As I drove over the long causeway that connects Galveston to the Texas mainland, I thought, “I don’t come here often enough.” It’s 84 miles from my house in far northwest Houston, so it’s not exactly a short trip.
On the other hand, I don’t think twice about getting on a plane for a three-hour ride to San Diego, Chicago or New York. It’s a little silly to not take advantage of the treasures closer to my hometown.
I was in town to cover an event and determined to experience as much of Galveston’s dining scene as I could while I was there. Fortunately, I was able to get some expert advice on how to make the most of the short time I’d be there. Former Houston Press restaurant critic, James Beard award-winning author and Galveston resident Robb Walsh generously gave me a few pointers.
In a weird switch of fates, he was sitting in traffic on I-45 (my normal spot around 6 p.m.) while I was standing on the balcony of my room at the swanky San Luis Resort looking at a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico. I wasn’t sorry to trade locales for a day. The water was dark blue, mainly thanks to the reflection of the bright sky overhead. It definitely wasn’t the murky brown I remembered from years past.
Walsh confirmed that two of the stops on my itinerary—BLVD Seafood and Ocean Grille & Beach Bar—were good ideas. He added two more: The Pelican Club, formerly a private establishment behind Gaido’s that was now open to the public, and Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream.
As soon as we got off the phone, I got moving. It’s important for food writers to get moving. We consume way too many calories as part of our research. I threw off my high heels, pulled on socks and tennis shoes (with a dress, fashion be damned) and walked the mile down the seawall to Gaido’s and The Pelican Club. It felt wonderful being propelled by my own two feet as the sunset cast its orange glow over the Gulf. In the distance, the neon carnival lights of the almost quarter-mile long Pleasure Pier cast their own colorful man-made glow as I strode towards my destination.
Regrettably, I’ll have to check The Pelican Club some other time, as it was a Tuesday and it’s only open from Wednesdays through Saturdays. It had been years since I’d visited Gaido’s though, so I settled in at the bar to start my culinary tour.
I love talking to bartenders. Bartenders know what’s good to eat and drink and will steer you right every time. I explained to the one manning the counter at Gaido’s, Aaron, that I was on a food tour so I would be eating light while I was there. He recommended Watkin’s Bisque, a warming, creamy, slightly spicy soup with baby shrimp, pureed tomatoes, carrots and onions. I was curious about the gumbo, so I ended up ordering the $9 Soup Combination that had both as well as the soup of the day, a Poblano Cheese soup. While my food was being prepared, he handed me a book on the history of the restaurant that they keep behind the bar.
He was right about the soups. The bisque was the best, followed by the poblano which included a lot of melted cheese. The gumbo was pretty good but not the best I’d ever had. He also recommended the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with its excellent balance between lump crab and seasoned panko crumbs and I added on two Shrimp Peques for $7.
The Shrimp Peques are bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with jalapeno and cheese. Really, how can anyone go wrong with that combination? They were crispy and the bacon added plenty of sultry, smoky flavor.
“Have you been to The Steakhouse?” asked Aaron. “I have a friend who works there and it’s actually really good.” Even though The Steakhouse is inside the San Luis Resort where I was staying, I knew I probably wouldn’t have time to go on this visit. Next time.
I packed up half of my food to ensure I still had room for my next stop, BLVD Seafood. I was going to take an Uber to my next destination, but there weren’t any available, so I hit the road with my own two feet again. It was eight-tenths of a mile away: another easy walk. The route along Seawall Boulevard was lit with plenty of other bars and restaurants, so I felt pretty safe.
On the way, a homeless man called to me. My normal response to panhandling is to just keep walking, with a shake of my head and a smile to say, “No, I’m not giving you money, but yes, I recognize that you are there.” It’s important to acknowledge our fellow humans. I always remember that at any given moment, many of us are only one disaster away from being in dire straits ourselves.
I heard something that made me stop in my tracks: the word “eat.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked. “You don’t happen to have anything to eat, do you?” asked the man. I immediately handed him the bag of leftovers from Gaido. “There’s soup, half a crabcake and bread in there,” I told him. Being asked for money is one thing. Being asked for food is a different story and I was happy to give it away to someone who needed it more than I did.
I arrived at BLVD Seafood just as my husband showed up to meet me there. The Shrimp & Quail Kisses, chunks of each wrapped in bacon with cheese, grilled onions and a balsamic glaze, were an easy choice. (They bore more than a passing resemblance to the Shrimp Peques at Gaido’s, truth be told.)
