Discovering a New Old Favorite at Joyce's Seafood and Steaks
One of the best things about grand tasting events like the Rodeo's Best Bites competition or our own upcoming Menu of Menus is the opportunity to sample food from restaurants you may have never heard of, or restaurants you've always meant to try but never got around to. Joyce's Seafood and Steaks falls in the latter category.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt Blackened catfish enchiladas at Joyce's, where Gulf Coast, Cajun, Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisines all blend together seamlessly.
During the final round of judging Best Bites this past Sunday night, I became obsessed with a cup of bread pudding that featured everything I love about the difficult-to-perfect dessert: slightly crunchy, caramelized pieces of soft, challah-like bread soaked in a creamy sauce that was almost like vanilla custard. I had to know where it came from. The answer was Joyce's, which won two awards for its dessert that night: the Tasty Traditions Award and second place in the Two-Stepping Bread/Cheese/Dessert category.
At one point long ago, I used to drive past Joyce's twice a day during my commute to and from the Galleria. I never thought much of the little seafood place tucked away in a 1960's-era strip center, and nothing about its rather charmless exterior ever encouraged me to stop over for dinner on my way home. I should have known better. A lifetime spent in Houston has taught me not to judge a book -- or a restaurant -- by its cover.
Former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh called Joyce's "one of the best seafood restaurants in the city" in a 2004 review. We gave the place a Best of Houston® award in 2003 for Best Cajun Restaurant. It's garnered plenty of other compliments over the years, even after it changed its name from Joyce's Oyster Resort roughly 10 years ago and founder Joyce Gilbert retired.
Small but brilliantly briny Gulf oysters.
Joyce's Seafood and Steaks is run now by her former partners, the brother-and-sister team of Francisco Ruiz and Martha Lopez. Ruiz walks the floor in the evenings in a button-up shirt and tidy slacks, greeting customers by name. When I mentioned to our waiter that the fantastic bread pudding at Best Bites had encouraged us to come in, Ruiz came over a few minutes later to find out more.
"You know, we've entered that competition for 10 years and never won before," Ruiz laughed. My friend and I weren't the only ones there that night after trying the bread pudding, either. I overheard a table nearby discussing the very same decision-making process that had led me to Joyce's that night.
"We normally enter our enchiladas," Ruiz told us, but the gamble of entering a dessert instead this year paid off. The enchiladas simply take too much time to prepare for such a large group, Ruiz explained.
If those enchiladas had been at Best Bites, however, I think they would have stood a chance at winning too.