How a renowned Houston chef found his way to Pier 6 in San Leon
Joe Cervantez, executive chef of the newly opened Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House in San Leon, didn’t really know where San Leon was when he first started talking to Raz Halili about coming on board at the restaurant. Halili, vice president of Prestige Oysters, had a working relationship with Cervantez when Cervantez was executive chef at Brennan’s of Houston.
“Raz mentioned he was going to open a waterfront restaurant not too far from where I live in Pearland,” Cervantez said. “Since I’d been using his oysters at Brennan’s and was impressed with the brand, I decided to check it out. It was pretty rough since not much had been done since it was Bubba’s Shrimp Palace, but I saw Raz’s vision and I believed in what he was trying to do.
“We were building our relationship, and after a few visits, he asked how I felt about coming on board. It took a lot of thinking, but once I saw how things were coming together, I got excited about doing something different, plus I love being by the water and it’s a much lovelier drive than going into Houston.”
Pier 6, 113 Sixth St., officially opened in late October to rave reviews, and Cervantez is proud of how things are going, he said.
“I created the entire menu, and every dish I put on there is something I want diners to eat, then come back and have a hard time ordering something else because the first thing they had was so good,” he said. “I’m focusing on fresh seafood and letting it speak for itself, adding touches here and there. Tide-to-table dining is a concept that Raz and I came up with since we’re able to utilize the bay, the Gulf and the local resources around us. The oysters we use are right off the boat.”
Although the focus is on seafood, Cervantez wanted to make sure there was something for everybody, so prime steaks, chicken, hamburgers and many other choices are on the menu, he said.
“We cater to non-seafood eaters, and those with shellfish allergies — even vegans are easily accommodated,” he said. “I wanted to make things that I like to eat, like our burger. It’s a two-patty, smashed-style burger that forms crusty edges, with cheese, pickles and our Sriracha mayo on a brioche bun. If you want lettuce and tomatoes, we can give you that, but my focus is on the Akaushi ground meat.”
Of course, oysters take center stage here and people are ordering a lot of them, he said.
“The Prestige roasted oysters and Streets of New Orleans — three Bienville and three Rockefeller — are big hits, as is the Tide to Fried, which comes with fish, crusted with shaved potatoes, shrimp, hushpuppies and house-made fries,” Cervantez said. “For creole lovers, the crispy snapper is cornmeal crusted, fried and served with shrimp étouffée and a popcorn rice salad.”
Cervantez began his career at age 15 working at a Pearland restaurant. After graduating high school, he enrolled at The Art Institute of Houston, graduated in 2007 and began his journey with Hilton Americas in Houston. He went on to Brennan’s, Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, then back to Brennan’s as executive chef. But his true beginning started in his mother’s kitchen, he said.
“She cooked something special every day, and every dish had rice,” he said. “Every time I smelled the onions and spices hit the pan, it was a treat. When I was in seventh grade, I started experimenting with things in the pantry, and I especially liked to bake cakes.”
Although Cervantez is content being in the kitchen, he eventually wants to take people out on oyster boats, where they can have the experience of pulling oysters from the reef and having him prepare them, he said. Now that he’s familiar with San Leon — surrounded by Galveston, Trinity and Dickinson bays — he’s looking forward to navigating the waters, he said.
“I want this to be an everyday restaurant and be affordable for everyone,” Cervantez said. “The priciest things on the menu are our steaks because there is nothing lower than prime here. One of the more popular items right now is the redfish on the half shell with our house-made chimichurri sauce and I’m happy to share the recipe.”
Redfish on the Half Shell with Chimichurri Sauce
16 ounces redfish with skin on
For the sauce:
½ cup parsley, minced
½ cup mint, minced
½ cup cilantro minced
1 tablespoon garlic, microplaned
½ tablespoon fresh ginger, microplaned
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce: Using a microplane, which basically is a small, handheld grater, zest garlic, ginger, lemon and lime in a medium bowl. Add the juice, minced herbs, pepper flakes and vinegar. Whisking, drizzle in olive oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
For the redfish: Sprinkle both sides with favorite blackened seasoning.
Grill flesh side down on woodfire or charcoal for 5 to 6 minutes, depending on thickness.
Turn over to skin side and brush with sauce.
Grill for 1 minute, remove from heat and transfer to plate.
Add remaining sauce over fish.