Your Seafood Destination
● By Emma Comery
From Rockport’s maritime legacy to Port Aransas’ recreational fishing hotspots, the Coastal Bend has a long and storied history of excellent seafood. While old favorites continue to set the bar for classic Coastal Bend fare, our ever evolving restaurant scene and rising national profile means many spots are pushing the boundaries in delicious new ways. In an attempt to take a closer look at the wildly inventive local seafood scene, I ate my way through 11 different hot spots in just one week. The experience allowed us to discover the stories behind two restaurant owners, four dishes, and five eateries that all truly embody the traditions and innovations of Coastal Bend seafood. Happy eating!
FINS GRILL + ICEHOUSE, PORT ARANSAS
At 19, Beth Owens visited Port Aransas for the first time on Spring Break and – sappy but true – met “a very cute boat captain.” Reader, she married him. And good thing, too, because the couple went on to open three of Port A’s most foundational and well-loved restaurants, subsequently helping to define the island getaway as a rising foodie destination.
Though they had owned a fishing charter called Deep Sea Headquarters for several years, in 2005 Beth and Kelly Owens decided to open Fins, a casual family restaurant on the water. Back then, Port A’s seafood scene wasn’t as developed. Despite others in the industry pressuring them to serve box-to-fryer frozen sea- food, Beth and Kelly were determined to serve 100 percent fresh fish, or no fish at all. That culinary integrity won Fins a strong base of repeat customers, and today, the restaurant is a waterfront tradition that serves 1,500 guests a day.
Beth now owns six different businesses with her husband (including MacDaddy’s Family Kitchen and Tortuga’s Saltwater Grill), serves on Port Aransas City Council, and recently sat on the judges’ panel at the World Food Competition. “Kelly Owens changed my life,” she recounts. “I didn’t even realize I had it in me to be the person I am today. I never ever would have imagined the life I have right now.” Port A (and especially its seafood scene), in turn, cannot imagine a life without Beth.
420 W Cotter Avenue
Tuna Fusion CevicheCOSTA SUR WOK + CEVICHE BAR, NORTH PADRE ISLAND
What does chef, restaurateur, and surfer Nick Mackrizz, a Padre Islander born and raised, want from his diners at Costa Sur? He ashes a cocky grin and jokes, “That wow face.” That’s not just big talk. One bite of his Tuna Fusion Ceviche and you’ll be shattered.
Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Nick cooked in restaurants in Peru before bringing his passion for ceviche home. In the open kitchen of Costa Sur, Nick provides “a live action dining experience.”
Hefty chunks of raw tuna are cured or “cooked” in citrus juices for just five to eight minutes, then topped with fresh mango, avocado, raw and pickled onions, spicy limo peppers, and canchita (also known as the unpopped popcorn of Peru). Don’t worry about utensils – Chef Nick serves up crispy homemade tortilla chips that double as spoons. Fair warning: this blend of classic Peruvian technique and South Texas flavors is so dynamite that you’ll probably forget your dining companions even exist. There’s little to no talking while eating this ceviche. There is only scooping, dipping, chewing, and wow faces.
1513 S Padre Island Drive #101
Cathy, Hannah, and Hank HarrisonHARRISON’S LANDING TAVERN ON THE BAY, CORPUS CHRISTI
How many people can say they have two U.S. Presidents in their family tree? Hank and Hannah Harrison can. As descendants of both William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison (the 9th and 23rd Presidents, respectively), Hannah and Hank can trace their ancestry through the Civil War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the Continental Congress. Self-proclaimed history buffs who “love any excuse to tell the story,” the siblings watched their father, Bill, build a business around this unique history. Today, Hannah and Hank, along with their mother, Cathy, own one of Downtown Corpus Christi’s biggest waterfront dining attractions.
Serving up classic seafood favorites like Fried Calamari, Crab-Encrusted Flounder, and Mahi Tacos, the restaurant literally floats in the marina, offering the best view of the sunset Corpus has to offer. While the day-to-day of Harrison’s Land- ing is handled by CEO Lynn Cates, whom Hank calls “part of the family,” Cathy and Hannah take care of the buying for the boutique, and Hank continues to be involved with the brand, though he recently shifted gears to focus on his own downtown business, The Exchange.
