Happy Hour Scene

First Look at South Bank Seafood Bar

The happy hour bar bites are made for sharing.
The happy hour bar bites are made for sharing. photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
South Bank Seafood Bar is a newly opened, casual patio restaurant in the downtown area, and it certainly has a primo spot at 702 West Dallas, taking over the space that originally housed The Refinery. With a million-dollar view of the Houston skyline and a location right off, and we mean right off, Interstate 45, it has all the options that a centrally located restaurant needs.

It was a perfect midway point for my friend from Dickinson and me to meet up on a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon.

My pal-ette, who also has a great palate, was in dire need of some adult conversation after having spent three weeks road tripping with her three kids. We wanted a comfortable place to gab for a few hours.

We met in the South Bank Seafood parking lot across the street from the restaurant.

Fortunately for us, it wasn’t busy and we found spots in the restaurant’s free lot, though there are several pay lots in the area, including next door as well. We made the mad dash across West Dallas, which is easily done on a Sunday afternoon. Not so sure how safe it would be on a busy evening.

We were impressed with the large patio and the huge planters that resembled stacks of tires. The abundant greenery helped block the view of the surrounding parking lots, but not the looming Heritage Plaza building keeping watch like a glass-built sentry.

It was pretty freaking hot outside, so we were surprised when we walked through the plastic-sheeted doorway to enter into a wonderfully cool interior. Long wooden tables and gun-metal chairs made up most of the seating. There were some wooden booths as well, giving the place an overall beachy, icehouse feel.

click to enlarge South Bank Seafood Bar is a cool respite on a hot Houston day. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
South Bank Seafood Bar is a cool respite on a hot Houston day.
photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

There were only a handful of customers, so we were welcomed quickly at the bar. There is only counter service.

The young woman behind the bar was in training, but she had a friendly smile and was able to answer our questions with a little help from the manager and the bartender. Luckily there were happy hour specials on Sundays until 6 p.m., with select cocktails for five bucks and four-dollar bar bites.

I ordered the Frose, which the manager told us was frozen rosé — strawberry puree, sparkling wine and I think he said some sort of orange liqueur, but I can’t exactly remember. I was thirsty.

My friend ordered the watermelon fresca, which took a bit of time because they had to make the puree. We sat at a wooden booth with our drinks to have a look over the food menu. My Frose was nice, but I mostly tasted the strawberry puree. My palette’s watermelon fresca was very refreshing, tasting of fresh watermelon and mint.

I told my friend, rather decidedly, that we would be ordering the clam chowder fries ($7). We agreed on a couple of the happy hour bites also and ordered at the bar.

click to enlarge The blueberry-jalapeño margaritas deliver a little heat with the coolness. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The blueberry-jalapeño margaritas deliver a little heat with the coolness.
photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
We both chose the blueberry-jalapeño margaritas for our second round. This time the young woman brought our drinks out to us. I am not a mixed-cocktail kind of person, and to me this looked like salad floating in a Mason jar. There were slices of jalapeño, blueberries and a garnish of cilantro on top. I mashed my cilantro down into my drink and took a sip. I expected a lot of heat, but it actually was very slight, letting the clean flavors of the cilantro and blueberries come through, along with the tequila.

Our food was brought out to us on brown paper trays, bringing to mind food truck fare. We dug into the clam chowder fries first, not wanting to let the crispy fries turn to mush.

The idea of clam chowder on fries sounds sort of delicious and horrible at the same time. However, this was not a giant glob of over-creamed, chunky chowder. Instead, it was a subtle, New England-style chowder, with sweet baby clams, minced onion and potatoes and garnished with bacon. The bacon wasn't smoky, so it didn't overwhelm the flavor of the chowder. I didn’t even notice the potatoes, but my palette with the palate swore they were there. I was just savoring the sweetness of the clam broth with the saltiness of the fries. Too bad I had to share. It was also too bad that I was in public and couldn't lick the tray.

We moved on to the shrimp balls, which were bigger than you would expect shrimp's balls to be (I'm sorry. I couldn't help my puerile self). The happy hour serving is four cornflake-crusted orbs of chopped shrimp ($4).
They were a little overcooked and the large chunks of shrimp inside were on the rubbery side. My friend liked the coating, but I thought the balls needed some seasoning. The standard sweet chile sauce accompanying the dish didn't help. A spicy mayo would have been a better condiment.

We turned our attention to the fish tacos. The happy hour size is two small flour tortillas, each with a strip of tempura-battered fish and pineapple and tomato salsa for $4. We were delighted by these. The ever-so-slightly pickled carrot and cabbage strips at the bottom gave a perfect crispness along with the delicately minced bits of sweet salsa. Though the fish was good, I could happily forgo it and eat these as a vegetarian dish. And I am normally pretty carnivorous.

After a couple of hours of girl talk, we ordered a glass of wine for me and an 1836 beer from Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company for my friend. The red ale, or copper ale, as the brewer terms it, was served cold in a Mason jar.
Photo by Loretta Ruggiero
We decided to split the blue crab roll, though we were disappointed that the fried lump crab was no longer available. The restaurant is still tweaking its menu and I could see how fried lump crab might not be cost-effective, but it sure sounded awesome.

The crab roll ($14) was served on a soft hoagie with nice pieces of lump crab and an avocado and lime dressing. The dressing wasn’t heavily applied, so the sweetness of the crab still came through. I would have liked a little more crab on the roll, but then, who wouldn’t?

After nearly three hours of food, drink and conversation, we noticed the tiny bits of pink starting to spill across the sky. It was time to head back to our families. When we went up to the counter for our tab, there was a bit of a wait as another couple was trying to pay their check.

Here’s my beef about the counter service: It was all over the place. Sometimes we had to go to the bar to get our order; sometimes it was brought out. On a Sunday that was fine, but we could not see this being feasible on a busy Friday night. The restaurant needs to make use of its smiling staff behind the bar and put them out on the floor.

South Bank Seafood Bar has an appeal to different demographics depending on the day of the week. It’s a convenient spot for downtown workers at lunch and happy hour. The patio and great view are perfect for young people on a weekend night who are willing to dish out ten dollars for a cocktail, and it was just right for two suburban moms on a Sunday afternoon looking to enjoy cocktails, good food and girl talk.

click to enlarge The dog-friendly patio has a great view. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The dog-friendly patio has a great view.
photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Once the Houston temperatures dip below 90, the dog-friendly patio, with its outside bar and fantastic sunset view, is going to be mobbed.

Just save me some clam chowder fries.

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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.