West Enders combine farming and love of food to create clever dishes at Jimmy’s on the Pier
The sweet, dry smell of hay, wool and animal feed permeates the air at the farm of Jimmy and Kelli McClure on Galveston’s West End.
The McClures’ son, Kai, 2, chases a flock of sheep, while their 10-year-old daughter, Zoe, greets a family of Ossabaw Island hogs. The pigs hail from an island of the same name off the Georgia coast. The hogs are used to the feral life, cold winter moisture and coastal winds, and boast a thick layer of fat. This makes their meat extra delicious. The McClures have gradually been adding small livestock and poultry to their farm on Homrighaus Road ever since they moved in five years ago. A lot of research went into choosing livestock and learning to take care of the animals, Jimmy McClure said.
The Gulf Coast sheep, a breed of their own, emerged from animals the Spaniards left along the shores of the western Gulf Coast two centuries ago. The sheep have feral roots, and are sturdier than animals that are bred for a purpose, Jimmy McClure said. Two curious lambs approach us. Kelli McClure named them Luke and Leia, after the “Star Wars” characters. She’s busy running after Kai, who is trying to climb into the chicken coop.
“I have given up keeping him in clean clothes,” Kelli McClure said.
Kai proceeds to climb onto a John Deere tractor, making motor noises. “Vroom, tchhhhkkk.”
A donkey stands sentinel in the middle of the pasture. She’s the McClures’ guard animal and, with kicks and some braying, regularly warns off coyotes that try to find an easy meal in the chicken or duck enclosure.
Jimmy McClure’s grandfather was an Oklahoma farmer, so the lifestyle is familiar to him. Kelli McClure, like her husband, studied marine biology, and has gained hands-on experience with rearing, feeding and treating small livestock over the past few years.
The McClures’ idea is to produce as large a variety of food as possible using all natural supplies. If they have more meat or vegetables than they can use, it’s taken to the kitchen of Jimmy’s on the Pier, the McClures’ restaurant at the Galveston Fishing Pier, 9001 Seawall Blvd. on the island.
Apart from being small-scale farmers, the McClures are food lovers. The restaurant brings these two interests together in recipes that are hearty, healthy and clever. A lot of prepping and cooking goes on in their home kitchen. The best recipes of everyone’s combined cooking efforts end up on the menu at Jimmy’s on the Pier.
“We tweak recipes for a long time, making sure it all works on the plate,” Jimmy McClure said. “Our lamb burger was great, but it needed something to smoothen it on the palate, so we added the cucumber sauce,” Jimmy says, as he takes a pickle from his green house, which is snatched by Kai, who nibbles it.
The restaurant’s duck and oyster gumbo was the McClure’s twist on the coastal favorite, but the base was a family recipe. Kelli offers lighter creations, such as the apple salad with her own roasted walnut balsamic dressing.
At Jimmy’s on the Pier, Jimmy McClure jokes with his kitchen staff while a lamb burger is on the grill. I’m glad to learn it was neither Luke nor Leia. The burger is McClure’s lunch today and is a twist on the original hamburger, topped with chorizo, pepper jack cheese and freshly grilled farm peppers, such as those grown in the McClures’ greenhouse. McClure enjoys his own creation on his restaurant’s deck with a stormy Gulf of Mexico stretching out beyond.
The thrill and tension of restaurant entrepreneurship is as work-intensive as farming. Yet the McClures manage to combine both.
“From the pasture to the plate” is a lifestyle that is as rewarding as it is educational for their kids, McClure said. It becomes tough to think of animals as food when they were hand-reared and you bonded with them, Kelli McClure said.
“But the concept teaches our kids responsibility,” McClure said. “If you want the animals to feed you, then you take care of them first. And if you leave the chicken coop open, they might end up in a stomach other than yours.”