By Kaitlin Steinberg
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By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The seafood gumbo I had at Joyce's Ocean Grill on Westheimer was darker than beef gravy, dense with fresh shrimp and just-cooked oysters, and peppery all the way to the back of my throat. Piping hot, it was better than a fuzzy blanket on a cold and rainy afternoon.
Sitting at the bar at lunchtime, I savored my cup of gumbo, trying to make it last -- not just because it tasted so good on a blustery day, but because I wanted to have some with my sandwich.
I had ordered the lunch special called "half po-boy & cup of soup" and asked for half a catfish poor boy and seafood gumbo. It sounded like a great combination.
3736 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77027-5222
Region: Greenway Plaza
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Oyster stew: $7.75
Yellowfin tuna: $19.95
Gulf red snapper: $22.50
Half poor boy and cup of soup: $8.95
Grilled shrimp: $13.25
Poor boy: $8.95
Somewhere near the bottom of my cup of gumbo, I asked the taciturn bartender if he thought the kitchen might have forgotten my sandwich.
"It's on the way," he said unconvincingly.
"Do they always serve the soup first and then the sandwich later?" I asked him facetiously.
"Yes," he said.
That shut me up. I'd assumed everyone knew that soup and a sandwich are served together -- like coffee and a doughnut. Could it be that Joyce's chef really intended to serve a two-part lunch, a soup course followed by a sandwich course?
After I had glared at him for another five minutes, the bartender finally went back to the kitchen. I was sure he would return with my sandwich and an apology. But he came back empty-handed and avoided my gaze.
"Did they forget my sandwich?" I asked again when he was in earshot.
"It's on the way," he repeated in his droning tone, and then he disappeared. After a while, another server went behind the bar and asked me if I was taken care of. I explained my dilemma, and he immediately went to the kitchen and returned with my poor boy.
"Sometimes you have to throw a few punches back there," he said, smiling as he set down the plate in front of me.
A fresh poor boy roll was dressed with lettuce and tomato and topped with a large crusty chunk of hot-from-the-fryer catfish. It was small for a whole sandwich but extremely generous for the half it was supposed to be. I anointed the golden-colored batter with the entire contents of the bowl of tartar sauce that came on the side and then I splashed some Tabasco sauce on top of that. The catfish emitted little plumes of steam when I picked up the sandwich and tried to bite it. I nibbled around the edges while I waited for the fish to cool off. The poor boy was spectacular. And so were the homemade french fries it came with.
It would have been perfect with a cup of seafood gumbo on the side.
Joyce's Ocean Grill is the newly born sister of Joyce's Seafood & Steaks on San Felipe, which was formerly known as Joyce's Oyster Resort. I have long been a fan of the original Joyce's, a friendly hangout with a funky sort of atmosphere, thanks to its turquoise paint job and goofy nautical knickknacks.
Joyce's Ocean Grill has been open a couple of months. It is much larger, and sadly lacking in the character department, despite the feeble application of some turquoise paint here and there and a couple of rope-wrapped pillars.
Joyce's is the third restaurant to do business at this address on Westheimer in the last five years. The Stables restaurant sold steak and lobster here for decades. Then the real estate was purchased by the Dallas chain Rockfish Seafood Grill. The new owners bulldozed the old building and built an expansive new place. But after a few years, they went out of business. Joyce's has taken over the location and done some cosmetic remodeling.
On my first visit to Joyce's, I brought three family members, and we were seated on the right side of the modern, high-ceilinged dining room. While the space felt enormous, the dominant decorations on that side of the room were snapshot-size photos on a wall lined with booths. They were so small, you would have to be seated next to one to make out the subject matter. Easy listening music was piped in at such low volume you couldn't really tell who was playing. Everything was so low-key, it felt like we should whisper.
I had an excellent grilled fresh flounder. The meat flaked away from the bone firm and perfectly moist. An out-of-town guest was thrilled with the pecan-crusted Gulf red snapper special. Another dining companion had grilled yellowfin tuna, served on the rare side as requested and coated with an innovative ginger-port glaze. The only culinary disappointments were the crab cakes, which were thin and short on crabmeat, and the crab bisque, which was bland.
On our way out after dinner, I sized up the bar area. It was better lit and cozier than the dreary dining room and a lot livelier, as it was closer to the front door and the attractive hostess. I resolved that next time I'd eat in the bar. Since then, I've had a dinner and my soup-and-sandwich lunch there.