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Seafood Quest: Galveston
The Gulf’s health can be judged by its bounty

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    Oysters on the half shell at Black Pearl Oyster Bar in Galveston
    Jody Horton
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    Enio Herrera shows off a red snapper at Katie’s Seafood Market.
    Jody Horton
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    The gumbo at Black Pearl Oyster Bar comes topped with blue crab meat.
    Jody Horton
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    Diners have enjoyed fresh seafood, such as red snapper, at Gaido’s since 1911.
    Jody Horton
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    Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier at sunset
    Jody Horton
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    An oyster po’boy, above, at Shrimp ’N Stuff Downtown, known for its fried seafood.
    Jody Horton
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    BLVD. Oysters are the chef’s version of oysters Rockefeller at BLVD. Seafood.
    Jody Horton
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    Most of the seafood sold at Katie’s Seafood Market comes from local fishermen and shrimpers.
    Jody Horton
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    The giant blue crab helps you know you’ve found Gaido’s.
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: A fresh catch comes in at Katie’s Seafood Market.
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: Red drum on ice at Katie’s Seafood Market
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: Customers enter Katie’s Seafood Market.
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: The lunch crowd at Shrimp ’N Stuff Downtown
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: Lost Bayou Guesthouse is a survivor of the great hurricane of 1900.
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: The bar at BLVD. Seafood
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: A gull takes flight at Galveston.
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: A popular destination in downtown Galveston
    Jody Horton
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    Web Extra: The view from the seawall in Galveston
    Jody Horton

When it comes to great seafood in Texas, a trip to the Gulf Coast promises amazing riches. From iconic, time-honored restaurants to casual seafood shacks, there are countless spots to enjoy fresh-from-the-boat catches. Savoring the bounty is easy (please pass the fried shrimp!), but for the industry that ushers it to our plates, maintaining a steady supply poses plenty of challenges.

Over the past few years, the Gulf region dealt with a devastating oil spill, hurricanes that damaged oyster beds and droughts that diminished the supply of fresh water nourishing sea life in bays and estuaries. The ecosystems that produce much of our seafood have been threatened. But here’s the good news: Recent efforts by industry champions—from building new reefs to recycling oyster shells—have significantly bolstered the seafood forecast.

“There has never been a better time to enjoy Gulf seafood than now,” says Jim Gossen, founder of Louisiana Foods and one of the industry’s driving forces. “It’s handled better, gets to the market quicker and is managed commercially more efficiently and sustainably than anytime in history. Frankly, it’s some of the best seafood in the world!”

There’s no better place to enjoy the Gulf’s riches than Galveston. The town’s quaint Victorian architecture, laid-back pace and abundance of stellar restaurants perched on its 32 miles of shoreline make the destination feel like a world unto itself.

Heading to Galveston

Begin your adventure at galveston.com.

 

Places To Stay

Lost Bayou Guesthouse

1607 Ave. L

(409) 770-0688

 

Built in 1890, this stately, Colonial-style home in Galveston’s Lost Bayou is a survivor of the great hurricane of 1900. A short stroll along shady, oak-lined streets takes you to the beach and restaurants. Maria and Dave Dunn are warm, friendly innkeepers, and their five rooms are full of charm. I loved the pale palette and toile wallpaper in the Elissa room.

 

The Tremont House

2300 Mechanic St.

(409) 763-0300

 

Nestled in the heart of the Strand Historic District, the Tremont House (a Wyndham Grand Hotel) is an elegant, European-style hotel that blends 19th-century charm with modern sophistication. Enjoy the hotel’s four-story atrium lobby and historic Toulouse Bar (which dates to the 1870s). The Tremont Café serves pastries, Starbucks coffee and casual meal options. Visit the Rooftop Bar to relax or to watch the sunset and ships from around the world docking in the nearby port.

 

Places To Eat

Katie’s Seafood Market

1902 Wharf Road

(409) 763-8160

 

Black Pearl Oyster Bar

327 23rd St.

(409) 762-7299

 

Shrimp ’N Stuff Downtown

216 23rd St.

(409) 974-4609

 

BLVD. Seafood

28th Street and Seawall Boulevard

(409) 762-2583

 

Gaido’s

3802 Seawall Blvd.

(409) 761-5500

 

Galveston Island Brewing

8423 Stewart Road

(409) 740-7000

 

Sunflower Bakery and Cafe

512 14th St.

(409) 763-5500

“Moving to Galveston really spoils you,” says Robb Walsh, an award-winning food writer and cookbook author. “At island restaurants like BLVD. Seafood, you can order wild-caught Gulf shrimp, fresh grouper and red snapper right off the boat—every day.”

When I found myself dreaming about po’boys and salt spray, I knew it was time for my own seafood bender. So on a recent morning, my photographer friend and fellow oyster enthusiast Jody Horton and I hit the highway early so we could arrive in time for lunch. When we pulled into town, we drove straight to Katie’s Seafood Market on Pier 19, the largest fresh fish retailer on the island. Fishing boats were unloading heaps of giant tilefish and snapper onto iced pallets, while a few pelicans shamelessly lurked nearby, hoping for a saltwater snack.

After years as a commercial fisherman, Buddy Guindon (aka Captain Buddy) opened Katie’s Seafood Market in 1998 with his wife, Katie, and his brother Kenny. The majority of seafood sold here, including red snapper, grouper, golden tilefish, flounder, oysters, shrimp and blue crab, come from local fishermen and shrimpers.

