Mardi Gras 2018 is Tuesday, February 13th
Texas Coastal Gumbo
Dining and Food Culture In Galveston, Texas
Eatcetera in Galveston, TX
A thick dark stew laps gently on the shores of smoky islands of chicken and glistening buoys of okra. I stir gently to blend the snowball of rice in the center of the bowl, and it all comes together in the heady ambrosia that is Gulf Coast gumbo. With a piece of crisp baguette poised for dunking, and a cold Abita beer ready to douse the fire, my plate (bowl) is set in Galveston.
Dining on Galveston Island is a bit of a paradox. The city’s food culture is a mix of southern cooking, Texas and "South of the Border" flavors, and Gulf Coast fare. The result is a mixture (a gumbo, if you will) that is fresh, filling, spicy, and massages the soul just the way “mama” use to.
As an island community, set along the U.S. Gulf Coast, Galveston has access to a variety of fresh “local” seafood. But more than that, it has a distinguished lineage of Gulf Coast cooking to draw on. From Crawfish Étouffée, shrimp Po Boys, and jambalaya with shrimp, to gumbo, grits, and cornbread, Galveston’s tables draw their inspiration from over three hundred years of experience, during which time the island has served as a cultural, social, political, and economic crossroads.
Given Galveston’s Texas History, it follows that much of the food has some South of the Border, or western, and/or Native American influence to it. It may just be that the piece of bread accompanying your salad is damn close to fry bread, but the inspiration for it is obvious. Add to this the fact that this is Texas, and portions are generous and filling. But what about food’s other purpose?
Fear not, for Galveston’s crisp salty sea breeze seduces the soul and goads the appetite in the way that only happens outdoors, and along the coast. The urge to sample all of Galveston’s gustatory influences is all but overpowering. I certainly did my best to eat my way around the island.
With Fork In Hand
I never feel as if I've gotten to know a place until I've eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner out in the community, and gotten to speak to the locals eating around me, and at least one person doing the cooking. When you see how people eat, where they eat, and have a sense for why they cook what they do, you stand at least some chance of understanding what makes that community tick.
For me, that starts first thing in the morning.
There’s nothing I like better than a hardy, filling breakfast. And after an early morning stroll on the beach along Seawall Boulevard, knowing where I was, I was desperate for a breakfast burrito. Thanks to my local host, I was led to Los Compas, a “someone has to tell you how to get there or you’ll never find it” Mexican cafe. Feeding a loyal, and mostly “local” crowd, the beans were porky and filling, and the eggs, bacon, cheese and salsa were the divine orchestra in my breakfast burrito’s symphony of flavors. Los Compas prices are reasonable/cheap, the staff friendly, and the food (reportedly all day - and not just for breakfast) is quietly superb, in a way that need never brag.
A bit more outwardly gushy, Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar serves up piping hot bowls of spicy gumbo, cold beer, and friendly service. Opening at 11:00a.m., Little Daddy's makes for a spicy lunch. It’s also just off the downtown parade route on Post Office Street (downtown), making it an ideal pre (or post) Mardi Gras parade stop, or a great nosh at the tail end of a night downtown in Galveston's Arts & Entertainment District.
Later, on my first full night in town, I longed for a taste of local seafood. I found it at Gaido’s of Galveston, out along Seawall Boulevard. This old school family place turned 100 in 2012. With its deep dark wood, Tony Bennett ambiance, stately ocean view, and immaculate service, Gaido’s is exactly the sort of place your grandfather would frequent because the food and service are “the way they use to do it”. And he’d be right. The shrimp cocktail, and lobster bisque are to die for, the steaks generously cut, the catfish tender, and the pecan pie (pecan crunch) award winning.
In the end, Gaido's seemed the perfect way to end my dining tour of Galveston. Like the city itself, my plates were filling, soulful, inspired and unpretentious in the way that many island communities tend to be.
Eating my way around Galveston proved to be a delightful blend of coastal goodness, light, tropical, “beachy” flavors, and a mix of the South of the Border, western, and Native American influences that Texas is known for.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
3. Los Compas
Galveston Feature Stories
Galveston: Art & Architecture - Tree Sculptures, Artist Boat, and Bishop's Palace
Galveston History - The People and Events That Made Galveston Famous
Mardi Gras Galveston - Enjoy the Parties and Parades During Carnival in Galveston