My mission on a week-long visit to the Houston, Texas area: eat an oyster a day—and specifically try Gulf Coast oysters—at least once a day, every day.
When ordering oysters in America, you’ll likely have two or three choices: East Coast, West Coast or Gulf Coast oysters. Depending upon which coast you’re closest to, your options will reflect what might be closest and freshest. And in Texas, that’s Gulf Coast.
Oysters found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are the eastern oyster, the mangrove oyster and the Atlantic pearl oyster. Gulf Coast oysters are similar to East Coast oysters but as they mature in the freshwater of the Mississippi River, the water lowers the salinity and also makes them larger and meatier. The mild, creamy, delicate taste means they are friendly to raw oyster lovers. Their larger size and texture helps them stand up to fried and grilled preparations too.
So where did our Gulf Coast oyster adventure take us?
Katie’s Seafood House
Katie’s Seafood House sits on the water of Galveston Bay and about 10 blocks from the Gulf of Mexico to the south. You can’t get oysters much fresher than here, particularly because they also own Katie’s Seafood Market next door and they’ll tell you the name of the boat and the captain who caught your seafood if you ask.
Restaurant research lead us here in search of the Buddy Mary—less for the cocktail and more for the fried appetizer extravaganza that’s served with the fairly pedestrian bloody Mary. Three wooden skewers dress this $25 cocktail, each holding a fried delight! One snack stick is filled with fried oysters—the best version I ate on the trip. Light batter and a quick fry kept the oysters meaty and creamy. This was also my first taste of boudin balls—a mix of rice, pork, onion, bell pepper and spices and stuffed with Mosquito Fleet shrimp all rolled in a ball and smoked then fried—which were excellent and worth seeking out. The final stick sports Shrimp Frogs—bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with pepper jack cheese and serrano peppers then deep fried—shrimply heaven!
Deviled eggs are my weakness when it comes to snack food so when we saw them topped with bacon jam and a fried oyster at Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette, we jumped at the chance. Each egg is served resting on a dill pickle chip which acted not only as a great platform to keep the eggs lined up but also a salty counter to the richness of the rest of the delicacy. The hint of sweetness from the bacon jam and the slight crunch of the fried bivalve made for a Friday night bite of indulgence.
Jimmy’s Grilled Oysters
Brennan’s is perhaps one of oldest and most historic restaurants in Houston. A sister restaurant of the famous Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Brennan’s prides itself on Texas Creole cuisine. The turtle soup is renowned for good reason!
There’s a lot going on with Jimmy’s Grilled Oysters—probably too much. While grilled oysters are a great way to introduce oyster novices to the delights of this bivalve as they are cooked in butter, the addition of jalapeno cornbread crumbs and crushed seaweed flakes at Brennan’s overpowered the spot-on garlic and shallot compound butter the oysters were bubbling in. In this case, that saying of less is more is good advice to follow.
Raw oysters and Peacemaker Po Boy
Fish Camp salutes the sea and all that the coast inspires. Our server lead us through the raw bar oyster selection of Gulf Coast and Gulf Appellation slurpers. We selected several which ranged from briny to creamy but the most memorable take away from these oysters on the half shell was the brilliant way of serving the red wine mignonette and chili oil (we’re in Texas after all!). The little salt and pepper shakers gave us maximum visibility and application prowess without fiddling with tiny spoons.
After a half dozen raw, I then opted to try the Peacemaker Po Boy, a foot-sized bun filled with fried shrimp and oysters. Of the two, the shrimp were superior in this preparation while the raw bar oyster presentation stole the show.
Captain Tom’s Seafood & Oyster Bar
At any of the Captain Tom’s locations in the greater Houston area, you’re literally eating on a boat. The boat might be dry docked in a parking lot but it’s still shaped like a fishing boat. And it’s possible you could be eating next to hard-working folks who work on a boat too.
While it isn’t fancy—and most of the seats involve bellying up to the bar—the quality of the food is top-notch with incredibly reasonable prices. Watch your Gulf oysters being shucked and plated (or getting ready to be fried) right in front of you. Simple and fresh. They then use the oyster shells for landscaping.
Where to find oysters in Utah
While you typically don’t see Gulf Coast oysters in Utah or anywhere off the Gulf Coast, quite a few Utah restaurants regularly serve oysters from the West Coast around the Seattle and San Francisco areas. I’ve shipped them here from both Hog Island Oysters and also Taylor Shellfish over the past couple of years. Most oyster-serving restaurants will at least seasonally also offer different East Coast varieties of oysters as well which are smaller and brinier as a general rule.
One of the most creative presentations of raw oysters is the M|M oysters at Mar Muntanya—a creative surf and turf featuring mouthwatering Niman Ranch steak tartare piled on raw West Coast oysters and served with a spruce mignonette and piquillo (pepper) coctel sauce.
Chef Matt Crandall sources his oysters from Taylor Shellfish in Seattle, WA. While they are most known for their firm and fruity Kumamotos, they grow a wide variety of bivalves that are served on the half shell. Enjoy West Coast oysters four different ways at White Horse: Rockefeller dressed with creamed spinach, bacon, absinthe, hollandaise and bread crumbs; fried with a cornmeal breading and remoulade; as a shooter with Tito’s vodka or raw.
You’ll find both raw and grilled selections at these sister restaurant/bar locations. Select all West Coast Kumamotos or have the chef select a variety of what’s tasty and slurpable for you. They are served with a palatable cucumber mignonette. The grilled oysters come bubbling in a charred tomato butter topped with melting Rogue Creamery blue cheese for some tang.