No Soy Marinero, Soy Captain Tom: Best Oysters Between the Coasts

Captain Tom’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (Houston area)

I’ve never paid so little to eat so well, nor felt so good about doing it. Captain Tom’s shucks all the pretense away from the overwrought oyster house and gets you back to its origins as working man’s tavern food. Even better, Tom’s tone and taste profile isn’t Maine, Massachusetts or Manhattan, but rather coastal Mexico. And thanks to immigration patterns, it’s unlikely to go Anglo anytime soon.

Outside and inside, Captain Tom’s is shaped like a snubnosed Gulf shrimp boat. Listing gently starboard on a sea of concrete, it also rises steeply upwards towards the bow, making for some tenuously anchored seats at the bar. If you go off hours and have a choice, grab a seat on the bow or lower stern, the two flattest parts of the boat.

That said, there are few off hours in this always packed pearl, so be ready for some crowding. Still, you’ll eat quickly and well, even if the few minutes of waiting feel like an eternity once you see what everyone else is eating or find out how little they’re paying.

Once you’re strapped in, signal your intentions to the oyster shuckers. These guys all work within the confines of the horseshoe shaped center area, taking and making orders for the raw stuff as well as shucking beer bottles. A dozen oysters will run about four dollars and take a minute or two to prepare. Beers are two bucks or so and arrive with much faster.

Once the first plate is set before you, simply spray a bit of lime, limón verde, on each bivalve then down them. Order a second dozen when you hit the eighth or ninth oyster to minimize downtime. I know some people like lemon juice, horse radish and cocktail sauce on their oysters, and Nixon liked ketchup on his cottage cheese. Both choices are impeachable offenses, especially at Tom’s.

Once you’ve warmed up with a lime spritzed dozen, order your first Michelada. Salt on the rim, spice in the glass, this beer cocktail makes and slakes your thirst. While versions vary, here it consists of Bloody Mary ingredients plus an iced blonde beer (chela helada). I find one per dozen to be a good ratio.

With a little food and beer in your belly, you can further spice up the next round. Add a squiggle of hot sauce, preferably the thick vaguely smoky Guadalajaran number in the large plastic bottle, to half your oysters. The spiced burn will carry you through the plain ones and leave your lips and face pleasantly numb. In short, the hot sauce is MSG for a beer buzz. If you’re unsure which sauce to use, follow your neighbor’s lead, particularly if he’s alone, has construction dirt on him and chats up the shuckers in Spanish.

With a few dozen oysters wriggling in your gut, you might want to venture out to the rest of the menu: No need. No point. The non-oyster menu items are really only here for children and the childish. That said, fried catfish and shrimp are perfectly adequate, especially in the house’s good light cornmeal batter. Frog legs-overpriced chicken on the tongue though thrilling to order for some-are adequate but unnecessary. Have a dessert beer instead and call it quits. You can always grab ice cream on the way home. Better yet, stop by one of the local donut shops, or grab an horchata across the street at the taquería.

When the meal comes to an end, head to the cashier to pay. Everything is on the honor system. Texans and Texicans aren’t as entitled or suspicious as New Yorkers, so no one will press you to tip or about the details of your order. Then again, this is a place to reward excellence and expedience with an extra dollar or two and to show that some people born East of the Mississippi aren’t selfish, self-absorbed godless heathens.

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2 Responses to “No Soy Marinero, Soy Captain Tom: Best Oysters Between the Coasts”

  1. Food Fan Says:

    The frog legs are fun, too. Not worth a trip, but if you’re already there, you might as well have an order.

  2. Wild Willy Says:

    Just checked out Tom’s on your rec. The review was spot on. I especially liked the pumped up Michelada with a raw oyster shooter. Can’t believe food this good is this cheap! Keep it up FaHFS!

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