"Would you like some oysters?" It was the voice of Hal Brock, bartender extraordinaire (and occasional Houstonia contributor), from over my shoulder as he refilled our group's glasses of water. We were all huddled around two marble-topped tables at Julep, bleary-eyed from a particularly busy Monday at work. I had just started working on a St. Charles punch and Brock's voice snapped me out of my ruby port-and-cognac reverie.
"Oysters?" I replied, confused. Still hazy after the long day, all I could work out in my mind was the idea that it's not oyster season anymore, and so Brock's question hung in the air unanswered. "Yes, oysters," he smiled back. "They're a dollar on Mondays. We've got Malpeques in today." The realization settled over me—ever the provincial Houstonian, constantly having to remind myself that oysters exist outside of the Gulf of Mexico, albeit smaller and weaker versions of our flabby, buttery bivalves—that of course it's still oyster season in other places. Places such as Prince Edward Island, where Malpeques are harvested from the cold, Atlantic-fed waters of Malpeque Bay.
We ordered two dozen immediately, because you don't turn down $1 oysters on a hot day in Houston, and slurped them eagerly from their delicate shells, all but ignoring the fine strands of horseradish and ramekin of mignonette Julep serves on each tray. Under normal circumstances, I also all but ignore Malpeques, Blue Points and other such oysters from far-away coasts that have become increasingly common on local restaurant and raw bar menus. It's the provincial Houstonian in me again, a deep-seated part of my nature that hates paying more than $1 per oyster, even for the "really good stuff" because at the end of the day it's not a two- or three-bite Gulf oyster and it inevitably tastes a little too much like saltwater held together with a bit of Jell-O when you've grown up on the fatty beasts we breed in our own Texan bays.
These Malpeques were a bit thin, but I still enjoyed them, perhaps because I was thrilled to get a taste of any oysters during the summer months in which eating Gulf varieties is inadvisable, and perhaps because they were, after all, only $1 each. Julep's generous pricing during happy hour extends beyond these Monday oyster deals, however. The daily happy hour that runs from 3 to 6 p.m. also nets thirsty drinkers half-off a large menu of "Southern classics" like the St. Charles punch I was enjoying ($5 during happy hour). Other heat-beating drinks stock the menu right now as well: a Pimm's Cup for $4.50; a Madeira Cobbler with satsuma juice that's also $4.50; a French 75 tarted up with dry gin for $5; even a classic Mint Julep, served in a shiny silver cup with plenty of fresh herbs, for $4.50.
Taken together, it's enough incentive for this hard-headed Gulf oyster fan (or philistine, depending on your point of view) to find a deeper appreciation for our East and West Coast varieties—after all, for $1 each, I bet I could learn to love Malpeques with every passing Monday just as much as those from Pepper Grove or Ladies Pass. At least until winter, and Gulf oyster season, rolls around again.
Julep, 1919 Washington Ave., 713-869-4383, julephouston.com