Discovering a New Old Favorite at Joyce's Seafood and Steaks
The most interesting thing to me about Joyce's is how Ruiz and Lopez have kept the Gulf Coast and Cajun roots of the restaurant intact while adding their own, very Tex-Mex twist. Where else in town can you get blackened catfish enchiladas, for example?
Crawifsh "half and half" features etouffee and fried crawfish tails.
Those enchiladas are served with two of Ruiz and Lopez's house specialties: black beans with a sweetly smoky tinge to them and "six pack sauce," which Ruiz told us is six different packs of chiles, reduced down and thickened back up with a spot of cream. And the smoky flavor to those black beans?
"Bacon," Ruiz smiled. The kitchen chops it roughly, fries it up and cooks the beans down with the smoky pork belly. The only other ingredients are salt and pepper, making for what are possibly the best black beans anywhere in town.
The Cajun and Gulf Coast standards are still on the menu too, and we tried a mix of them all this past Monday night.
The half-dozen oysters we ordered were smaller than many of the bivalves I've seen this season, but I thought that they would have made a good argument for the Gulf specimens my East and West Coast friends normally find so repellent. Not only were they more "appropriately" sized for those tastes, they were brinier and less buttery than the voluptuous, three-bite oysters that make my friends gag so. I washed them down with a lovely glass of wine, a Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend with a honey sweetness cut by astringent notes of grapefruit.
My dining companion that night went full-tilt Cajun and ordered the gumbo, crawfish etouffee and fried crawfish tails. While the gumbo was a little thin and too heavy on the file for me, I couldn't find fault with the crawfish in either iteration. The little puffs of crawfish tails were fried so lightly and in such a pleasantly thin batter that the sweetness of the meat still came through. And although my friend found the etouffee too subtle, I liked the softness of the buttery blond roux.
Equally enchanting to me was the incongruous nautical decor, which looks leftover from a Joe's Crab Shack remodel, set against an otherwise calm and elegant dining room. The service and food are on par with far more expensive restaurants, yet there's still a touch of the curiously whimsical to be found here.
More than anything, I loved being reminded that the homegrown fusion cuisines found at flashier, newer restaurants such as Underbelly, Roost or Eatsie Boys has also been brewing organically in quieter places like Joyce's for many years, where you can find Gulf Coast, Cajun, Mexican and Tex-Mex all ebbing and flowing together as one.
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