Sunday, April 11, 2021

Topwater Grill at Galveston Bay in San Leon

"...Donnie wanted fresh oysters for lunch, so we ran down to San Leon at Galveston Bay on the Texas coast..."


Eating Oysters at Topwater Grill in San Leon at Galveston Bay, Texas

Several weeks ago Donnie wanted fresh oysters for lunch, so we ran down to San Leon at Galveston Bay on the Texas coast to eat oysters at the Topwater Grill. Together we gobbled down 48 oysters, 24 grilled with butter, garlic and parmesan, and 24 raw and dipped in Tabasco sauce, lemon and horse radish. Donnie ate saltines and hot fresh bread with his oysters. I didn’t.

I’m standing on the pier at Topwater watching margarita-holding dudes in deck shoes pumping fists. Pelicans are unsparing. They fly past my head, obese and squawking loudly. Interstate 45 which takes us from Houston’s rat-race to the Texas coast is a pain in the ass, annoyingly crowded and dangerous. But it’s worth the hassle to stand there and smell motorboat fuel and fried shrimp and be ambushed by the shore breeze.

Topwater Grill - Grilled Oysters
Topwater Grill Fried Shrimp

Several of the oyster dishes served at Topwater are classic New Orleans style dishes, such as Oysters Rockefeller which originated at Antoine’s Restaurant in 1899. Another is Grilled Oysters covered with garlic, butter and parmesan. Grilled Oysters is rooted in New Orleans’ famous open flame Charbroiled Oysters, a classic originated by Tommy
Cvitanovich at Drago’s Seafood in Metairie. Many New Orleans restaurants serve their own version of charbroiled oysters. Gallier’s Oyster Bar on Carondelet Street does a superb job. It’s not dumb to cash in on New Orleans classics. Topwater’s menu also includes Red Snapper, Red Fish, Flounder and Mahi Mahi. As my readers know, I’m not a food critic. I do however enjoy putting the spotlight on people who doing fun things with food and booze. Topwater’s business stretches beyond preparing and serving fresh Gulf Coast seafood to “harvesting.” It owns and operates its own fleet of shrimp and oyster boats.

April Fool Point Marina sits on the tip of a Galveston Bay peninsula at San Leon. When Wally and Barbara Jakubas purchased the marina in the 1970s it was a dump. They built a boat launch, fuel dock and bait shop, and turned the marina’s tiny building into a restaurant. With their son Robert in charge, Topwater Grill opened in 1999. Unfortunately in 2008 Hurricane Ike blew everything to hell and demolished the building. The family rebuilt. It’s important to them that despite a comparatively new building with modern toilet stalls, the place remains a “hideaway,” unlike the “sterile franchises of Kemah.” In other words, don’t come expecting an inauthentic corporate style establishment. These are real boat people.

In the early 1980s there was a sleazy bar on Washington Avenue not far from Houston’s Memorial Park. Its only sign said “No Loitering.” At the No Loitering Bar there might be a knife fight. My car was stolen a few blocks from there. Back then, dive bars were real dive bars. Today they are sanitized. San Leon prides itself on its dive bars, small dark places where regulars, some a bit scruffy, hang out. With a population of just over 5000, San Leon worked hard to retain the aura of a small boozy fishing community. It avoided incorporation, and for the most part, escaped relentless residential and commercial development. There are, of course, pricey weekend fishing homes and a few fancy eating and drinking joints, yet these are in proximity to trailer houses, RV camps, old boats on trailers, rusty abandoned cars, even a few yards with chickens. The economy is still based on oysters and fishing.

The community has admirable history. Before it was called San Leon, it was called Campeche, and was a stomping ground for the pirate Jean Lafitte, who found the harbor an excellent place to squirrel away stolen stuff. Lafitte relocated to the San Leon area after the government came down on piracy and disrupted his smuggling operations in New Orleans. If historical accounts can be believed, Lafitte and his entrepreneurial pals managed to rake in millions of dollars annually from piracy in this area.

Images from Topwater's facebook.

Topwater Grill Fried Oysters
Topwater Grill Horseshoe Margarita
Pelican at Topwater
Topwater Grill view of Galveston Bay Sunset
Topwater Grill Bloody Mary

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