10 Classic Beach Eats of the Gulf Coast

From fried shrimp to po’ boys, these dishes and their stories define the region

Redfish

Redfish, also known as red drum, are one of the most popular Gulf Coast finfish—and for lots of good reasons. They’re plentiful year-round in a variety of marine habitats; they’re not difficult to catch from piers and boats, in the surf, or in deep Gulf waters; and they aren’t fussy about bait. Their firm but flaky mild white flesh is delicious and versatile; it performs beautifully on the grill, in the oven, or in a frying pan.

Many coastal restaurants offer redfish on their menus. Topwater Grill in San Leon serves Drunken Redfish with a white wine-and-butter Pontchartrain sauce, and Chili Pepper Redfish Deluxe with tequila lime butter, shrimp, scallops, and crab. They’ll also cook your own fresh catch of redfish. For casting your line, Sylvan Beach Pier in La Porte and Texas City Dike in Texas City are both excellent spots.

In all Gulf Coast states (except Mississippi), redfish are for sport fishing only. There’s been no commercial wild redfish industry in Texas since 1990. When restaurants or stores offer redfish, they are raised on farms, mostly located around Palacios. Redfish farms produce more than a million pounds annually, usually around 1.5-3 pounds each (so fillets will fit on a dinner plate). In the wild, redfish grow to 6-8 pounds in three years and can get far larger.

Redfish have been an integral part of Texas Gulf Coast history. They were an important food source for Native Americans who fished the bays with nets, traps, and spears. The long oyster shell barrier that stretches from San Leon to Smith Point, known by early Mexican fishermen as a fertile source for redfish, became known as Redfish Bar when Anglo immigrants settled in the region in the early 19th century. Stephen F. Austin’s surveyor Elias Wightman mapped Redfish Bar in 1831; British visitor Charles Hooton described fishing for teeming redfish along the bar in his 1847 travelogue, St. Louis’ Isle, or Texiana.

In modern times, boaters can access Redfish Bar’s shifting shell formations; it has fine spots for fishing and viewing cargo ships headed for the busy port of Houston. In 1914, deep cuts were dredged into the bar to allow large vessels to enter the bay and access the Port of Houston via the Ship Channel. But redfish still congregate there. —MM Pack

Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Redfish, also known as red drum, are one of the most popular Gulf Coast finfish—and for lots of good reasons. They’re plentiful year-round in a variety of marine habitats; they’re not difficult to catch from piers and boats, in the surf, or in deep Gulf waters; and they aren’t fussy about bait. Their firm but flaky mild white flesh is delicious and versatile; it performs beautifully on the grill, in the oven, or in a frying pan.

Many coastal restaurants offer redfish on their menus. Topwater Grill in San Leon serves Drunken Redfish with a white wine-and-butter Pontchartrain sauce, and Chili Pepper Redfish Deluxe with tequila lime butter, shrimp, scallops, and crab. They’ll also cook your own fresh catch of redfish. For casting your line, Sylvan Beach Pier in La Porte and Texas City Dike in Texas City are both excellent spots.

In all Gulf Coast states (except Mississippi), redfish are for sport fishing only. There’s been no commercial wild redfish industry in Texas since 1990. When restaurants or stores offer redfish, they are raised on farms, mostly located around Palacios. Redfish farms produce more than a million pounds annually, usually around 1.5-3 pounds each (so fillets will fit on a dinner plate). In the wild, redfish grow to 6-8 pounds in three years and can get far larger.

Redfish have been an integral part of Texas Gulf Coast history. They were an important food source for Native Americans who fished the bays with nets, traps, and spears. The long oyster shell barrier that stretches from San Leon to Smith Point, known by early Mexican fishermen as a fertile source for redfish, became known as Redfish Bar when Anglo immigrants settled in the region in the early 19th century. Stephen F. Austin’s surveyor Elias Wightman mapped Redfish Bar in 1831; British visitor Charles Hooton described fishing for teeming redfish along the bar in his 1847 travelogue, St. Louis’ Isle, or Texiana.

