Oyster Season Opens on Nov. 1, and Houston Restaurants Are Ready to Get Shucking

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Oysters are best served raw with just a hint of acid to help their flavors shine.
"He first selected the smallest one ... and then bowed his head as though he were saying grace. Opening his mouth very wide, he struggled for a moment, after which all was over. I shall never forget the comic look of despair he cast upon the other five over-occupied shells. I asked him how he felt. 'Profoundly grateful,' he said, 'as if I had swallowed a small baby.'"
According to a companion, William Makepeace Thackeray uttered the above in 1852 when presented with a half-dozen 6- to 8-inch oysters, a common size at the time

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."

Ernest Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"

Men have long waxed poetic about the oyster, and why not? It's one of the few foods we eat while it's still alive, and we eat the entire creature, entrails and all. Oysters don't hunt; they wait for the ocean currents to bring food. They produce objects we wear as jewelry, and research has confirmed they possess aphrodisiacal properties.

Oh yeah, and when plucked from the ocean in its prime, an oyster -- delicate, plump and ever so slimy -- will taste of briny sea water and rich butter and will sensually melt on your tongue.

With oyster season officially beginning on November 1 (though, as some will argue, that date is completely arbitrary), I've been thinking about fresh, raw bivalves for weeks now. I got the scoop on the upcoming season from local oyster experts and chatted with a few chefs and restaurateurs to find out where you can get fresh oysters straight from our gulf waters.

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Gulf Appellation Oysters Have Arrived at Tommy's Oyster Bar

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Photo courtesy of Tommy's
Shuckers can go through 10,000 oysters a week during the height of the season at Tommy's.
As promised, Gulf appellation oysters have arrived -- albeit a little later in the season than usual. Tommy's Oyster Bar in Clear Lake, not too far from where the oysters are pulled out of such bays as Ladies Pass or Pepper Grove, has plenty on hand right now and is a great spot to try the appellation oysters side-by-side with your average Gulf bivalve.

The first Gulf appellation oysters to arrive at Tommy's this year have been from Lost Reef in Trinity Bay. They're selling for $1.75 each -- with a minimum of six per order -- or $21 per dozen.

"They are very plump and full, with a touch of saltiness, a little minerality with hint of sweetness," reports owner Tom Tollett, who first opened Tommy's in 1994 and has been passionate about Gulf oysters ever since. Two years ago, Tollett even began working with the nearby Galveston Bay Foundation to recycle the some 10,000 oyster shells his team shucks every week.


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Cheaper by the Dozen: The Top 10 Oyster Deals in Houston

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Happy hour prices on oysters are available Monday through Thursday at Pappadeaux.
With oyster season in full swing, many of our readers have asked where to get great oyster deals around town. After all, the chief allure of Gulf oysters aside from their plump sweetness is the low cost. (God, we are so tremendously spoiled down here.)

I called around to some of my favorite oyster-shucking spots in Houston and found 10 great oysters-by-the-dozen deals that run the gamut from happy hour pricing to everyday steals. Even better, these spots are scattered all over town (check out the map below), so there's a platter of half-shells waiting out there for everybody.

Here they are, listed in order of most expensive to least:


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The First Oysters of the Season at Danton's

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Not a bad meal for $5.50.
While Gulf appellation oysters aren't here quite yet, I couldn't help myself from indulging in some fat Gulf beauties during last week's cold snap. Drizzly and rainy equals perfect oyster-eating weather, in my opinion, as it's exactly these two meteorological qualities which are responsible for plumping up the oysters just off our Texas shores.

I headed to Danton's with a group of friends who simply wanted Cajun food that night, but sneaked in a little ulterior motive of my own by choosing a place which always has some of the most reliably good oysters in Houston. And Danton's did not disappoint.


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Look for Gulf Appellation Oysters After the New Year

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
A Pepper Grove oyster on the half shell at Branch Water Tavern last year.
Wondering where all the Gulf appellation oysters are this year, after the big to-do over Pepper Grove and Ladies' Pass oysters in 2011? Not to worry, says Jim Gossen of Louisiana Seafood, one of the area's largest oyster suppliers. They're right around the corner.