Though Harrison’s Landing has expanded over the years to include a boutique, charter cruises, live music, and interactive sailing cruises, the family maintains the humble philosophy of, “Serve good fish. Keep having fun.” Sounds like Corpus in a nutshell, huh?
108 Peoples Street T-Head
Don’t let the luxury resort atmosphere of Palmilla Beach fool you. Black Marlin is all about casual feel-good eats. “I wait until I’m ravenously hungry,” explains Executive Chef Gail Huesmann, “and then I come up
with dishes that push the envelope on the familiar.” A self-proclaimed
“freak for seafood” and firm believer
that “eating with your hands is the most immersive experience,” Chef Gail slays everything she puts on the menu at Black Marlin, especially the Lobster Tostada.
Swapping out the traditional tortilla for a deep-fried wonton (because “who doesn’t love wontons?”), this dish is essentially a tower of lobster claw and knuckle meat on a light and crunchy base. Smooth flavors of avocado, mango salsa, and coleslaw (hold the mayo) swirl together – the perfect beachside snack on any South Texas day. Though expertly, artfully plated, this dish doesn’t expect to be eaten with any delicacy or decorum. In fact, it will mock you for trying, tumbling through your fingers to paint a Jackson Pollock of seafood on the plate. Finger food at its finest.
258 Snapdragon Street
Tucked behind The Tarpon Inn on E. Cotter Ave in Port Aransas, Roosevelt’s earned its name when FDR
himself visited Port A for a fishing trip in 1937. Today, the president’s tarpon scale sits in the lobby of The Tarpon Inn, and Roosevelt’s is the fine dining experience in downtown Port A. With seating for just 64, the warmly paneled cottage restaurant offers an intimate alternative to the sports bars and grills crowded with locals and tourists alike. No matter where you’re seated, the open kitchen provides dinner and a show, so to speak, as chefs and line cooks toss pans of jumbo lump crab cakes, pan-seared snapper with ravioli, and parmesan crusted flounder.
Grounded in the two-pronged culinary tradition of Coastal Bend meat and seafood, Roosevelt’s food philosophy is that fine dining doesn’t have to mean molecular gastronomy; sometimes it just means re ned comfort food prepared from the highest-quality ingredients. Here, says Executive Chef Matt Axtell, fine dining is an experience available to everyone, an elevated meal you can roll up to in a golf cart.
200 E Cotter Avenue
EATS Epicurea Restaurant + Bar
NORTH PADRE ISLAND
Unlike most of the restaurants on this list, EATS Epicurea Restaurant + Bar isn’t the brainchild of just one or
two culinary experts. Everything from the menu to the wine list to the decor is the product of an entire management team’s experience as travelers and foodies. With a staff that includes a General Manager who lived in New Orleans for 12 years and a new Sales and Marketing Director with The Bellagio on his resume, EATS Epicurea takes the world and makes it Texas. Shiner Bock puts a proud local spin on beer-battered flounder tacos, and Gulf seafood learns new traditions in dishes like Creole Scallops, Pasta Mardi Gras, and Cajun Alfredo. Whether you’re snacking on Garlic Crab Fingers in the German-Alps-style dining room or sipping a rose in the mid-century lounge, you’ll find yourself at the center of multiple culinary cultures, hoping the feast never ends.
14353 Commodores Drive
When Karey Swartwout purchased a tiny sailboat repair shop on the edge of Little Bay in Rockport nine years ago, it was just “a shell of a garage” with a small parking lot still lined with sailboats waiting for a little tender loving care. Today, that cottage is old Rockport reinvented, sporting an outdoor patio, a small bar, and a dining room appointed with shiplap and mirrors. From a menu driven by both Karey’s past life in the UK and present life on the Gulf Coast, diners indulge in savory bowls of blackened red drum and crab cream sauce over pasta, shrimp bathed in white wine over creamy mashed potatoes, and Rockport chowder.
At the small bar, Karey’s homemade sea salt rims the glasses of handcrafted cocktails like the orange and lavender Afterglow and the cucumber lime Big Tree. Everything at Glow comes with a side of that same elegant coziness. Exposed Edison light bulbs, fishing nets draped from the ceiling, and a ship’s helm repurposed as a chandelier create a warm, whimsical...well, glow.