In modern times, boaters can access Redfish Bar’s shifting shell formations; it has fine spots for fishing and viewing cargo ships headed for the busy port of Houston. In 1914, deep cuts were dredged into the bar to allow large vessels to enter the bay and access the Port of Houston via the Ship Channel. But redfish still congregate there. —MM Pack

EAT HERE

Topwater Grill
815 Ave. O, San Leon
281-339-1232
topwatergrill.com

Campechana

Tookie's Seafood in Seabrook. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

On a hot day at the coast, some find refreshment with a chilled dish of super-fresh seafood. In recent years, coastal Texas has enthusiastically adopted the spicy seafood concoction from Mexico called cóctel a la campechana. Here, it’s usually known simply as campechana.

Named for Campeche, the ancient Mexican port city on the Gulf, traditional campechana includes combinations of marinated and/or poached seafood: shrimp, crab, oysters, octopus, and occasionally finfish, swimming in tomato sauce with avocado, cilantro, onions, and lime juice. It’s most often served in a large margarita or sundae glass with tostadas or saltines on the side. Some swear by its restorative properties for curing a hangover. In Mexico, campechana indicates mixed seafood, but in Texas it most often means Gulf shrimp with campechana flavors.

In Spanish, the term “campechana” describes not only the cocktail, but also a generally pleasant, easygoing person. How perfect. —M.M.P.

Make It

Tookie’s campechana cocktail recipe »

EAT HERE

Tookie’s Seafood
1106 Bayport Blvd., Seabrook
281-942-9445
tookiesseafood.com

Shave Ice

Head to downtown Kemah for some “Kemah therapy” at Kahuna Joe’s Hawaiian Shave Ice—arguably Texas’ best shave ice stand. “We spend a lot of time testing and prepping our handmade flavors,” owner Joe Serrano says. “We make all of our syrups in-house with fruit extracts that we fly in from Hawaii. Our most popular flavor is the ‘Shark Attack,’ a blend of Tiger’s Blood [a mix of watermelon and strawberry syrups with a hint of coconut] and blue coconut over vanilla ice cream, finished with a cream topping.”

Originally called kakigōri, shave ice dates to the 11th-century as a summer treat for Japanese aristocracy. Servants would save blocks of winter ice, shave off a snowy mound, and drizzle it with flavored syrups. Japanese immigrants working at Hawaiian sugar cane plantations introduced kakigōri there in the 1920s and ’30s , and it shape-shifted into Hawaiian shave ice.

Throughout the summer, seasonal shave ice stands, carts, and food trucks dot Texas beach towns, offering up icy enticements and kaleidoscopic syrups. Choose among traditional tropical flavors such as mango, pineapple, kiwi, orange, and lemon/lime, or customize your concoction by combining several syrups. —Susan L. Ebert

Joe Serrano, owner of Kahuna Joe's in Kemah. Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Joe Serrano, owner of Kahuna Joe's in Kemah. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Head to downtown Kemah for some “Kemah therapy” at Kahuna Joe’s Hawaiian Shave Ice—arguably Texas’ best shave ice stand. “We spend a lot of time testing and prepping our handmade flavors,” owner Joe Serrano says. “We make all of our syrups in-house with fruit extracts that we fly in from Hawaii. Our most popular flavor is the ‘Shark Attack,’ a blend of Tiger’s Blood [a mix of watermelon and strawberry syrups with a hint of coconut] and blue coconut over vanilla ice cream, finished with a cream topping.”

Originally called kakigōri, shave ice dates to the 11th-century as a summer treat for Japanese aristocracy. Servants would save blocks of winter ice, shave off a snowy mound, and drizzle it with flavored syrups. Japanese immigrants working at Hawaiian sugar cane plantations introduced kakigōri there in the 1920s and ’30s , and it shape-shifted into Hawaiian shave ice.