As for me, I settled into the D-Lux Bloody Mary. It’s one of the most ornate cocktails I’ve ever seen. It’s like it comes loaded with its own appetizer tray. There was bacon-wrapped shrimp, a whole slice of bacon, olives and haricot vert mounted into a pinwheel shape on toothpicks. The drink tasted good, too. The balance between heat, spice and Tito’s Vodka was perfect.
We dug into the Redfish On The Half Shell next. The name simply means that the filet is broiled skin-on. It was a big, gorgeous piece of fish. It was slightly more cooked through than ideal but still moist and enjoyable. The big spears of sautéed asparagus were a great side, although the same couldn’t be said of the gluey, overcooked macaroni and cheese.
During our conversation, Walsh alerted me to a recent article by Bill Lambrecht in the Houston Chronicle that pointed out that the 90 percent of shrimp served in the United States is now imported. In the meantime, Gulf shrimpers are making only about one third of what they did in 1998. They're broke and leaving the business. In order to preserve that vital part of Texas culture, consumers really need to start caring about where their seafood comes from.
For those reasons, places like BLVD Seafood and Ocean Grille that serve Gulf seafood are more important than ever. So are places like Katie’s Seafood Market at 1902 Wharf Road, which supplies restaurants in the Houston and Galveston area. (That’s another visit that I need to make.)
We made one last stop for the evening at Ocean Grille & Beach Bar, thinking it closed at 10. Unfortunately, Google’s hours were wrong and it was actually closes at 9 during the off season. It had been an especially slow Tuesday night, too, and the kitchen was already shutting down when we arrived 30 minutes before closing time. The very friendly and apologetic server said we could get a sandwich or salad, but that was about it.
Instead, we opted to wrap up the evening with cocktails and a dessert and it was a wise choice. I enjoyed an outstanding French 75 with sparkling wine, gin, lemon juice and simple syrup alongside a warm brownie with a big scoop of bourbon vanilla ice cream beautifully drizzled in caramel sauce.
“That ice cream was made specifically for us by Hey Mikey’s. Have you been there yet?” asked our server. “Not yet, but a friend recommended it to us as well. I’ll be sure and drop by before I go, “ I replied.
I asked if Ocean Grille was open for lunch the next day. Not only would it be open, but the special on Wednesdays is fried chicken. That sealed the deal. I returned lunch the next day and enjoyed moist, crispy-crusted fried chicken, amazing potato salad laced with whole grain mustard and rustic cole slaw so crisp it tasted like the cabbage, onions and carrots had just been picked from a garden.
The fried chicken pieces were huge, too. Ocean Grille uses chickens raised in Texas. The meat is so moist because the chicken is cooked sous vide before it’s fried. I finished the giant drumstick and wasn’t even able to consider the huge thigh alongside. It was a pity, but there was nothing for it. I had to save room for ice cream.
Randy Evans, who was beloved by Houstonians for his work at Brennan’s of Houston and Haven, consulted on Ocean Grille’s menu. As I was getting ready to head out, managing partner Bryan Davis caught up with me. Davis, who used to work with Evans at Haven, mentioned that the restaurant is working with Hey Mikey’s on another ice cream: an olive oil and lemon zest one so they can resurrect one of Haven’s most unique dishes: the tomato sundae.
It sounds odd, but the cold lemon and olive oil ice cream works perfectly with fresh, ripe tomatoes. “I used to have customers ask me if it was a salad or a dessert or what,” said Davis. I grinned and finished the thought, knowing exactly where he was going. “The answer is, ‘yes.’” We laughed. Hopefully, the tomato sundae will be available by the time summer rolls around and tomatoes are in season.
It was almost time to bid Galveston farewell, so on the way I stopped by Hey Mikey’s at 2120 Post Office Street near the historic Strand District. Talk about tough decisions! Flavors range from basic dark chocolate to more adventurous flavors like Cake Batter, Black Raspberry and Bananas Foster, just to name a few.
I settle on a two-ounce mini-scoop of Caramel Crunch and fall in love deeper with every bite. It’s perfect. It’s not too sweet. It’s not too rich. It’s not too cold. It’s just right. I head back to the counter for something more photogenic and decide on a two-scoop sundae with Cake Batter and Chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone bowl.
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I can’t seem to stop eating it. Mindful of the calories I’d already consumed on my food journey, it was with great reluctance that I stop halfway and toss the rest before I change my mind. It takes a great deal of willpower to overcome my reluctance.
I head back to the counter to chat with Rob Bouvier, son of the owner (whose name is Mike, as you may have guessed.). I admire the brownies an employee is working to remove from a foil pan. “Did you make those?” I asked. “My mom makes those,” replied Bouvier. Hey Mikey’s is a real family affair.
Galveston, it was a wonderful 24 hours. I think I’ll see you again sooner rather than later. There is more to explore and much to learn.