Creative chefs serve up new ways to prepare seaside fare
Fried seafood is a sacred tradition in these parts. We honor and respect that tradition. But some chefs — a few new to the local dining scene — are inspiring us to step out of our culinary comfort zones by putting tasty twists on coastal classics. We showcase four of those chefs and their fresh approaches to seaside delicacies.
Restaurant: Pelican Club, 3828 Ave. T, Galveston
Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.
Kitchen tool he can’t live without: “My offset spatula and sauce spoon. The spatula has traveled the world with me at every restaurant I’ve worked. My sauce spoon is engraved with my name and the year I worked at the Athenaeum Hotel in New York. Both items are special to me.”
When not wearing his chef’s hat: “I’m a big car fanatic. I go to car shows whenever possible.”
The island’s Pelican Club, private for decades, opened to the general public more than a year ago and has steadily become a favorite place to dine. Art deco meets vintage nightclub charm the minute you step inside, but the menu is definitely avant-garde.
Chef Ross Warhol has made it his mission to introduce diners to what he calls the “New American Table.”
“We are always thinking progressively,” he said. “We take typical dishes and recreate them in a way where they may not look familiar, but the flavors will take you right back to some of your childhood food memories.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Warhol went on to travel the world and work abroad. While working as the presidential chef at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, N.Y., he launched Bloom, a 100 percent locally sourced restaurant.
Warhol brings his farm-to-table sensibility to the Pelican Club by using local vendors.
“I’m at the Galveston’s Own Farmers Market every Sunday to shop for the restaurant,” said Warhol, who also shops at the island’s Katie’s Seafood Market daily. “We have a dish on our menu called Katie’s Catch, depending on what came in fresh that morning.”
Warhol’s best seafood reinvention is a spin on Tex-Mex, called Snapper Crudo Tostada, which is on the Pelican Club’s 12-course tasting menu.
“That is when my style of cooking really comes out,” he said. “I personally get to put my heart on the plate. I pair a cocktail with this dish called the Hot and Cold Margarita. Our frozen in-house margarita mix is in the bottom of the glass; then we pipe on warm foam. So, when you drink the drink you have a warm sensation on your lips from the foam and then it turns ice cold as soon as the slush breaks through.”
Warhol credits his grandmother for his love of cooking.
“She was the best chef I’ve ever known. Her food went straight to my soul,” he said. “Nothing fancy, just downright good home-cooking.”
Another item on the Pelican Club menu Warhol likes to boast about is the Shrimp and Grits.
“I went to Pascal’s Manale in New Orleans and studied their barbecue shrimp,” he said. “I came back and made our own version.”
Snapper Crudo Tostada
10 ounces red snapper, freshest and best quality, 1/4-inch slices
1 avocado, sliced
1 Serrano chili
1/2 cup queso fresco
20 cilantro leaves
1.5 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 scallions, sliced
Zest of 3 lemons
Zest of 3 limes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In mixing bowl, combine chili garlic sauce, lemon juice, and orange juice. Whisk in olive oil followed by the minced garlic and scallions. Add lemon and lime zest with salt; mix until combined.
1 cup lard
3 cups masa flour, hydrated
1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons kosher salt
In bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, cream lard until smooth. Add in hydrated masa flour a few chunks at a time to incorporate into lard; mix thoroughly until smooth.
Add bread flour and mix until combined. In blender don’t let tansa change, add water and turn on low speed to create a vortex, sprinkle in xanthan gum and blend until water has thickened. With mixer running, add thickened water to batter, followed by salt.
Spread batter thinly 1/8-inch thick onto nonstick baking mat and place onto baking sheet. Bake at 300 F for 8 to 10 minutes; consistency should be a soft crepe.
Remove from oven and cool slightly. Using a yardstick and pizza cutter, cut strips 1/2-inch wide by 24-inches long. Wrap around greased mold (rolling pin wrapped in tin foil will be perfect size) to create a spiral.
Return to oven and bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, or until tostada is golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and let cool briefly before removing spiral from mold. Store in dehydrator at 110 F until ready for use.
10 ears corn, kernels removed from cob
1 tablespoon sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter
1.5 teaspoons xanthan gum
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
Remove the kernels from the corn cob using a chef’s knife. Pass corn kernels through juicer 3 times to extract as much juice from them as possible.
