Chef Chat, Part 1: Danton Nix of Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen

Categories: Chef Chat
Chef Danton Nix.jpg
In late 2007, after more than 20 years in the restaurant industry, self-taught chef Danton Nix (along with his longtime friend and business partner Kyle Teas) opened Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen. Mere months before the economic crisis, it was, in Nix's words, "the perfect time not to open a restaurant." But Nix and Teas persevered, and their reward has been a restaurant that has become both a critical and popular favorite. Eating our Words recently caught up with Nix to talk about Galveston Bay oysters, menu development, Groupon, and more.

EOW: Tell me about your cooking style.

DN: I grew up cooking in a large family of cooks, and we always celebrated food. But I never never had any formal culinary schooling and never worked with a chef. When I got into the restaurant business I was running the front of the house as a general manager, and I just gravitated toward the kitchen. And actually I call myself a cook. That's what I think that I am. I don't have the skill set of people who went to cooking school, and I'm envious of what they have. But what I'm trying to do here is put out great-flavored food.

I call this restaurant a Gulf Coast kitchen. I'm very influenced by Cajun cooking, because I grew up eating the gumbos and the etouffees and the creoles, and I spent a lot of time in South Louisiana. It definitely has an acute influence on my cooking, as does Mexican cuisine. But I don't throw this place out there as a New Orleans or Cajun restaurant, because we're not. Just Gulf Coast. My approach is to put the freshest product I can out there. This place is a throwback restaurant: I'm not doing anything cutting-edge, I'm not doing any fusion confusion, I'm not breaking any new ground or reinventing the wheel. I'm not trying to. I'm just trying to celebrate the food that I grew up with.

EOW: Has the menu changed since you opened?

DN: Absolutely. I've got about 65 items on my menu right now, and it continues to grow. As I do different specials, people want them all the time, and I want to make everyone happy. But I'm at the point where I need to scale back because the menu's getting too big. I also do 10-15 specials each day, depending on what I can get in the back door. One of the good things about being a mom-and-pop restaurant is that I don't have to have everything on my menu every day. If something's not up to par then I won't serve it. And I want my customers to know that. Hopefully, part of the allure of coming here is knowing that food won't go on the plate if it's not something that I personally would want to pay for or put in my mouth.

EOW: If someone's favorite dish gets cut from the menu, will they still be able to order it?

DN: Oh, absolutely. Eighty percent of the things I take off the menu I'll still be able to reproduce. It'll be one of those things where the waiter says, hey, I can get that for you, and it becomes a little more special to people, but also gives me a little more room to work with.

EOW: I've heard from other chefs that one of the most challenging aspects is how customers expect their favorite dishes to be on the menu at all times, because it means that chefs have to prepare the exact same dish every day in exactly the same way.

DN: This is something that I face every day. I'm happy that people get that attached to certain dishes, but it gets real old making the same thing over and over. My menu's full of things that if I don't have them, people get upset or walk out the door. It's like their world has ended if I don't have corn bisque. I think I share this frustration with all cooks. We always want to cook dishes that are new and different, and to cook something three or four thousand times, the thrill is gone, no matter how good it is.

EOW: In addition to dishes named after you, the menu also contains Oysters Kyle and Kyle's Crab Salad. Do these dishes have any special significance?

DN: Mostly I'm just throwing a name out there, and for some of these dishes, just because it has my name on doesn't make it any more special. I'm a shameless self-promoter. And I just named a few things after Kyle because I wanted him to feel good too.

EOW: So Kyle didn't help with the creation of those dishes.

DN: No. I don't handle the books, and he doesn't handle the food. It's a good partnership. You don't want me on a computer or signing checks, and you don't want him cooking.

Tune in tomorrow for more with Danton's executive chef Danton Nix.

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15 comments
SirRon
SirRon

Have they "fixed" the wine list? The food here is truly fantastic. The wine list is kind of embarrassing.

Furious Jam
Furious Jam

I lived in New Orleans for a few years, but nevertheless, Danton's seafood gumbo is the best I've ever had.

Noorvthai
Noorvthai

I remember their awesome crab-dip at the Menus of Menus party a couple years ago, think it bagged the award. I haven't been to the restaurant lately but will pay them a visit next time we do a museum day.

Dimarialandis
Dimarialandis

Danton's old fashioned oyster bar, you know--the room itself---reminds me of the Oyster Bar in Cincinnati, overlooking the Ohio River, where I used to eat as a munchkin with my Grandparents 40 some years ago.

So when I visit Danton's nowadays I feel like an older version of Huck Finn.

Jonathan R. Cohen
Jonathan R. Cohen

Looking forward to FINALLY getting around to trying this place.

Jemimagold
Jemimagold

I like the food at Danton's but it is so dang loud in there. The hostess said that the mgmt likes to play the music on their personal ipods over the loudspeakers. And it is LOUD.

MadMac
MadMac

Fantastic food, excellent environment. My Mrs and I agree that Amanda's friendly service and warm suggestions made our monthly night out an event. The crab Balinese (spelling?) is heaven on a plate. The rice dressing, (dirty rice) and debris is like my Creole mother-in-law used to make. Skip the chain and treat youself to a wonderful experience.

Lordes38
Lordes38

Great guys, I hope they continue to rock out some great food!

jessica1
jessica1

Except the roar of the mighty Ohio is just Highway 59.

Kitchens
Kitchens

Yeah.. same thing could be happened with me. My wife was became anger and i had left the place immediately due to loud music they are playing around us.

SirRon
SirRon

Hopefully enough time has passed where my words won't be considered to be a flamer comment for attention. I mean it to be constructive.

My thoughts on the wine list (which is slightly better than I remember from around a year ago, but then again there was no where to go but up).

- Only one Zin?- Rhone Varietals: Technically "Pettite" (sic) Syrah is accepted as a Rhone varietal, but Rhone varietals are almost always blends. The selections here are a weakness.- I'm partial to Cabs, but this section is especially weak in my opinion.- Overall, the selection of reds is weak and overpriced. The white list is better.- The wines are in alphabetical order, which is not only uninspired, but also points to the lack of "care" put into the list.

Please know that I only bother to comment because I love the food at Danton's. However, the wine list is more TGI Fridays than Danton's quality.

SirRon
SirRon

Dang it Kyle... you tricked me into looking at the great food before I found the wine list located here http://dantonsseafood.com/Curr...

You can't do that to someone from Louisiana :)

Jemimagold
Jemimagold

I can understand playing music loudly in the kitchen to pep everyone up but to blare music in the dining room at say 6 pm on a Saturday is just plain aggravating. When we asked to turn it down, the hostess said that the mgmt "wouldn't let" her.

Kyle
Kyle

We are happy to modify the sound level. Our system has 6 zones, so we have quite a bit of flexibility. Unfortunately the hostess gave you some bad info that evening.

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