This time of year, I’ll drive many miles — (I’m looking at you, Gilhooley’s) — for a good plate of oysters.
That’s one of the reasons I was disappointed to read of the overcooked oysters in my colleague Alison Cook’s review of LA Bar last week.
After reading that review, I spent some time thinking about my favorite spots for oysters, and here are my notes.
I’m a long-time fan of Gilhooley's, the San Leon dive where my favorite “last meal” is a fried balogna sandwich and a dozen perfectly charred grilled oysters. The negatives: the no-child policy (it’s a beer joint, folks), the pro-smoking policy and, yes, the distance. There’s no ducking out for lunch at Gilhooley’s. It’s a destination for most of us.
Luckily, there are some good versions a little closer to home.
I grew up eating pan-fried oysters, a style that’s not widespread in Houston. I’ve tracked a couple of versions that remind me — in a good way — of childhood. At Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakouse, the oysters are described as blackened and pan-fried. The official name is Mañuel Style Oysters. The presentation of this appetizer leaves a lot to be desired. The dark oysters “nuggets” come out on a small plate with a plastic tub of frothy lemon butter. Very homely but delicious, with a peppery afterburn.
An even more satisfying version — because it’s a complete dinner and much more attractively plated — can be found at Benno's on the Beach in Galveston. They call their pan-fried version “Cajun style.” Fat, flour-dusted oysters are delicate, fleshy bites and served with roasted potatoes and cole slaw.
This week, I shared news about the opening of the new backyard restaurant U.S. Smith’s BBQ, Beer and Garden. The slow-smoked brisket and freshly grilled burgers are sure to be a hit, but I’m already a fan of the grilled oysters. Chef Christopher Williams’ version is topped with a super-garlicky chimichurri. Kick them up with some of the house-made pepper sauce and you’ve got a potent bite of the Gulf.
For purists, there’s nothing better than fresh-shucked raw oysters. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of Tabasco and a quick slurp: sensational. Among the best oyster bars: Tommy's, Danton's and Liberty Kitchen. Those are the nice spots where the oysters are shucked right in front of you and served on the half shell. Want to go old-school? Consider a stop at Sonny’s Place in Galveston.
In season, this greasy spoon, best known for its burgers, serves freshly shucked oysters by the half dozen in a beer mug, topped with cocktail sauce and a dollop of horseradish.
Baked oysters can be tricky. Too much topping can overwhelm the bivalve, and overcooked oysters are a crime. A good spot to try baked oysters is Goode Company Seafood, where a sample platter allows you to taste five versions. Among them: ribeye-wrapped and spinach-topped.
My favorite is Oyster Copano. Topped with Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and Fontina cheese, the dish is just shy of too, too much. Instead, it’s a luxurious bite of surf and turf. (Enjoy three for $5.50 during happy hour at the I-10 location.)
Fried is arguably the most popular way to enjoy oysters. And I’d be hard-pressed to choose a local fave. Okay ... Branch, Floyd’s, Olympia Grill in Galveston, the family-run Schilleci’s New Orleans Kitchen in The Woodlands and the lively The Rouxpour in Sugar Land.
Currently, my favorite fried oyster sits side by side with deep-fried okra atop the made-with-love gumbo at Liberty Kitchen in the Heights. The crisp little oysters are the perfect foil for the rich stew.
Benno's on the Beach: 1200 Seawall, Galveston, 409-762-4621
Branch Water Tavern: 510 Shepherd
Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood: 4611 Montrose, 713-807-8883
Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakouse: Find the nearest location at floydsseafood.com.
Gilhooley's: 222 9th, San Leon, 281-339-3813
Goode Company Seafood: Find the nearest location at goodecompany.com.
Liberty Kitchen: 1050 Studewood, 713-802-0533
Rouxpour: 2298 Texas, Sugar Land, 281-240-7689
Olympia Grill at Pier 21: Pier 21 at Harborside Drive, Galveston, 409-765-0021
Schilleci’s New Orleans Kitchen: 9595 Six Pines Drive, The Woodlands, 281-419-4242
Sonny’s Place: 1206 19th, Galveston, 409-763-9602
Tommy's Restaurant & Oyster Bar: 2555 Bay Area Blvd., 281-480-2221
U.S. Smith’s BBQ, Beer and Garden: 5512 La Branch, 713-568-2505