The first time I ever tasted a fresh Gulf oyster was at J & J Oyster Bar. It was resting on top of a saltine cracker with just a dash of Tabasco sauce. That’s the way my father taught me to eat them.
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This is the kind of place Jimmy Buffett would feel right at home. Flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts abound. There was a full table of wanna-be Parrotheads seated right next to us on the Friday night we visited. They were busily peeling and eating boiled shrimp, slurping down dozens of oysters on the half shell, and chasing all of it with ice-cold beer.
Hearty Clam Chowder or Lobster Bisque ($6.29 for a bowl or $4.59 for a cup) make for a winning lunch in colder months. Both are house specialties. The Hushpuppies ($3.79) come with a mild hint of jalapeño. Butter is served alongside for dipping the freshly fried cornmeal nibbles. Soon after the feeding frenzy dies down, you’ll wonder where they went and order another basket.
I had never sampled the Oyster Rockafella ($9.99 for six). And, they are frankly not as tasty as the raw oysters themselves. Six huge Gulf oysters are baked with a topping of butter, Parmesan cheese, spinach and crumbled bacon. They were nice, meaty oysters, but the chopped spinach was canned instead of fresh, and that changed the flavor that I was anticipating.
Likewise, the Maryland Style Crab Cakes ($14.99) were not the best dish on the menu. Two hefty, round cakes were served with your choice of two side dishes. We chose a dinner salad and French fries. The flavor of the fresh crabmeat was lost by the crusty cornmeal coating, and they were too bready for my liking. But those selections were more like the deep cuts on side B of your favorite album, just there for filler anyway.
Shrimp and oysters are the proven winners from my years of experience. The Grilled Gulf Shrimp ($9.99 for six) were lovely. These huge butterflied beauties were simply seasoned and well cooked. The Shrimp Po Boy ($9.99) consisted of the same large shrimp and was a manly portion served on a buttered and grilled French-style roll.
With cooler temperatures just around the corner, patio seating will be highly coveted. A mixture of high-top tables, booths and bar seating can be found inside. Neon beach-themed beer memorabilia lights the night, and repurposed Corona bottle salt shakers remind you of where you are. Little shacks like this one dot our Texas coastline.
J & J Oyster Bar opened in 1978 and has become a local institution. It is comforting to find that so little has changed in all these years. With its laid-back beach-bum atmosphere, you might lose track of time and begin to hear the distant sound of waves splashing on the shoreline or seagulls squawking overhead.