Throughout the summer, seasonal shave ice stands, carts, and food trucks dot Texas beach towns, offering up icy enticements and kaleidoscopic syrups. Choose among traditional tropical flavors such as mango, pineapple, kiwi, orange, and lemon/lime, or customize your concoction by combining several syrups. —Susan L. Ebert

EAT HERE

Kahuna Joe’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
604 Bradford Ave., Kemah
832-735-5004
kahunajoes.com

 

EAT HERE

Kahuna Joe’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
604 Bradford Ave., Kemah
832-735-5004
kahunajoes.com

Barbecued Crabs

Barbecued Crab at Schooner Restaurant in Nederland. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Barbecued crab isn’t like any other Texas barbecue, nor is it akin to the buttery barbecued shrimp from New Orleans. Spicy and deep-fried, the delicacy traces its roots to Sabine Pass in the 1940s, when seaside shacks like Granger’s, Geneva’s, Channel Inn, and Deslattes served up heaping platters. Even in the 1970s and ’80s, you could find a plenitude at cafés all over the Sabine Lake and Lower Neches River areas. No such luck now, though.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened—crawfish happened,” says Joseph Fertitta, CEO and president of the Beaumont-based seasoning company TexJoy. “They’re a lot more affordable than crabs, but we still sell plenty of crab blends to different restaurants around here.”

The 98-year-old company specializes in seasonings that have made the messy, labor-intensive process of eating barbecued crab worthwhile. There’s pleasure in mining the tender crab meat from the spice-crusted shells, then dousing it with fresh lemon squeezes. At bustling 72-year-old Nederland restaurant The Schooner, a delicious dinner platter of barbecued crabs bears a customized TexJoy blend that’s a deft balance of spicy and sweet.

For not-so-spicy barbecued crab, head to Larry’s French Market in Groves, midway between Port Arthur and Port Neches. The former 1960s grocery converted into a restaurant in the 1990s and sells about 1,000 pounds of crab weekly, year-round—much of it the barbecued variety and always available on the buffet. The fried crustaceans are seasoned without cayenne.

Barbecued crabs will always be at Larry’s, Manager Stewart Gordon says, even if they have to be brought in from Mexico. Hurricanes like Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 destroyed the local crab-fishing beds, and there went the barbecued crab supply.

“For the first time in my career, you couldn’t get crabs,” says Gordon, who’s worked for decades in the local food business. “Prices went up, and a lot of businesses couldn’t afford them anymore. The beds were slowly coming back when [2017’s Hurricane] Harvey brought too much water—fresh water. And crabs need salt water to thrive.”

Despite intervention from mudbugs and Mother Nature, barbecued crabs remain one of the most distinctive—and delicious—coastal offerings. —June Naylor

EAT HERE

The Schooner
1507 US 69 Access Road, Nederland
409-722-2323
theschoonerrestaurant.com

Larry’s French Market
3701 Pure Atlantic Road, Groves
409-962-3381
larrysfrenchmarket.com

Margarita

Santos Cruz Jr. was born in Galveston in 1948, so he doesn’t have a personal recollection of the events of that year, but he does know one thing: “My father invented the margarita in 1948,” he says emphatically. The conviction in his voice is clear. This is a story he grew up with. It’s one he’s lived and breathed all his life, and he tells it well. It’s the legend of the margarita.

The year was 1948. The jazz singer Peggy Lee, who had just released her No. 1 record, “Mañana,” and is best known today for her sultry cover of “Fever,” was one of the celebrities booked to perform at the Balinese Room in Galveston. It was the height of the “open era” on Galveston Island, so named because vice and illegal activity—bolstered by robust tourism—largely went unregulated. The Maceo brothers, who owned illegal casinos and restaurants all over the island and were involved in organized crime, ruled the city, which they’d turned into a playground for the rich and famous. The Balinese Room and the Hollywood Dinner Club were magnets for A-listers, booking stars like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Tony Bennett.

At the time, the bartender in charge at all of the Maceos’ bars was a young man by the name of Santos Cruz. He was working at the Balinese Room when Peggy Lee and her husband, David Barbour, came in talking about their trip to Mexico. Some of that conversation touched on tequila, with Peggy expressing that she liked tequila but didn’t like the Mexican way of drinking it straight, then chasing it with lime and salt. At one point, Lee asked Cruz to make a specialized drink just for her.

