It had been a while since Dad and I’d had the mesquite grilled Gulf Coast shrimp at Goode Company Seafood on Westpark Drive so after some errands in West U we headed over there for lunch.
Had a great lunch and learned three things: It’s still the best regional seafood around, the staff is phenomenal and apparently a lot of people know these facts because it was packed.
Packed as in sardines, with standing-room only in the bar area and a 20-minute wait for a table. And people on their lunch hour were having no problem waiting.
I can’t remember the last time I had such great food in such a crazy, busy restaurant. Fab food meets restaurant theater. Cool.
Luckily, we scored a couple of seats at the counter in the old rail car side of the restaurant, settled in elbow to elbow, ordered and watched the choreographed chaos in the narrow space between the counter and the kitchen. Through the pass-through we saw the mesquite grill flare up to the ceiling, as the staff scuttled back and forth like a finely tuned army, plating dishes and hustling drinks.
Our waitress, a perky Jennifer Ryan, never missed a beat, even if we did resort to hand signals as the din prevented normal conversation. I can’t remember the last time I had such great food in such a crazy, busy restaurant. Fab food meets restaurant theater. Cool.
“Choreographed chaos is a good way to describe it,” laughs Levi Goode, the son of founder Jim Goode. “It gets kinda busy now, but we have great staff like Jennifer, some who have been here a long time, and they can just look at each other and know what to do and which way to duck.”
Jim Goode and family started what would become a Houston restaurant empire with the opening of the original Goode Company barbeque joint on Kirby Drive in 1977. They expanded to a hamburger and taqueria spot across the street, an homage to Jim’s Mexican mother’s recipes from his youth. And then, in the 1980s, he decided he wanted to add another restaurant that would feature Gulf Coast seafood.
“This was our third restaurant,” says Levi Goode. “All of them were heavily based on our upbringing. As a fifth-generation Texan, I know the Texas regional foods, barbecue, Tex-Mex and Gulf Coast. Back in the mid '80s there weren’t a lot of places in Houston for fresh Gulf Coast seafood so Dad decided to open one.”
Levi says his father wanted a place reminiscent of an old time coastal diner so he bought a passenger rail car to house the restaurant.
“This is a way to promote the oyster industry and the different types of oysters. They cost more but that helps the oyster men, and you really can tell the nuanced flavors between them.”
“Back then there were still rail tracks through West U so we just had it delivered there and had it dragged to the lot he bought in 1983 behind the taqueria," Levi says. "When we first opened there was only air conditioning on one side the restaurant so the windows on Westpark were always opened. We had a crushed-shell parking lot back then so it really did look like a coastal diner.”
And when they opened in 1986 the food was the stuff the Goode family grew up eating along the coast. Jim and his four siblings spent childhood weekends fishing and crabbing along the coast, grilling the fresh seafood they caught during the days over mesquite fires at night.
And that’s pretty much what you get in the restaurant today. No heavy sauces or breading, but just good, simple fare like the mesquite grilled shrimp and some NOLA style dishes like the spicy seafood gumbo and étouffée. Oh, and there are a few nods to Mexican coastal cuisine like the famous campechanas and a ceviche dish that El Real Tex-Mex has borrowed for its menu.
“Everything is always fresh and in season,” Levi says. “I navigate all over the menu! But I love the crawfish when it’s in season and then the soft shell crab. And then during the winter we have the appellation oysters.”
And, if you haven’t been to Goode Co. Seafood in awhile, that’s one thing you’ll find that’s new.
Last year Foodways Texas revived the Gulf Coast oyster appellations, sourcing oysters from specific areas and promoting them. And it’s starting to catch on. Goode Co. was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon.
“With all the turbulence along the Gulf Coast, the hurricanes and the oil spill, the oyster industry was really having a tough time,” Goode says. “This is a way to promote the oyster industry and the different types of oysters.
"They cost more but that helps the oyster men, and you really can tell the nuanced flavors between them.”
Oysters from such places as Pepper Grove, Possum Pass, Lady’s Pass, Hanna’s Reef, Elmgrove, Todd’s Dump and San Antonio Bay can range from sweet to salty to briny and creamy. For oyster aficionados bringing back appellations, which were around in the 1880s, but dwindled out in the 1970s is sheer pleasure. And the added benefit of helping out the struggling Gulf Coast oyster industry is a plus that could ensure the future of the business.
A Growing Business
Oh, and there’s some other big news for Goode Co. Seafood.
“We know how crowded the restaurant is,” Goode says. “We have at least a dozen regulars who eat here every day and neighborhood regulars who come at least once a week. So we’ve decided to expand next year. We’re going to add onto the Kirby side, move the entrance over there and increase parking in the area between the seafood and the taqueria restaurants.”
Oh, good news indeed!
But still, I’ll want to sit in the old rail car, at the counter, and watch the dance of the staff and the flames licking high from the mesquite grill. But if I’m late getting there and have to sit in the new expanded section that will be OK, too. As long as I can have a spicy bloody Mary and some cold and briny oysters on the half shell.
And some mesquite grilled shrimp and some of the awesome toasted garlic bread and . . .