Place the juice in a small sauce pan and slowly warm over medium high heat, whisking constantly until the corn juice naturally thickens from its own starch. Whisk in sugar and emulsify in butter while whisking constantly; remove from heat and place into blender don’t let tansa change. With blender don’t let tansa change running on low, create a vortex and sprinkle in xanthan gum. Continue to mix until thickened and stable. Season with salt.
4 egg yolks
2 cups safflower oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 ounces chipotle in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
In bowl of food processor, add egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, soy sauce, brown sugar and salt. With food processor running, slowly emulsify in the oil to create a nice, thick mayonnaise. Add in the chipotle peppers along with sauce and process until a smooth mayonnaise is achieved. Adjust seasoning with salt and place into a squeeze bottle or piping bag.
Pico de Gallo
10 Roma tomatoes, skins removed and diced small
1/2 red onion, finely minced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
Juice of 2 limes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Quarter and remove seeds from Roma tomatoes. Using the tip of your knife remove skins of tomatoes by pressing hard against cutting board and cutting just above the skin where it meets the “meat” of the tomato.
Proceed to dice the tomato into a small dices and place into stainless mixing bowl. Finely mince red onion and add to mixing bowl. Remove the seeds and inner membranes of jalapeños and mince. Add to mixing bowl along with other ingredients. Add lime juice to bowl along with seasonings and chopped cilantro. Mix together with a spoon and adjust seasoning.
1 ear corn, cooked and cooled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
Cook the ear of corn in a pot of water and butter until just about cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from water and cool under refrigeration.
Using a knife, remove the kernels from the cob, keeping the kernels attached to one another to achieve “planks” or clusters of kernels.
Place onto baking sheet. Using a blow torch, quickly torch corn clusters until they blister and begin to char.
Spread mayonnaise over corn and place shaved Parmesan over top. Place into a 400 F oven for 30 to 40 seconds to have the cheese melt over corn clusters; remove from oven.
Mix together the salt and chili powder and season corn with this spice. Plate immediately.
Pickled Red Onions
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup pickling spice
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups red pearl onions, peeled and separated into petals
Cut off the root tip on the bottom of the onion, followed by cutting the onion in half. Remove the skin from the onion and proceed to separate each petal of the onion and place into a heat proof bowl or container. In a sauce pot combine sugar, water, vinegar, salt and pickling spice and bring to boil. Pour hot liquid over onions and allow to cool at room temperature. Cover container and place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours before use.
On desired plate, pipe 3 to 4 dots of corn pudding to help secure tostada spiral from rolling around. Place tostada spiral onto the plate where corn pudding has been laid.
Place the raw sliced snapper pieces in the crudo base mixture and allow to marinate for no more than 2 minutes.
Remove onto a side dish and season with salt. Place 3 to 4 snapper slices that have been rolled nicely and artistically inside the tostada spiral.
Add several more dots of the corn pudding on top of the snapper and tostada spiral. Using the chipotle mayonnaise, add dots on top of snapper and tostada spiral.
Place Crazy Corn clusters on top of snapper inside tostada spiral, but still visible to the eye. Using an offset spatula, place 3 to 4 small teaspoon mounds of pico de gallo inside spiral and just outside of it.
Using tweezers, place pickled red onion petals along the outside and on top of the spiral, using the purées as guidance for them to stand upright.
Garnish the dish with small avocado slices, sprinkle of queso fresco, sliced Serrano chilies, and cilantro leaves.
Restaurant: Eculent, 709 Harris Ave., Kemah
Hometown: Ponca City, Okla.
Kitchen tool he can’t live without: Sous vide machine, a water circulator that keeps food at the same perfect temperature.
When not wearing his chef’s hat: “Even on my day off, I’m in the kitchen. I wake up in the middle of the night with new food ideas, so I keep a notepad by my bed, using a Livescribe Smartpen that records everything I write.”
Chef David Skinner’s passion for food was inspired by his grandmother, who was a pastry chef.
“I spent many a night in her kitchen watching her bake,” he said. “She gave me my first French chef’s knife when I was 9 years old.”
Skinner studied finance and economics in college to learn the business end of owning a restaurant; other than that, he is self-taught.
In November, he opened Kemah restaurant Eculent — an unusual concept in dining Skinner likes to call “cognitive cuisine.”