A popular drink at the time was the sidecar—its recipe calls for cognac, Cointreau, and lemon. Cruz used the sidecar as the inspiration for Peggy’s new drink, and because she’d expressed favor for tequila, substituted the cognac with tequila, and the lemons with limes. Then, in keeping with the convention of chasing tequila with lime and salt, he substituted the sidecar’s sugar rim with a salt rim.

Peggy, of course, loved the drink. When her husband asked Cruz what the drink was called, Cruz responded “Call it what you want.” Peggy’s husband responded that it should be named after her, and since Peggy is a diminutive of Margaret, it was named “margarita.”

At this point, one might wonder: But how did the margarita come to be so well known everywhere? Cruz Jr. has an answer for this as well. According to his father, one of his best customers was a very wealthy gentleman named Maco Stewart. Maco’s father had been the founder of Stewart Title, a national title and escrow services company, which made Maco a millionaire. A frequent patron of the various Maceo properties, Maco, who’d gotten to know Cruz well, also loved his margarita invention. And so, wherever he traveled, whatever bar he found himself in, he would always ask: “Do you know how to make a margarita?” He would then show the bartender how to make one.

“Dad always gave Maco credit for being the one to spread the word about the margarita,” Cruz Jr. says.

Of course, there are almost a dozen competing stories for who invented the margarita. At this point, the only relevant origin story is the one that its inventor believes. In the case of Santos Cruz, its origins began in coastal Texas, on the island of Galveston. —Mai Pham

Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Santos Cruz Jr. was born in Galveston in 1948, so he doesn’t have a personal recollection of the events of that year, but he does know one thing: “My father invented the margarita in 1948,” he says emphatically. The conviction in his voice is clear. This is a story he grew up with. It’s one he’s lived and breathed all his life, and he tells it well. It’s the legend of the margarita.

The year was 1948. The jazz singer Peggy Lee, who had just released her No. 1 record, “Mañana,” and is best known today for her sultry cover of “Fever,” was one of the celebrities booked to perform at the Balinese Room in Galveston. It was the height of the “open era” on Galveston Island, so named because vice and illegal activity—bolstered by robust tourism—largely went unregulated. The Maceo brothers, who owned illegal casinos and restaurants all over the island and were involved in organized crime, ruled the city, which they’d turned into a playground for the rich and famous. The Balinese Room and the Hollywood Dinner Club were magnets for A-listers, booking stars like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Tony Bennett.

At the time, the bartender in charge at all of the Maceos’ bars was a young man by the name of Santos Cruz. He was working at the Balinese Room when Peggy Lee and her husband, David Barbour, came in talking about their trip to Mexico. Some of that conversation touched on tequila, with Peggy expressing that she liked tequila but didn’t like the Mexican way of drinking it straight, then chasing it with lime and salt. At one point, Lee asked Cruz to make a specialized drink just for her.

A popular drink at the time was the sidecar—its recipe calls for cognac, Cointreau, and lemon. Cruz used the sidecar as the inspiration for Peggy’s new drink, and because she’d expressed favor for tequila, substituted the cognac with tequila, and the lemons with limes. Then, in keeping with the convention of chasing tequila with lime and salt, he substituted the sidecar’s sugar rim with a salt rim.

Peggy, of course, loved the drink. When her husband asked Cruz what the drink was called, Cruz responded “Call it what you want.” Peggy’s husband responded that it should be named after her, and since Peggy is a diminutive of Margaret, it was named “margarita.”

At this point, one might wonder: But how did the margarita come to be so well known everywhere? Cruz Jr. has an answer for this as well. According to his father, one of his best customers was a very wealthy gentleman named Maco Stewart. Maco’s father had been the founder of Stewart Title, a national title and escrow services company, which made Maco a millionaire. A frequent patron of the various Maceo properties, Maco, who’d gotten to know Cruz well, also loved his margarita invention. And so, wherever he traveled, whatever bar he found himself in, he would always ask: “Do you know how to make a margarita?” He would then show the bartender how to make one.

“Dad always gave Maco credit for being the one to spread the word about the margarita,” Cruz Jr. says.

