Nothing's Slicker, Nothing's Moister

Jenny Scarborough
Nothing's Slicker, Nothing's Moister

Expect lots of oysters on the half shell from Ocracoke’s newest restaurant.

The Topless Oyster is scheduled to open in mid-March.

“We will be upper scale but not fine dining,” said owner Janille Turner. So who will be topless? “Just the oysters,” said Janille.

Local seafood will be the star of the menu. “Everything is being made fresh,” said Janille’s husband, George, who will manage the kitchen. “I’ll be cooking on the line every night,” he said.

The Topless Oyster will be open for lunch and dinner and serve a Sunday brunch with many different styles of eggs Benedict. The menu’s inspiration is Southern coastal food.

The Topless Oyster will have a full bar, but won’t be open late night, at least not at first. “We are not going to focus on the bar and having music until we are confident the food is really good,” said Janille.

The menu will offer items unavailable at other island restaurants. “We’ll have a couple of all you can eat nights,” said Janille. “With crab legs and fish frys,” added George.

The large screened porch is the perfect place to serve messy communal meals, like steamer crabs and low country boils, said Janille. “Let people know we’ll be needing their newspaper!” Janille said. (I thought everyone was getting their news online these days, from Ocracoke Current.)

The restaurant is in the former home of Captain Ben’s and Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet. Old favorites from Ben’s will return to the menu. “We’re bringing back the corned beef sandwich,” said George. Hallelujah! says this writer.

Prime Rib, a popular Captain Ben‘s entrée, will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays. More cheers!

Two other icons will return. Miggy O’Neal and Laurie Garrish are confirmed employees. If having one of these two wait on you isn’t reason to visit a restaurant, I don’t know what is.

Ronnie Howard will help George in the kitchen. “He and Wild Bill were my mentors,” said George, of learning the ropes of a restaurant kitchen. “Ronnie will be the bad mother shucker,” said George.

They hope to hire as many locals as possible. “We want it to be a fun place for all the locals, and to serve good food,” said George. Between them, Janille and George have decades of experience in the restaurant business.

They opened their first restaurant, the original Topless Oyster, in Dauphin Island, Alabama and successfully ran it for four years before deciding to return to Ocracoke.

In 1996, the couple was introduced at Howard’s Pub by bartender Alan Frasier. “Worst day of my life,” said George, who was vacationing on the island at the time.

“I hated him,” said Janille.

In 1999, George was passing through town again, and was offered a job at the Pub by one of the owners, Buffy Warner. “We were out late partying, and Buffy was there. Buffy said, ‘You want a job?’ I’d never worked in a restaurant in my life,” said George, who accepted the offer and moved to the island.

A few years later he was managing the kitchen.

George and Janille Turner
George and Janille Turner

Janille had been working at the Pub since 1996. When she heard George was joining the crew, she considered quitting, but Buffy convinced her to stay.  During their first three months as co-workers, the two didn’t speak.

The ice finally broke when Janille arrived for a shift and made a lurid comment. George was at his station in the kitchen and couldn’t resist responding. The two share a randy sense of humor. They’ve been together ever since and were married in 2001.

They plan to keep The Topless Oyster open most of the year, closing in January and February. The restaurant can accommodate about two hundred people, and will be available for events.

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