Critics Catch: Going Coastal for Seafood
By: Dale Rice
Waiters are dressed to the nines. A cocktail waitress glides through the dining room taking orders. The pace is slow, and owner Clary Milburn likes it that way. It’s part of the casually elegant atmosphere he has cultivated at Clary’s Seafood Restaurant in Galveston, and diners love it.
Milburn, still passionate about his operation after 30 years at the restaurant’s helm, is making his several-times-a-night rounds when he stops by a table to ask a couple if they are enjoying their meal. “We’re from Kansas City,” the man tells him, “and we don’t have anything like this up there. This place is a gem.”
Family and recreation brought these tourists to the Texas Gulf Coast, but they discovered another, much less publicized reason to visit: Great dining can appear as wonderfully and unexpectedly as a heron standing in a roadside pool of water.
Clary’s is one such discovery. Just across the causeway from the mainland on Interstate 45, well off the beaten tourist path, this restaurant serves as a monument to another era.
After years of working in private clubs, Milburn left the service industry in the 1970s. Following a four-year break, he was asked by a longtime patron what it would take for him to re-enter the field. “I would like to have a small place open to the public in a private-club style,” was his reply.
“I thought the public should have the opportunity to see what it’s like to dine in a private club,” he says. “So I developed my cocktail-waitress style, my waiter style, my slow style.”
Things haven’t changed much. The staff won’t even hand customers menus until they’ve settled in. Milburn’s attitude toward service permeates his place, just as other elements define other restaurants along the coast, from the shrimp at The Outrigger Restaurant in Palacios to the magnificent Italian dishes at the Venetian Hot Plate in Port Aransas.
Entrées like those augment all the other reasons to trek up and down the Texas coast—world-class birding, abundant fishing, boating, museums, galleries, and festivals. Though the coast provides a multitude of tourist destinations, it’s also home to major commercial fishing fleets, which ply the Gulf for shrimp, oysters, and fish such as flounder, red snapper, redfish, and tuna.
The bounty may end up on plates across the nation, but nowhere is it fresher than in the coastal restaurants of Texas, where a catch that arrives on the dock in the morning can be on your plate for lunch. That makes our coast an appealing spot for dining. Although seafood is the main attraction, it isn’t the only fare worth seeking out.
To help lure you to the coast for a visit, here are eight restaurants I think are well worth a stop.
Clary’s Seafood Restaurant, 8509 Teichman Rd., Galveston, 409/740-0771; www.galveston.com/clarysseafood. Hours: Tue-Sat for lunch and dinner (occasionally open Sun, but call ahead).
Red Snapper Inn, 402 Bluewater Hwy., Surfside Beach, 979/239-3226; www.redsnapperinn.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Outrigger Restaurant, 515 Commerce St., Palacios, 361/972-1479; www.outriggerrestaurant.com. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Charlotte Plummer’s Seafare Restaurant, 202 N. Fulton Beach Rd., Fulton, 361/729-1185; www.charlotteplummers.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Bakery Cafe, 434 S. Commercial St., Aransas Pass, 361/758-3511. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Venetian Hot Plate, 232 Beach St., Port Aransas, 361/749-7617; www.venetianhotplate.com. Open Tue-Sat for lunch and dinner.
Beach & Station Street Grill, 235 Beach St., Port Aransas, 361/749-2303. Open Thu-Mon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Tue for breakfast and lunch.
Castaways, 320 N. Alister St., Port Aransas, 361/749-5394; www.castawaysporta.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
From the May 2008 issue.