Of course, there are almost a dozen competing stories for who invented the margarita. At this point, the only relevant origin story is the one that its inventor believes. In the case of Santos Cruz, its origins began in coastal Texas, on the island of Galveston. —Mai Pham

Fried Shrimp

Photo: Eric W. Pohl

When Bob and Ann Laws purchased the Monument Inn in La Porte in 1990, things did not get off to an auspicious start. Six months after purchasing the 16-year-old restaurant, a kitchen fire burned the business to the ground. The couple reopened in 10 weeks, 2 miles away.

Thirty years later the restaurant doesn’t just persist, but thrives, feeding customers 80,000 pounds of shrimp and 25,000 pounds of fresh fish and crawfish annually, and serving 1,000 cinnamon rolls every Saturday.

The menu features everything from alligator and tuna to étouffée (a classic Cajun stew) and filet mignon, but the star remains the fried jumbo-size Gulf brown shrimp. “We’ll peel, devein, butterfly, and bread probably 100 pounds [on a weekday],” Laws says. “Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it’s more like 200 pounds.”

The result is a crisp, crunchy piece of perfection, with nary a hint of grease, blanketing an exquisitely cooked crustacean. “We’re a destination,” Laws says. “Ninety percent of our business is people who are coming here specifically.”

Kimberly Culver of Friendswood, a patron of the Monument Inn for more than 30 years, likes making the restaurant part of her own Texas history tour. “I love bringing visitors from out of state to see the San Jacinto Monument and the Battleship Texas, then stop at the Monument Inn,” she says.

For all the atmosphere the picturesque waterfront location provides customers, “it’s a risk/reward thing,” Laws points out. The downstairs private dining rooms took on 3 feet of water with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and 2 feet of water from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but the main dining room upstairs survived both storms. From June to October, Laws regularly checks four online weather sources several times a day. “It’s part of being on the water in Texas.”

Monument Inn loyalists happily keep reaping the rewards. —Joe Nick Patoski

EAT HERE

Monument Inn
4406 Independence Parkway South, La Porte
281-479-1521
monumentinn.com

Oysters

Patrons at an oyster bar in Boston typically order Prince Edward Island oysters. In Seattle, the choice variety is the Pacific oyster. Inside their shells, dainty meats await. Connoisseurs in other parts of the country prefer pedigreed oysters bearing names of the places where they grow.  We Texans love our burly-by-comparison Gulf oysters, known among their devotees as the biggest and best.

The truth is that Gulf oysters come from distinctive saltwater appellations, too: The oysters we’re enjoying from Galveston Bay are pulled from places with names like Ladies Pass, Pepper Grove, and Bull Hill. And though they bear slightly different characteristics from one another, labeling mollusks has never been important to Texans. And guess what? Good ol’ Gulf oysters are enjoyed far beyond our own shoreline, too.

“Our oysters are popular not only in the Gulf States but up through Atlanta, into the Carolinas and Maryland. In fact, a lot of the oysters people enjoy all over the United States come from the Gulf Coast,” says Raz Halili, who runs Prestige Oysters in San Leon, near Kemah on Galveston Bay. “Most people like a meatier oyster like ours. They’d rather have a big, plump, creamy oyster that almost tastes like salted butter than those little translucent ones floating in their shells.”

Halili, whose dad immigrated from Albania in the 1970s and began work as an oyster boat deckhand near Galveston, says the demand for Gulf oysters can’t be underestimated. Today, the Halilis’ fishing business harvests from 40,000 acres of oyster grounds in Texas and Louisiana and also buys from another 80 to 100 independent oyster fishermen, many of whom Halili grew up working alongside.

Gulf oyster season generally runs from early November through late April. Halili advises ignoring the theory that oysters are fine in months that end in “er;” the water needs to be chilly for oysters to be good. “You’d never want to eat an oyster from here in September or probably even October. But the ones caught in February and March? They’re as good as it gets.”

In the off-season, you’ll have to find restaurants that serve fresh-frozen Gulf oysters. Some will do so only for oysters that are baked, grilled, or fried—but never for oysters on the half-shell. For those, you must visit in-season.