Thanks to his starring role in the reality show Big Fish, Texas on the National Geographic Channel, Guindon reaches a broad audience. Devoted to the sustainability of Gulf seafood, the episodes provide a window into the complex life of today’s Gulf fishermen. Viewers follow Guindon and his family on fishing trips as well as on various advocacy missions that range from Austin (where he spoke with politicians) to Mississippi for a meeting with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

“My hope is that Big Fish, Texas will help consumers realize their place in sustainable fisheries,” Guindon tells me. “What’s missing in fisheries management is the consumer—the people who eat the seafood that I catch. Their supply is continually under attack by organizations that represent recreational fisherman.”

Guindon and fellow members of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance founded Gulf Wild, a nonprofit, conservation organization that supports U.S. fishermen operating in the Gulf. Their efforts led to the Gulf Wild tags now found on seafood in markets. The tags allow consumers to track the exact source of their fish to ensure that it was harvested by U.S. fishermen and came from a well-monitored and continuously improving fishery. “The best way to participate in the conversation,” Guindon adds, “is by letting voting members of Congress and the Senate know that they want their access protected.”

Once Guindon shared his short list of favorite haunts, we were ready to dig in. We drove to Black Pearl Oyster Bar, a friendly pub known for its casual ambience and briny bivalves on the half shell. At lunch, the restaurant draws locals for po’boys, gumbo (topped with a generous scoop of snowy lump crab) and salads. In the evening, the lights dim, cocktails are shaken, and specialties such as barbecue shrimp, crab cakes and crawfish étouffée feed a convivial crowd. As we settled into a dozen oysters, manager Angela Clark told us that they were harvested near Anahuac. As we passed wedges of lemon and horseradish, we agreed that these sweet, clean-tasting oysters were some of the best we’d shared.

Po’boys were next on our list. Several locals directed us to Shrimp ’N Stuff Downtown, a casual café that opened in 1976. The restaurant is known for flawless fried seafood—each and every shrimp is peeled, deveined and breaded by hand—but chef Juan Cardona also prides himself on seafood salads, broiled and blackened options (think broiled red snapper with citrus butter sauce and jalapeño rice), shrimp and fish tacos, and made-from-scratch gumbo. We dug into quintessential po’boys, the crackly hoagie buns barely able to contain a heap of juicy fried shrimp and plump, crispy oysters, with plenty of tartar sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. Dessert was not a possibility, but we made a note to return to try the sugar-dusted beignets.

Perched on the seawall with views of the water, Gaido’s, our next stop, has been an iconic destination since San Giacinto Gaido opened the restaurant’s doors in 1911. It’s the kind of old-school, swanky restaurant where you expect to hear Sinatra—and you will—but it is the classic seafood preparations and the winning hospitality that have amassed Gaido’s loyal following.

Over its 105 years, the restaurant has welcomed celebrities and presidents and served countless special-occasion meals for locals. Owner Nic Gaido explains that, even though he is a self-confessed foodie with his eye on food trends, the beloved signatures like charcoal-grilled and baked oysters (available in variations including Ponzini, Asiago, Bienville, Monterey or Rockefeller) will never leave the menu.

“You need to respect the dishes that have made you famous over the years, and constantly try to improve them while still offering new ideas and innovations here and there,” he said.

Thankfully, the same goes for Gaido’s impressive roster of traditional crab preparations: lump meat atop seared flounder, crab cakes, stuffed blue crab, crab salad over avocado with remoulade, and creamy spinach crab dip. Be sure to end your meal with a slice of Gaido’s famous pecan pie.

Gaido pointed us to nearby Galveston Island Brewing, where a resident rooster, delicious brews including the crisp, summery Causeway Kolsch, and a convivial taproom encourage guests to squander a few hours. The brewery offers free tours Saturdays at 1 p.m. and a pub grub menu if you decide to settle in for board games and a pint.

We ended our day at BLVD. Seafood. With its open kitchen, striking blue tile bar and plenty of natural light, the stylish spot (a repurposed convenience mart) is one of the newest restaurants on the seawall. Executive Chef Chris Lopez, who also helms the range at popular Yaga’s Café, serves an ever-changing menu of Southern-inspired Gulf seafood, including the Flat Fish Stack (broiled flounder topped with a crab cake and Mornay sauce), shrimp and grits spiked with andouille and redfish broiled “on the half shell” (with its skin on). Don’t miss the BLVD. Oysters, the chef’s riff on Rockefeller—our favorite dish of the trip.

A day of great eating requires a long walk. An evening stroll along the seawall and eventually the beach—where a jetty of massive flat stones provides the perfect perch to enjoy the moonlight dancing on the water—serves up Galveston’s seaside charms.

The next morning we were, alas, homeward bound, but we couldn’t leave town on an empty stomach. On Captain Buddy’s recommendation, we ordered breakfast on the sun-dappled patio at Sunflower Bakery and Cafe. A cool breeze, an English muffin topped with poached eggs and jumbo lump crab with Hollandaise sauce, and plenty of coffee fueled us for the drive. We stopped by Katie’s for a couple pounds of jumbo shrimp to go. It was time to leave Galveston, but at least we could take the flavor of the coast back home.

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Paula Disbrowe is the Texas Co-op Power food editor.