Tommy’s to Host a Side-By-Side Tasting of Galveston Bay Oyster Appellations on Saturday, April 6th, 2013
Whether You’re a Forker, a Slurper or a Dunker, You CAN Tell the Difference!
I have been eating “Gulf of Mexico” and “Galveston Bay” oysters on the half-shell since 1956 and must admit that, like many others, was a Dunker when I first tried them. I started my love affair with oysters at the Acme Oyster House in New Orleans’ French Quarter. On that day, it was dunking the oyster into a cocktail sauce, nestling it atop a saltine cracker and devouring a dozen of them. I was no longer a raw oyster virgin and I enjoyed them from the first bite.
As I grew up on Galveston Bay, I ate pedestrian “Galveston Bay” oysters all of my life (I had grown from a Dunker to a Slurper (tipping the oyster and the water from the vicinity of the reef from which it was harvested from its shell into my chewing machine). I never knew the difference between the many appellations of Galveston Bay oysters. In fact, it was just a few days ago, at a side-by-side comparison between oysters from different reefs in Galveston Bay (at the feet of the Master, Tommy Tollett of Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar in Clear Lake City), that I really learned to appreciate the differences in taste, texture and appearance. Jeri’s Seafood of Smith Point, Tommy Tollett, Louisiana Foods and the Galveston Bay Foundation all want you to start ordering Galveston Bay oysters by appellation rather than just accepting the erroneous stigma that there is an appellation called “Galveston Bay Oyster”.
You have heard of Chesapeake Oysters and Blue Point Oysters and possibly several other of the dozens of appellations of the along the East coast. It is important to note that most of these are the same species (Virginica) that we have in Galveston Bay! The differences come from the characteristics of the water… the reefs and the salinity in the water around the reefs. Along the west coast of the United States, there are different species, as well as dozens of appellations of them, also.
On my recent visit to Tommy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, I sampled the vast differences (in my opinion) between the Pepper Grove, Stephenson’s Reef and the standard pedestrian “Galveston Bay generic oyster” that we have probably all had when oysters are shucked for us at $5.00/dozen. The various reefs that these oysters are harvested from are many and the ones you are eating may change daily. Examples might be oysters from San Antonio Bay, or Compano from Aransas Pass.
Here’s a map of the reefs in Galveston Bay:
While your tastes may differ from mine, I will describe my experience of tasting three different Texas Gulf Coast oysters presented to me by Tommy Tollett:
My first oyster appellation was a Pepper Grove. The Pepper Grove reef is in East Galveston Bay northeast of the tip of the Bolivar Peninsula. The oyster was very plump and relatively symmetrical around the muscle… and truly a multi-level taste experience. Due to the salinity of the water around the reef and the fact that the water is the first thing you taste, the first level of the tasting was a slight salinity. Then as the oyster is chewed, the next level is a slight (and very pleasant) mineral taste. Then, there is a very slight sweet finish. Sounds like someone describing a wine, doesn’t it?
The next oyster was a Stephenson Point. Stephenson Reef is in the farthest north area of the East Bay and is just offshore and east of Smith Point. There is some of fresh and brackish runoff into the reef, therefore there was less salinity at first bite and also a more smooth transition of flavors encountered throughout. Of those tasted, this was my favorite… but there are so many more reefs to explore. So many appellations and so little time!
As the pedestrian “generic” Texas oysters gave their lives for me, I owe it to them to describe the flavor, texture and appearance of these common cheap oysters available in most oyster bars and restaurants in the area. The ones I tried were from San Antonio Bay. It was what I had eaten (and been satisfied with) most of my life. Compared with the two other appellations I tried, there was far less flavor from the oyster itself. The dominant taste throughout was higher salinity… and the appearance reflected the structural and textural deficiency of the oyster (Compared with “Appellation” oysters). Sorry, San Antonio Bay, I will never be completely satisfied with you again. I’ll eat you if you are all I can get, but I will know that there is a more delightful oyster experience out there.
Tommy Tollett sells more than 10,000 oysters a week and he recycles more than 110 tons of shells annually in Galveston Bay reefs, in cooperation with the Galveston Bay Foundation.
By the way, I ate the three dozen oysters for lunch and enjoyed a beautiful Romaine salad with grilled jumbo shrimp as a starter… and the most interesting Key Lime Pie I’ve ever had for dessert:
On Saturday, April 6th, from 2 PM to 5 PM, Tommy will host an Oyster Appellation Tasting (from 8 to 12 appellations) of different oysters from Galveston Bay reefs, at Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 2555 Bay Area Boulevard. Dr. Sammy Ray, world-renowned marine biology professor from Texas A & M University will be honored at the event. According to Tollett, Dr. Ray is the foremost authority on oysters from Galveston Bay. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Galveston Bay Foundation. Cost of the event is $50/person and tickets to the event may be purchased at Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, or the Galveston Bay Foundation. For more information, call 281-480-2221.