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Smoked in Texas: Oysters Gilhooley at Gilhooley’s

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Oyster shells crackled under the car tires as I pulled into Gilhooley’s in San Leon. The parking lot is paved with them, and a pile taller than me rose like a dune at one end of the parking lot. A storm was rolling into the small town on the Gulf Coast, and beside the restaurant two men were splitting as much wood as they could before the sky opened up. Through a screen door was the kitchen and a grill fueled with oak and pecan. I wanted a closer look to see if it was covered with oysters on the half shell for the restaurant’s signature dish, Oysters Gilhooley, but a glare from the cook sent me back around to the front door.

Andrew Zimmern called Gilhooley’s “the most notorious oyster shack on the Gulf of Mexico” when he filmed there for his Bizarre Foods show. Guy Fieri didn’t get so lucky. The server told me Fieri demanded the recipe for Oysters Gilhooley and a kitchen tour, which the owner promptly refused. T-Bone Tom’s in nearby Kemah made it onto his show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, instead. The server also said a crew from the Food Network was coming later in the day, but at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I had the place to myself. I also had a clear understanding that a kitchen tour wasn’t in my future.

Gilhooley’s gets its reputation, in part, because of the staunch no kids policy and a refusal to take credit cards. Some say surly servers are part of the deal too, but the service was great on this lazy afternoon. They also don’t skimp on the portions. A dozen Oysters Gilhooley were really fifteen, and came on a metal tray with crackers and cocktail sauce (which you won’t actually need).

The garlic butter was still bubbling in the shell, while golden brown parmesan cheese enrobed the plump mollusk. Gulf oysters don’t have the same prestige as those from the Pacific or Atlantic, but those smaller oysters would have shriveled under the intense heat of the flame. These larger oysters were still juicy and barely on the side of cooked.

I’ve had plenty of grilled oysters, both in my backyard and at hallowed spots in New Orleans. The best I’ve eaten are at Gilhooley’s. The flavor from the wood smoke is evident, but not overpowering. There’s a hint of Worcestershire as well, and along with the browned butter and parmesan, it creates a rush of umami that only quickens the pace of eating. The shells on the platter were ready for the parking lot in about two minutes flat. I considered another dozen, but thought better of it when I remembered the barbecue dinner I had scheduled that night. I’ll have to make my way back to San Leon soon, where I’ll happily follow the rules at Gilhooley’s and be treated with what might be the best roasted oysters in America.

Gilhooley’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar
222 9th St.
Dickinson, Texas 77539
Cash Only

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  • L. A. Hill

    Looks and sounds wonderful!

  • Trish

    As a trasnplanted Californian, this was my very first Texas oyster experience and ranks my all time favorite. Great review and right on!

  • Michael Kane

    The one time we went, the smoked oysters were burnt to charcoal. The other patrons created a horrible haze in the place with their cigarettes. The beer selection was terrible. The restrooms, oh gawd no.
    I can make smoked oysters every bit as good in my back yard. Analysis – not worth the trip.

    • Lane Giffin

      Bob, You obviously must work for a competitor of the place. I have been to this place hundreds of times. It’s an oyster icon! Great food and huge portions of it. I guess you don’t like ice cold long-necks of Bud, Bud light, Mich. Mich Light, Mich. Ultra, Miller, Miller Lite etc. COME ON MAN!!! Give us a break!

    • SpandTEXPants

      Best you stay home and leave the place to us professionals.

  • Bob Ketcham

    The Facebook post for this article asks “Are these the best grilled oysters in Texas?” They can be improved on. Next time order the Oysters Shrimphooley’s. They pick a shrimp of an appropriate size to match and top each oyster. So good.

    Next time you get this close to Texas City, you need to visit Grand Prize BBQ for a “Super Chop”. My nominee for the best BBQ sandwich.

  • Dustin dpinn

    Not as great as they used to be.. I got pieces of shell all in mine last time.. Not too impressed

  • Janie Jaynes

    I have family in Spring, I will be sure to take a day trip to your restaurant this Spring/Summer.

  • Denise Maddox

    Oysters Shrimphooley’s ar the only grill oysters I will eat. This place has wonderful awesome great food. I also love the saute shrimp po-boy. Well worth the trip.

  • Debbie Pietz

    I have had the shrimphooleys a few times and they are mouth watering good. Can’t wait to make a trip back over there. Love this place.

  • Remy crown

    To bad its a 21 and up only restaurant!!!!

    • Daniel Vaughn

      The restaurant has an 18 and over policy