Over 100 Years Ago
While out sailing one day in February of 1900, Standard Oil and Railroad magnet, Henry Flagler stopped at North Beach and asked Catherine and Frank Usina if they could prepare a meal of roasted local oysters for himself and a group of friends. The Usina’s agreed. Afterwards, a hat was passed and they were presented with what was more than a weeks’ salary at that time.
That began a tradition of serving fresh, local seafood that survived the depression and spanned the transition from Usina’s Pavilion to Oscar’s Old Florida Restaurant through several operators until the restaurant burned in September 2001.
Frank Andreu Usina’s family was one of several indentured servants from the island of Menorca who fled the failed English Colony at New Smyrna to safety in St. Augustine in 1768.
In 1900, Frank was a carpenter working in Miami for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad when a yellow fever epidemic shut down all work. Not being able to return to work in Miami because of the quarantine he and his young bride, Catherine Evans, stayed in a small building remnant of the failed North Beach residential development circa 1890. The building stands today as the center structure of the Usina family home where Mary Louise Usina Brown and her husband lived.
Frank and Catherine decided to remain at North Beach and cater to St. Augustine’s winter guests who came in their own boats. Palmetto thatched structures were constructed to serve meals consisting often of oysters, clam chowder, potato salad, baked beans and biscuits. Sometimes chicken or shrimp pilau (a Menorcan rice dish) or fried fish were available.
Soon a boat was rented to transport guests from St. Augustine (less than five miles away). By 1910 a larger boat was purchased and a barn raising one weekend added the building that served many thousands over more than 90 years.
Pictures and artifacts line the walls of the charming waterside restaurant the Usina family opened March of 2009. Named “Aunt Kate’s” for Catherine Usina, as she was known by the extended family, you’ll find steamed oysters and crabs, pilau, and fried fish and shrimp as part of our extensive menu.