Gossen -- along with noted oyster specialists such as Robb Walsh, Jon Rowley, Tracy Woody and Dr. Sam Ray -- was one of the people responsible for bringing appellations back to Gulf-grown oysters after 100 years of dormancy.

"More than a century ago, there wasn't any such thing as a 'Gulf oyster,' wrote Hanna Raskin in the Dallas Observer in February 2011. "Oysters were offered under specific place names," a tradition which was revived at the first annual Texas Foodways symposium in Galveston that year.

It's not that we're being fussy and fancy down here, though. Not only has a tradition been rightfully revived, Gulf oysters are finally being recognized in the same manner as oysters from other coastal waters across the world.


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10 Oyster Dishes to Try in Houston: No. 1, Grilled Oysters at Tommy's Restaurant & Oyster Bar

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Photo courtesy of Tommy's Restaurant & Oyster Bar.
So much more than just grilled oysters.
You know what I love about SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR and DecembeR? It's oyster season! During these months, oysters are at their peak. For the next few weeks, I'll be sampling the most memorable and tasty oyster dishes in Houston.

No. 1, Grilled Oysters at Tommy's Restaurant & Oyster Bar

"Tommy's Grilled Oysters": A profoundly understated and delightfully misleading entrée title.

Scan the dinner menu at Tommy's Restaurant and Oyster Bar too quickly and you're apt to discount the grilled oysters (eight for $12 or 12 for $15) in favor of other, flashier bivalve dishes such as the Double Oysters Rockefeller or the Oyster and Crawfish Enchiladas. Those in the know, however, have come to learn that descriptions can be deceiving.


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10 Oyster Dishes to Try in Houston: No. 2, Cajun Oyster Stuffing at Yapa Kitchen

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Photo by Mark Lewis
Cajun Oyster Stuffing at Yapa Kitchen.
You know what I love about SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR and DecembeR? It's oyster season! During these months, oysters are at their peak. For the next few weeks, I'll be sampling the most memorable and tasty oyster dishes in Houston.

No. 2: Cajun Oyster Stuffing at Yapa Kitchen

While turkey is the ostensible star of the Thanksgiving table, anyone with half a taste bud knows America's holiday meal is all about the side dishes. Forget green bean casserole or candied sweet potatoes; each November, I devote at least half of my Thanksgiving plate to stuffing.


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10 Oyster Dishes to Try in Houston: No. 3, Oyster Sliders at Lucille's

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
You know what I love about SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR and DecembeR? It's oyster season! During these months, oysters are at their peak. For the next few weeks, I'll be sampling the most memorable and tasty oyster dishes in Houston.

No. 3, Oyster Sliders at Lucille's

For the record, I'm not a fan of sliders. As a zealous carnivore, I prefer a high meat-to-bread ratio, and with sliders I always feel like I'm getting more bun than burger. I make an exception, however, for the oyster sliders at Lucille's.

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10 Oyster Dishes to Try in Houston: No. 4, Oysters 1/2 Shelled at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar

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Oysters 1/2 Shelled. Unadorned and delicious.
You know what I love about SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR and DecembeR? It's oyster season! During these months, oysters are at their peak. For the next few weeks, I'll be sampling the most memorable and tasty oyster dishes in Houston.

No. 4, Oysters 1/2 Shelled at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar

Sometimes the best way to serve an oyster is with nothing at all. And few restaurants do this better than Liberty Kitchen, whose Oysters 1/2 Shelled prove that quality bivalves in their simplest, unadorned form can be exquisite.

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10 Oyster Dishes to Try in Houston: No. 5, Oysters Victoria at The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Oysters Victoria
You know what I love about SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR and DecembeR? It's oyster season! During these months, oysters are at their peak. For the next few weeks, I'll be sampling the most memorable and tasty oyster dishes in Houston.

No. 5, Oysters Victoria at The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen

As a staple of the nineteenth-century diet, oysters seem an especially fitting dish to consume at the Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. And though you can't beat the happy hour special ($1 Gulf oysters, Tuesdays through Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m.), if slurping and sipping isn't your thing, I highly recommend shelling out (har) a few extra bucks for the Oysters Victoria.

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