Surprised? I was. Although, in retrospect, I'm not sure why I should have been. I'm not anti-chain. In fact, some of my favorite oyster bars are the Captain Benny's boats that litter the city. But I hadn't been to a Pappadeaux in years, and my remaining memories of the restaurant from office luncheons and scattered date nights were of an overpriced seafood joint that was good -- but not good enough to justify the cost.
So happy hour is clearly the way to go here, and apparently half of Houston got that memo too: The bar was packed on a recent Tuesday evening, much of it with regulars who all knew the friendly bartenders by name. All around me, people were tying on bibs and preparing to dive into the happy hour crawfish, which is only $5.99 for 1¼ pounds after 5 p.m.
I ordered the oysters. At $6.99 for a half-dozen, they were not the cheapest of the season -- but they were the best.
Each bivalve was a two-biter, a couple could even have been cut into three fat, briny bites. They were positively enormous, the shells barely fitting onto the silver tray. I suddenly wished I'd ordered a dozen, but they were simply too rich for my blood at that point.
I asked the man shucking the oysters behind the bar where they'd come from, curious if these were some of the "Texas appellation" oysters promoted recently.
"Texas," came his quick reply. Where in Texas? I wanted to know.
"Ah!" he said. "Louisiana!"
Well, that was no help. Reading my exasperated face, he offered an additional tidbit with a smile: "A los jueves son $5.99 a dozen." These beasts are only $5.99 a dozen on Thursdays? I picked the wrong night to come, crawfish notwithstanding.
The bartender chuckled as she overheard our conversation. "They're only $5.99, but this place gets packed," she said. "But you'll get your oysters -- don't worry."
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Making plans for a near-future Thursday visit, I decided to try some of the crawfish everyone else was enjoying. They came out fast, fresh and hot -- and, like the oysters, enormous. Gripping my $5.95 Pappadocious in one hand (rum and fruit juices and probably crack cocaine, judging from how fast it went) and spicy gobs of crawfish in the other, I suddenly felt as if I'd taken a short, cheap, much-needed vacation here in this unlikeliest of spots.
I think I'm starting to see what people see in Pappadeaux, and I've already booked my return trip.