Purists will tell you that oysters must be eaten on the half shell to truly appreciate their flavor. While we love slurping them down raw as much as anyone, here on the Gulf Coast, where oysters are relatively inexpensive and consistently large, there’s a long tradition of restaurants serving fabulous cooked oysters. Here are some of the best dishes.
Oysters Gilhooley, the specialty of the house at the ramshackle Gilhooley’s Raw Bar (222 9th St., San Leon, 281-339-3813), is the best plate of barbecued oysters on the Gulf Coast. The mollusks are shucked, then mopped with garlic butter and parmesan and grilled over smoky pecan wood in a barbecue pit. Butter flare-ups blacken the shells and give the oysters a charred flavor. For the definitive Galveston Bay oyster-bar experience, get a table on the patio—right next to all the commercial fishermen and Harley-Davidson riders—and order a round of Lone Stars and a dozen on the half shell, then top it all off with the barbecued kind.
Pappa’s Seafood (multiple locations) follows Gilhooley’s lead by using mesquite to grill its oysters, which are then artfully garnished with crispy onion wisps. Pappas Seafood and Pappadeaux also have irresistible deals on oysters on the half shell—sometimes for as little as $6 a dozen.
Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette offers three choices of “crazy oysters” cooked on a robata grill, along with several add-ons. The grilled oyster with salt and pepper topped with the optional addition of sturgeon caviar is amazing; the one with jalapeño, tequila, lime juice, and avocado oil will please fans of spicy foods; and the one with bacon, pork belly, and apple cider vinaigrette is a little heavy on the pork. But don’t miss the oyster and fennel stew here—it’s magnificent. There are other varieties of grilled oysters at the original Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar.
The lovely barbecued oysters at Cottonwood are topped with garlic butter, parsley, and breadcrumbs, and lightly broiled so the oysters stay moist and plump. If you like your oysters with a cold brew, you’re in luck. This laid-back modern ice house has an incredible craft beer selection.
For the oysters Madeleine at The Rouxpour, (2298 Texas Ave., Sugar Land Town Square, 281-240-7689), the mollusks are fresh-shucked, then chargrilled in the shell and topped with creamed spinach, aged Asiago cheese, and chopped smoked bacon. Sample them during the New Orleans–style restaurant’s popular jazz brunch, which also includes all the oysters on the half shell you care to eat.
The grilled oysters at Jimmy G’s Cajun Seafood are charred on a gas grill with a slosh of garlic butter and a sprinkling of parmesan—a carbon copy (sorry) of the char-grilled oysters at Drago’s in suburban New Orleans, which pioneered the genre. Oyster poor boys are also a good bet.
Grilled oysters at Tommy’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Clear Lake are coated with a mixture of white wine, garlic, shallots, and butter, dusted with Parmesan cheese, and lightly charred. Tommy’s is a cutting-edge seafood house that sometimes serves the sea snails called bigoneaux, cooking up these oyster reef pests in the style of escargot.
The steamed oysters at Denis’ Seafood are a lighter variation on the same theme, seasoned with garlic butter and parmesan. Steaming avoids the charred flavors, so these are delicious but delicate. Denis’ oysters Rockefeller are outstanding too, but skip the oysters Denis—the thick layer of melted cheese overwhelms the flavor of the seafood.
Oysters Floyd at Floyd’s Cajun Seafood is a dish that’s a lot like oysters Denis—the grilled oysters have a similar crabmeat and shrimp cream sauce on top—but there’s just a hint of melted cheese instead of a mound of the stuff. Just a little bit makes a huge difference in flavor.
Baked oysters are the oldest and most famous of the Gulf Coast’s cooked oyster dishes (see oysters Rockefeller sidebar, to the right). Goode Company Seafood offers the best version in Houston, with the oyster served under richly seasoned spinach-and-cream topping and a distinctive cap of broiled hollandaise—a tasty and innovative garnish. The restaurant’s oysters Bovine come wrapped in smoked ribeye, each creation like a miniature carpetbagger’s steak stuffed with oysters.
You might say that the baked oysters at Reef are multicultural, topped as they are with Swiss chard instead of spinach and seasoned with Indian lime pickle relish, Italian Asiago cheese-flavored breadcrumbs, and a dash of French Pernod. The oysters are baked on rock salt with whole star anise, cinnamon, and black peppercorns. When you lean over the plate, you get a heady rush of spicy smells that mingle with the flavor and aroma of the baked oyster—an amazing sensory experience.
Danton’s’ “Baked Oysters Dan” are topped with crabmeat in garlic butter, bread crumbs, parmesan, and secret spices—a luscious treat. We also recommend the exceptional oysters Kyle, named after co-owner Kyle Teas. It’s a simple, old-fashioned pan roast made with six oysters gently cooked in butter, garlic, and lemon juice served with toasted, buttered rolls.