$13 at Pesquera’s Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar

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: Pesquera’s Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar, 34616 Highway 249 in Pinehurst, 281-259-5000

What $13 gets you: A surprisingly sophisticated meal aboard an absurdly tacky fake boat

Let me start by saying I love restaurants on fake boats. There are loads of them in the Houston area, and all the ones I’ve tried are cheap and funky with super-fresh, simply prepared seafood.

On a recent Saturday, I took an assignment that led me up Texas State Highway 249 into rural Montgomery County. I left my home early in gritty Fondren Southwest figuring I’d grab a quick bite on the way but couldn’t will myself into a Schlotsky’s and got dangerously close to that point of no return in which I’ve wandered too far along some desolate farm road and end up settling for a gas-station lunch of bottled water and corn nuts.

Then, like a mirage, I came upon Pesquera’s Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar – a giant, tacky fake boat complete with a fake lighthouse and two real but sickly looking palm trees set along the highway in a large gravelly, muddy, pothole-filled parking lot. Perfect, I thought.

Boy was I surprised to learn that despite the kitschy exterior, the restaurant features fine dining. I nearly got up to leave since the menu contained almost no options within my $13 budget. Lobster and shrimp enchiladas were $17.95. Fish entrees such as catfish, yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi started at $15.95. Fried platters such as catfish or oysters with hush puppies, fries and slaw were $12.95 and up. You couldn’t even get a salad for less than $12.95. Since it was only one o’clock, I asked the friendly, sympathetic waitress if there was a lunch menu and she said no but recommended the jalapeno rosemary burger and fries for $9.95.

Recommended? Damn skippy

I didn’t know it at the time but Pesquera’s Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar opened just two months ago under the same owners as Joyce’s Ocean Grill at 3736 Westheimer and Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks at 6415 San Felipe, which our esteemed food critic Robb Walsh in 2004 dubbed “one of the best seafood restaurants in the city.” Sadly, I can’t report whether the seafood at Pesquera’s measures up since I couldn’t afford any.

I hate to order beef at a seafood restaurant, but my options were limited and the waitress did advise it. And I’m so glad she did. The hulking, hand-formed burger was juicy and moist. The fresh rosemary and jalapeno flavors were distinctive but subtle. I think I can safely say it was my first-ever gourmet burger. And it was fantastic. The hand-cut seasoned fries were also good.

It’s a huge, filling meal especially if you indulge in the complimentary basket of Italian bread with garlic butter, which has the look and consistency of wet cat food but is tasty all the same.

Bonus point: Did I mention it’s on a fake boat? –Todd Spivak

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