barbecue bean pot and pork-n-beans, the beans tongue-to-palate soft and the overall affair not too sweet. 

A hush puppy with a small bite out of it at Bozo's.

Them hush puppies were a little sweet, made from yellow cornmeal and packed tight. The fries? Not all that remarkable, but considering everything else, we both could overlook that, especially because I was fine dipping those in tartar sauce.

Bozo's coleslaw.

I absolutely delighted in the sweet coleslaw, sorta close to the KFC recipe but with a larger cut. 

Onion rings at Bozo's.

Those onion rings were worthy of my master list of onion rings, very close to those Ms. Pearl Jones still makes with crackermeal at Ray's in Monticello, with that nice salt-and-pepper dusting and light batter. I did find they broke easy, but that was necessary for dipping.

Grav hadn't even finished his meal when he decided to go tell everyone in the store just how great those oysters were. He went to the front counter and bragged on how he hadn't had any that good since he lived in Savannah back in the mid-2000s, and what a treat it was. 

Elvis "Bozo" Delcambre, original owner.

That's where we heard more of the story, how the original owner, Ellis "Bozo" Delcambre, used to sell locally caught fish from the grocery store and developed a loyal clientele. His son Russell added a deli in 1985 and it continued to grow. Third generation store owner Keith Delcambre took over in 2001. 

An old ticket at Bozo's.

The oysters at Bozo's are fresh and plentiful. And turns out, the family has a plan. When hurricanes (which can churn the tar out of an oyster bed) form up in the Gulf and head towards Pascagoula, they pull up the middens (the oyster reefs) and bring them up, storing them in saline water until the storm passes. By doing this, they keep the oysters proliferating, and that ensures oyster availability and constancy.

He was going on all about the oysters, and I finished my shrimp and crab claws, and those oysters were just looking at me. I decided to swipe one, and then another, and then I was just getting anxious because man, they were good but I had that seven and a half hour drive back to Little Rock and eating everything wasn't going to make that drive easy. 

I finally lured Grav back to the table and asked him to go order a footlong fried oyster po'boy to go. he gleefully bounced back over to the order stand and shared his exuberance with the lady there, who was grinning. He got the "garden" (lettuce and tomato") on the side and we put in a couple of cocktail sauce containers to take with, and hit the road.

The end of an oyster po boy from Bozo's.

And that's how we ended up sitting under the awning at one of the two Circle Ks in Magee later that afternoon, passing a sandwich and trying not to just consume the whole damn thing at once, marveling at the absolutely excellent French bread and how it had absorbed juice and grease from the oysters and made just this irresistible sandwich. It was sublime.

Grav chomps down on an oyster po boy from Bozo's.

Come to find out, while reading a bit on the laptop after our usual stop at Snow Boogers and pass through Wiggins, that Bozo's had all these accolades and had been named to all these different lists as being one of the top seafood places anywhere. A whole wall of newspaper articles attested to that while we were there, and a host of internet reviews said the same thing. I cannot argue differently. I can only make sure I add it to the repeat roster for my next trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

If you're looking for Bozo's, you'll find it at 2012 Ingalls Boulevard in Pascagoula, MS. Call ahead if you like to (228) 762-3322, or check for specials on the Facebook page - which, if I'd seen that first, I'd have gotten the Shrimp Overload, which is a shrimp po'boy COVERED IN MORE FRIED SHRIMP. Oh lordy. Yep, definitely going back.

Bozo's menu (click to enlargen)

Oh, I spotted Cavender's Greek Seasoning on the shelf at Bozo's. 

Seasonings and sauces on the shelf at Bozo's.

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