For the finest repertoire of oysters grilled and baked in their shells, head to century-old Gaido’s in Galveston. Nick Gaido, descended from founder San Giacinto Gaido, estimates the restaurant goes through 50,000 oysters weekly during oyster season. While you can’t go wrong eating oysters raw on the half-shell, don’t overlook New Orleans-style favorites such as Bienville, baked in a creamed topping of chopped shrimp, onion, mushroom, Louisiana hot sauce, and Parmesan; and Rockefeller, in a blanket of buttery spinach, shallot, Pernod, and bread crumbs. Another Gaido’s signature is its oysters brochette, plump oysters wrapped in bacon and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Any smart Texan knows you can’t do that with some prissy East Coast oyster. —J.N.

Oysters Trio at Tookie's Seafood in Seabrook. Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Oysters Trio at Tookie's Seafood in Seabrook. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Patrons at an oyster bar in Boston typically order Prince Edward Island oysters. In Seattle, the choice variety is the Pacific oyster. Inside their shells, dainty meats await. Connoisseurs in other parts of the country prefer pedigreed oysters bearing names of the places where they grow.  We Texans love our burly-by-comparison Gulf oysters, known among their devotees as the biggest and best.

The truth is that Gulf oysters come from distinctive saltwater appellations, too: The oysters we’re enjoying from Galveston Bay are pulled from places with names like Ladies Pass, Pepper Grove, and Bull Hill. And though they bear slightly different characteristics from one another, labeling mollusks has never been important to Texans. And guess what? Good ol’ Gulf oysters are enjoyed far beyond our own shoreline, too.

“Our oysters are popular not only in the Gulf States but up through Atlanta, into the Carolinas and Maryland. In fact, a lot of the oysters people enjoy all over the United States come from the Gulf Coast,” says Raz Halili, who runs Prestige Oysters in San Leon, near Kemah on Galveston Bay. “Most people like a meatier oyster like ours. They’d rather have a big, plump, creamy oyster that almost tastes like salted butter than those little translucent ones floating in their shells.”

Halili, whose dad immigrated from Albania in the 1970s and began work as an oyster boat deckhand near Galveston, says the demand for Gulf oysters can’t be underestimated. Today, the Halilis’ fishing business harvests from 40,000 acres of oyster grounds in Texas and Louisiana and also buys from another 80 to 100 independent oyster fishermen, many of whom Halili grew up working alongside.

Gulf oyster season generally runs from early November through late April. Halili advises ignoring the theory that oysters are fine in months that end in “er;” the water needs to be chilly for oysters to be good. “You’d never want to eat an oyster from here in September or probably even October. But the ones caught in February and March? They’re as good as it gets.”

In the off-season, you’ll have to find restaurants that serve fresh-frozen Gulf oysters. Some will do so only for oysters that are baked, grilled, or fried—but never for oysters on the half-shell. For those, you must visit in-season.

For the finest repertoire of oysters grilled and baked in their shells, head to century-old Gaido’s in Galveston. Nick Gaido, descended from founder San Giacinto Gaido, estimates the restaurant goes through 50,000 oysters weekly during oyster season. While you can’t go wrong eating oysters raw on the half-shell, don’t overlook New Orleans-style favorites such as Bienville, baked in a creamed topping of chopped shrimp, onion, mushroom, Louisiana hot sauce, and Parmesan; and Rockefeller, in a blanket of buttery spinach, shallot, Pernod, and bread crumbs. Another Gaido’s signature is its oysters brochette, plump oysters wrapped in bacon and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Any smart Texan knows you can’t do that with some prissy East Coast oyster. —J.N.

EAT HERE

Gaido’s
3828 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
409-761-5500
gaidos.com

Po’ Boys

Black Pearl Oyster Bar in Galveston, TX. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

An 1851 story in New Orleans’ The Daily Picayune heralded a new creation at Sam’s Saloon: Instead of selling a dozen oysters in the then-standard tin container, the barkeep began dishing up the briny bivalves freshly fried or broiled and stuffed into a hollowed-out French bread loaf. The new format was a hit with his customers, but it wasn’t until 1929, when restaurateur brothers Benny and Clovis Martin handed out free hot sandwiches to streetcar drivers on strike—with the brothers referring to the men on the picket line as those “poor boys”—that this Crescent City staple earned its celebrated moniker. Sometime soon after, po’boys crossed the Sabine River into Texas, clutched in the hands of our Cajun brothers and sisters.