“It’s a savory experience,” he said. “It’s about uniting food with a controlled atmosphere wherein all five senses are affected. Most people don’t realize that their taste buds are only responsible for about 20 percent of what they taste, because most of what you taste comes through your nasal cavity, so taste doesn’t really link the brain to memories — smell does.”
Eculent boasts an on-site garden and a separate building housing more than 500 jars containing ingredients such as mushroom powder, hickory smoke and dried hearts of palm.
A maximum of 30 diners are served nine courses. Lighting, aromas, music and art change with each course.
Eculent’s Coast-to-Coast menu features some innovative dishes, served with cognitive moods of the sea. An ocean scent might smell salty or briny; visuals might feature sailboats; music could be something with nautical lyrics or an instrumental with the sounds of seagulls and waves lapping on the shore.
A recent dish, called Tide Pool, replicated a tide pool coming in, featuring edible sand, scallops, shrimp, octopus and purple cauliflower to resemble coral. Crab ravioli in a transparent film made from a seaweed derivative has been on the menu. A new dish coming soon is cold, raw oysters flavored with edible pearls.
Eculent Aguachiles is a shrimp course often served at the restaurant. It’s easy to make.
“All of our shrimp come out of the Gulf,” Skinner said. “We use local vendors, like Rose’s in Seabrook.”
6 very fresh jumbo headless shrimp
4 Serrano chilies, stemmed
1 cup ice
Fresh juice from 4 limes
Fresh juice from 1 lemon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground white
1 very thinly sliced red boiler onion
1 very thinly sliced seedless cucumber
Cut shrimp in half lengthwise and remove veins. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and white pepper; set aside in refrigerator.
In a blender, combine the chilies, ice and half the lime juice with a pinch of salt and blend thoroughly. Add 1⁄4 cup cold water and blend on high for another minute.
Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a nonreactive metal bowl on ice. Take the strained bits of Serrano and reserve in another bowl.
In a small bowl, add the lemon juice and the other 1⁄2 of the lime juice. Place the shrimp in the mixture and set aside to “cook” for about 5 minutes.
Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut the red boiler onion in very thin slices and break apart the onion rings.
Using the same mandoline or knife, slice the cucumber into very thin pieces about 5 to 6 inches long. Roll the cucumber slices into small circles about an inch wide so they fit inside the shrimp circles. Plate the dish in a small bowl or on a plate with a small center indention.
Remove the shrimp from the cooking liquid. They should be pink; flesh should feel firm. Place both halves in the center of the plate, forming a circle.
Place the rolled cucumber in the center of the shrimp and add a small dollop of the Serrano bits to the center. Place several red onion rings around the cucumber and shrimp. Add half the cooking liquid to the reserved Serrano water and pour enough in each bowl or plate to fill about 1/8 of an inch. Add marigold petals on top of the cucumber and serve immediately.
Restaurant: Ocean Grille & Beach Bar, 1228 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
Kitchen tool he can’t live without: “My 10-inch Miyabi chef’s knife.
I use it for everything; I don’t even use a boning knife, just my chef’s knife.”
When not wearing his chef’s hat: “I’m a big-time golfer and play a lot at Moody Gardens. My handicap is a 7. I was a baseball player before I became a chef.”
Formerly of Urban Kitchen, Costa Brava Bistro and Hotel ZaZa in Houston, Chef Brian Peper’s transition to Galveston has been an inspiring one, he said.
One thing he noticed after moving to the island was that many coastal dishes were covered in cream sauces.
“People do love that, but I’m more of a fan of farm-to-table fare,” he said. “I pick up fresh seafood every day from Katie’s Seafood Market. Plus, instead of starches, I prefer to use things like quinoa, Israeli couscous and Brussels sprouts.”
Peper makes good use of those ingredients when he whips up one of his favorite dishes: Pan-seared scallops sautéed in brown butter and thyme, served with cold Israeli couscous salad and pan-fried Brussels sprouts. The scallops are U10s: the “U” stands for “under,” indicating that it would take fewer than 10 or 15 of these to make up a pound, so they’re jumbo in size with a meaty, delicate flavor.
If the seafood isn’t from the Gulf of Mexico, he doesn’t serve it, he said. Farm-raised tilapia or catfish isn’t on the menu.
“We do have blackfin tuna in the Gulf, and that’s what we use for our flatbread dish,” he said. “We don’t bring in seafood from somewhere else. We’re willing to pay a bit more to actually give back to the community of Galveston with not just seafood, but with other items, like spices, which we get from Maceo Spice & Import Company. We also serve seasonal produce that we buy from local sources.”
