Backwater Bliss

If you'd been born on the island, you'd already know about Clary's

It's my favorite combo plate (and unfortunately also Clary's most expensive entree at $21.50). The platter combines a smaller ramekin of the infamous butter crab flanked by reasonable portions of the grilled oysters and baked shrimp. As much as I like that crab, the oysters and shrimp are strong contenders, too; I can understand Saralyn's dilemma. The oysters are very lightly breaded with a seasoned flour then sauteed in butter on a griddle; they remind me of little loose pancakes, pale golden, rich and incredibly tender. The shrimp are marinated then lightly battered with cracker meal, sprinkled with bright red peppery seasoning and baked.

Clary's offers a number of other seafood combination plates, most of them, such as the fried shrimp and scallops platter ($11.25), built on the Gulf Coast breaded-'n'-fried tradition. What sets Clary's rendition a cut above the hackneyed is the restaurant's light touch with the breading; the jumbo shrimp and sweet, meaty scallops have a thin, delectably crisp crumb coating.

Each of these platters comes with a salad and choice of sides. The salad is a by-the-book plateful of mostly iceberg lettuce, but the house dressing is kind of fun, a faintly humorous blend of Italian and blue-cheese that somehow winds up with the best features of both, creamy and pleasant. The side dishes are equally conservative, stuff such as baked potatoes or mixed steamed carrots and sugar snap peas. My favorite is the lyonnaise potatoes, which remind me of home fries: chunks of potato threaded with plenty of onions and heavily browned on the grill.

Since regulars pack into Clary's on weekend nights, reservations are a must, especially as trip insurance for those driving down from Houston. I prefer the quieter, more casual weekday lunches or, better still, the Sunday brunch. "You gotta try our Sunday brunch," advised our waiter on a recent visit. "Our prices are a little lower, and it's just more laid-back," he said with a wink. It's a fine way to while away a sleepy Sunday afternoon, I found, sipping an exemplary Bloody Mary and watching the gulls and bobbing boats.

Clary's, 8509 Teichman Road, Galveston, (409)740-0771.

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