The fresher the seafood, the better the po’boy, which is why, with its robust commercial shrimp and oyster fisheries, Galveston Bay boasts po’boys rivaling those of the Big Easy. Standouts include the stellar oyster po’boy at the adults-only ramshackle dive, Gilhooley’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar in San Leon, and the “Po’Boyd” stuffed with succulent shrimp at Boyd’s Cajun Grill Express in Texas City. Another haunt is the Black Pearl Oyster Bar, which serves seven po’boys, including the “Pearl Po’Boy,” an oyster po’boy topped with crumbled blue cheese and one filled with sumptuous soft-shelled crab. “We’re a small business, and we source from other small businesses,” says Black Pearl Manager Ana Cisneros, “including a bakery that delivers fresh-baked bread daily and two or three small seafood purveyors, so that everything’s at the height of freshness.” —S.L.E.

EAT HERE

Black Pearl Oyster Bar
327 23rd St., Galveston
409-762-7299

Cook Your Catch

Fishing is one of the many joys of spending time in coastal Texas. But what happens after you’ve caught your bounty? If you love the sport but not spending all your time in the kitchen, these five restaurants are ready and willing to cook your catch for you.

Laguna Reef

Located on the water with patio seating and an upper deck, this family-owned restaurant’s motto is, “A good day of fishing deserves a great deal of frying.” Patrons with their own boat can pull up and dock right in front of the restaurant, then order their fresh catch fried, grilled, seasoned with lemon pepper, or blackened, and served with a side of hush puppies and bread.

4242 Laguna Shores Road, Corpus Christi
361-947-2600
bluffslanding.com/restaurant

Olympia Grill

While most people visit Olympia Grill for Greek specialties like Greek salad, gyros, and moussaka, those in the know bring their fresh catch and have the restaurant prepare it. Olympia charges $19.99 per person irrespective of poundage, and can prepare your catch blackened, grilled, or fried, with a choice of two sides.

4908 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
409-766-1222
olympiagrill.com

Blackbeard’s

Open since 1978 on South Padre Island’s main boulevard, Blackbeard’s charges $9.75 per person per 12-ounce portion, cooked the way you want it (blackened, fried, or charbroiled), with two sides. For something a little different, order your catch as fish tacos or blackened fish enchiladas.

103 E. Saturn Lane, South Padre Island
956-761-2962
blackbeardsspi.com

Snappers Bar & Grill

“I mainly serve burgers, shrimp, and oysters,” Snappers owner Cathy Royer says. “For $16 a pound, you bring in your fish already cleaned and filleted, and we’ll cook it whichever way you want it.” Royer prepares the fish to order—blackened, grilled, or fried—and serves it with a choice of three sides, ranging from coleslaw to Texas toast.

1710 FM 2031
Matagorda
979-863-7990

Stingaree

Its unique location near the Intracoastal Waterway guarantees beautiful views of the ocean and sunset. If you’re out fishing for the day, dock your boat out front, clean your fish, then bring it in and have them prepare it for you. As the owners say, “You hook ’em, we cook ’em!”

1295 N. Stingaree Drive, Crystal Beach
409-684-2731
stingaree.com

M.P.

Patty Wilson of Back Porch Bar and Harbor Grill. Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Patty Wilson of Back Porch Bar and Harbor Grill. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Fishing is one of the many joys of spending time in coastal Texas. But what happens after you’ve caught your bounty? If you love the sport but not spending all your time in the kitchen, these five restaurants are ready and willing to cook your catch for you.

Laguna Reef

Located on the water with patio seating and an upper deck, this family-owned restaurant’s motto is, “A good day of fishing deserves a great deal of frying.” Patrons with their own boat can pull up and dock right in front of the restaurant, then order their fresh catch fried, grilled, seasoned with lemon pepper, or blackened, and served with a side of hush puppies and bread.