1815 Broadway Street #3540
Cajun SnapperTHE BLUE CLOVE SEAFOOD BAR + GRILL CORPUS CHRISTI
It’s fair to say you don’t really expect great seafood restaurants to sit so far in- land from the coast, but The Blue Clove Seafood Bar + Grill has made a name for itself by defying expectations. Father-son duo Antonio and Tony Posada embrace the mashup of their old school and new school mentalities, often veering away from tradition to create off-menu favorites like the Cajun Snapper. Flaky sautéed snapper is piled high with buttery bay scallops and jumbo shrimp, all of which is topped with mushrooms, capers, and a creamy cajun sauce. The lightness of the snapper complements the richness of the sauce, tossing you back and forth between a half dozen incredible flavors with each bite.
There’s something new in the pan every day at The Blue Clove. Both Tony and his father love the thrill of experimenting with new preparations. “Tell us what you want and we’ll make it,” says Tony, eager for a challenge. Spooning the last bite of creamy fish off my plate, I have no doubt Tony would have prepared this snapper to perfection even had I caught it off the jetty at Packery Channel and brought it to him still finning. After tasting this dish, I just might.
5884 Everhart Road
Black Magic GrouperISLAND TIME SUSHI BAR AND SEAFOOD GRILL, NORTH PADRE ISLAND
Inspired by Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasonings, Island Time owner Romeo Galindo developed his Black Magic Grouper as a playful experiment...and instantly discovered an island favorite. Sitting on a bed of jasmine rice and grilled asparagus, this dish looks, tastes, and sounds like sin. In that first bite, peppery grouper and a decadent basil cream sauce hit your tastebuds with a one-two punch. But the second bite is when the magic happens. An undertow of jumbo lump crab with a market price of over $40/lb (and worth every penny) pulls you in, tosses you around, and leaves you begging for another taste. Salty, spicy, and rich, Black Magic casts a sensory spell you won’t want to break.
14225 S Padre Island Drive
Water Street Oyster Bar
DOWNTOWN CORPUS CHRISTI
Like many of Downtown Corpus Christi’s best and tastiest, the building that houses the Oyster Bar was an old run-down building (a transmission shop, to be exact) before it was revitalized into a trendy seafood hotspot. The raw bar, sushi bar, and cocktail bar offer guests a front row seat to the Gulf Coast’s freshest seafood. Led by Brad Lomax and his son, Richard, Water Street continues to expand, offering one of the widest arrays of Gulf seafood in the Coastal Bend.
If you’re not sure where to start with Water Street’s top-notch menu, we suggest a plate of half-shell Gulf Coast oysters. When in Rome, right? A half-dozen raw oysters come on a bed of ice with lemon, tabasco, horseradish, and saltine crackers. Delicious? Yes. Sophisticated? No. This is finger food. If you’re looking for some- thing more decadent, the Oysters Rockefeller are topped with sautéed onions, spinach, and bacon (yes, bacon!), then sprinkled with jack cheese and baked in the oven. The result is a creamy texture and garlicky flavor that will have you wondering if it would be rude to lick the shells. (It would, but we won’t tell.)
309 N. Water Street
The name alone might give you a hint, but the carefully curated gallery of local artwork that spans every wall in Latitude 28°02' proves just how enamored owners Craig and Ramona Day are with the geography of Rockport. For this husband and wife team, opening their own restaurant was the culmination of years of experience across different culinary industries, and the result is a premier seafood experience unlike any other.
Spacious dining rooms with brightly painted wooden tables, ultra-flattering gallery lighting, and burnished cement floors the color of a rusting ship set a tone of understated coastal luxury. Families, friends, and couples of all ages dine on Shrimp Gilroy, Craig’s Crab Cakes, snapper bathed in a tomato-tarragon wine sauce, and Ramona’s Cheese Cake with Amaretto Sauce. Take your time; these are dishes worth savoring.
Latitude isn’t just about the food, though. You could spend hours walking through the various rooms of the restaurant, contemplating the collection Ramona has carefully curated, and which she sells on commission. Oil paintings of swimming sea turtles, photographs of cranes in flight, and even sculptures of Coastal Bend sh make you feel as though you are simultaneously indoors and out, a buoy bobbing between the natural world and the dining room.
105 N. Austin Street