It's been a disappointing oyster season, and crawfish have yet to hit their 10-legged stride. But Gulf fish are doing just fine, thank you. I recently tasted evidence at Crabby Daddy Steakhouse & Seafood in The Woodlands.
The dusky bar and grill may be better known for the giant, sunglasses-sporting crab facing the road, but that's a shame. Despite the low-rent sports bar atmosphere and less-than-expert service, I ate an eye-openingly excellent plate of fried fish at Crabby Daddy. The reason is clear.
Crabby Daddy opened in 2000 as a natural outgrowth of the adjacent Woodlands Seafood Market, owned by third-generation fishmongers, Nick and Louie Chagouris. The freshly caught Gulf fish served at the restaurant comes directly from the market. To match the wide variety of seafood at the store (as well as prime meats), the oversized menu at Crabby Daddy includes Cajun specialties such as gumbo and po-boys, down-home burgers and upscale surf and turf dishes.
But diners in the know will flip right to the back-page market menu. There, they can choose from lobster, five different kinds of crab, or several schools worth of fish, including faraway catches such as Atlantic salmon, but mostly Gulf varieties. Depending on the day, there may be golden tilefish, redfish or swordfish, to name a few.
The day I dined there, grouper had just arrived from Galveston. The plate, with its plastic cups of ketchup and tartar sauce, wasn't particularly prepossessing. But at first bite, the crystalline flesh of the big fish melted with its hot, crunchy cornmeal crust. Growing up in New England, I never tasted fish so pristine.
The sweet, slightly doughy hushpuppies were likable and the Cajun red-beans-and-rice had a pleasant kick. But I mostly ignored them, just to save room for every bite of that grouper, which was so perfect, it deserves a home in Plato's cave. But I'm glad it's in The Woodlands instead. That's much closer.