Even the ice cream served at Ocean Grille comes from Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream on Postoffice Street in the island’s downtown.
Lovers of fried shrimp can get their fix here by ordering the Southern Son Shrimp Dog, a battered three-shrimp corn dog served with Tabasco Mash rémoulade.
“It’s something different and a real reinvention of an all-time favorite,” Peper said. “We grind ramen noodles to a flour consistency for the batter, which adds a crisp coating.”
This is beach dining at its best, right on the seawall, with indoor and outdoor options, offering fantastic Gulf of Mexico views.
Pan-seared Scallops Sautéed in Brown Butter and Thyme
Served with cold Israeli couscous salad and pan-fried Brussels sprouts
1 extra large (U10) scallop
1 tablespoon olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted whole-milk butter
1 sprig thyme
Remove foot from scallop and place on a plate lined with paper towel. Air dry in refrigerator.
In a sauté pan, add olive oil and turn on high heat. Place scallop in pan and turn temperature to low; sear to a golden brown.
Drain oil and turn temperature to high, add butter and thyme. With a large spoon, gently baste scallop with butter and thyme.
Finish in the broiler for 2 minutes.
Restaurant: BLVD. Seafood, 28th Street and Seawall Boulevard, Galveston
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Kitchen tool he can’t live without: “My Vulcan convection oven. I do a sizzle platter with a variety of seafood with white wine and a little butter. So when it comes out of the oven, it’s really nice, fresh and light.”
When not wearing his chef’s hat: “I like to play soccer. I’ve been playing my whole life. There’s a little park near me where the guys come out three nights a week. I try to get by when I can.”
Working as a part-time cook during high school set the tone of Chef Chris Lopez’s career.
“I wanted to be an architect, but realized that I really liked to cook, so I kept moving up in the ranks,” he said. “After working at the same place for five years without a pay raise, I decided to go to culinary school.”
Lopez attended the Art Institute of Atlanta Culinary School and subsequently worked in restaurants in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore. In 2002, he moved to Galveston, where he’s been the chef at Saltwater Grill, M&M Restaurant & Bar and Yaga’s Café.
“I go to Katie’s Seafood Market and Galveston Shrimp Company regularly,” he said. “We get most everything out of the Gulf. The only thing I serve that is not out of the Gulf is Atlantic salmon.”
Lopez is all about introducing patrons to new dishes, such as his signature Gulf Coast Flat Fish Stack.
“It’s basically a broiled flounder filet with a crabcake in the middle and another piece of flounder on top, baked in the oven with white wine and garlic butter, topped with Mornay sauce,” he said.
His favorite reinvention, however, is Redfish on the Half Shell.
“People love it,” Lopez said. “Half shell just means leaving the skin on. I grill it with garlic butter, searing the back side to get the skin nice and crispy. Then, I top it with a delicate Caribbean Salsa.”
Cold salsa on a warm fish? Yes, it works.
“The good thing about redfish is that it’s light and flaky, plus it’s a good canvas that absorbs flavor,” he said. “This dish is very healthy.”
Another local vendor Lopez uses is Maceo Spice & Import Co. in the island’s downtown. He even serves a salad called The Maceo.
“It’s an heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese, pine nuts and basil pesto,” he said. “I recently bought fresh basil from Maceo’s that the owner grew himself.”
Lopez is a big advocate of the reinvention of seafood classics, largely because of the health benefits.
“Grilling and broiling is so much healthier for us,” he said. “It’s best to get away from fried foods, but we do feature some of the old standbys for those who want them.”
Redfish on the Half Shell
9 ounces of redfish
(Makes enough for several pieces of fish; stores nicely in refrigerator)
2 pineapples, diced
2 mangoes, diced
2 papayas, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 red onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon jalapeño, seeded and minced
4 teaspoons cumin
8 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces Lopez Spice
4.5 pounds kosher salt
1 cup coarse black pepper
1 cup granulated onion
1 cup granulated garlic
1 cup Hungarian paprika
1⁄2 cup dry mustard
1⁄4 cup cumin
1⁄2 cup Italian seasoning
Sear fish in hot pan with butter, flesh side first; then flip to crisp the skin. Season with Lopez Spice.
Spoon cold Caribbean salsa over fish and top with a splash of cilantro oil.