4242 Laguna Shores Road, Corpus Christi
361-947-2600
bluffslanding.com/restaurant

Olympia Grill

While most people visit Olympia Grill for Greek specialties like Greek salad, gyros, and moussaka, those in the know bring their fresh catch and have the restaurant prepare it. Olympia charges $19.99 per person irrespective of poundage, and can prepare your catch blackened, grilled, or fried, with a choice of two sides.

4908 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
409-766-1222
olympiagrill.com

Blackbeard’s

Open since 1978 on South Padre Island’s main boulevard, Blackbeard’s charges $9.75 per person per 12-ounce portion, cooked the way you want it (blackened, fried, or charbroiled), with two sides. For something a little different, order your catch as fish tacos or blackened fish enchiladas.

103 E. Saturn Lane, South Padre Island
956-761-2962
blackbeardsspi.com

Snappers Bar & Grill

“I mainly serve burgers, shrimp, and oysters,” Snappers owner Cathy Royer says. “For $16 a pound, you bring in your fish already cleaned and filleted, and we’ll cook it whichever way you want it.” Royer prepares the fish to order—blackened, grilled, or fried—and serves it with a choice of three sides, ranging from coleslaw to Texas toast.

1710 FM 2031
Matagorda
979-863-7990

Stingaree

Its unique location near the Intracoastal Waterway guarantees beautiful views of the ocean and sunset. If you’re out fishing for the day, dock your boat out front, clean your fish, then bring it in and have them prepare it for you. As the owners say, “You hook ’em, we cook ’em!”

1295 N. Stingaree Drive, Crystal Beach
409-684-2731
stingaree.com

M.P.

Seafood Boil

Photo: Eric W. Pohl

A traditional Southern seafood boil features Gulf Coast shrimp, crab, sausage, new potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and spices, all steamed or boiled together in an extra-large stock pot. The mix is dumped, sans dishware, onto a paper table runner alongside plenty of lemon and butter, creating an informal family meal. For my family, who spent years fishing along the Gulf Coast, a seafood boil meant all hands on deck—everyone had their duty, from shucking fresh South Texas corn to catching blue crabs on chicken neck bait and visiting the shrimp boat docks. My father, who made a living as a journalist covering the outdoors for the San Antonio Express-News, knew how to fish. But for a seafood boil, he often left the task of catching shrimp to the professionals who sold directly off their boats. However, his homemade sausage of ground venison, salt, pepper, cumin, and feral hog made it into our seafood boil just once, giving the entire meal an offensive, gamy funk. After that, my mother insisted on spicy, store-bought Andouille sausage as well as Zatarain’s spice bag, a pre-mix of mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, dill seed, and allspice.

Although a modern culinary specialty today, the seafood boil is actually an old meal of unknown origin, likely elevated in flavor and ingredients by early French-Canadian colonists, later known as Cajuns, and made popular along most of the country’s coastal communities. The meal is region-specific, both in spices and proteins, illustrated in the savory clam bakes and lobster boils of the Northeast and the spicy shrimp, crab, and crawfish boils of the South.

To enjoy a boil without doing all the work yourself, try the Crazy Cajun in Port Aransas, a landmark eatery where the boil has dominated the menu for nearly 30 years. Crazy Cajun substitutes snow crab legs for the traditional blue crabs, not locally sourced but easier to crack and eat.

Seafood boils are more than meals. They occupy a special place in the socializing of families and communities, serving alongside other culinary-centric get-togethers like fish-fry fundraisers and potluck suppers. Rollin’ Tide Boil Co., also based in Port Aransas, had that in mind when owner Kassie Smith and fiancé Shawn Taylor began catering seafood boils along Texas beaches.

“We can put together anything from an intimate two-person meal to an event for over 100 guests,” Taylor says. Their three-hour events begin just before sundown and feature a bonfire, seating, Tiki torches, and a meal of seafood boils and s’mores. And best of all, no homemade sausage from my father’s kitchen. —E. Dan Klepper

EAT HERE

Crazy Cajun
303 Beach St. Port Aransas
361-749-5069
crazycajunrestaurant.com

Rollin’ Tide Boil Company
361-416-0416
rollintideboilco.com

From the June 2019 issue

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