Sweet ode to convoy grub

But Truckers grinds the breakfast gears

Breakfasts were a big disappointment. And this is a potent misstep, as breakfast constitutes the ultimate road food no matter what the clock is doing. In a move that boggles the mind, Truckers ceased serving cooked-to-order eggs because they claim a favorable review brought in breakfast hordes that left them flat-footed with angry patrons waiting an hour or more for their over-easies. But if real truckers did business like this--hitting the jake brake instead of dropping into low gear and punching the gas every time the road presented steep hurdles--we'd all be marching on Washington demanding our beer deliveries instead of promising to cancel our Playboy subscriptions. At Truckers, you can only get your eggs scrambled and--though flawlessly prepared--the availability of a single option is exasperating. My guess is this strategic retreat will solve the problem: Those annoying crowds will take a hike and go somewhere else.

And that's the most likely outcome, because the remaining breakfast offerings kind of jack-knifed on the plate. The oatcakes, sparked with nutmeg, were singed and rubbery, while our sausage patties resembled fried Stridex pads and had to be exchanged for edible versions.

Truckers is a comfortable, relaxing space that's eminently inviting. Watching a football game at its bright bar void of pretension beats the pigskin out of tube-gazing at any sports bar you can name, no matter how well-endowed the screen. And the staff is friendly and genuine almost to a fault. But it's the heights this place reaches--in its food, service, and atmospherics--that make its menu blunders so frustrating. Kicking these stragglers into shape while giving customers the same egg choices offered by any greasy spoon worth its health code violations would make this spot the road rage for more than just hungry diesel-heads.

English satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote: "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." No doubt many of us can empathize with the sentiments in this statement. The oyster, most often eaten raw, with its creamy beige or pale gray flesh that's soft and moist delivering a light sea-spray flavor, is a little off-putting. The texture can sometimes border on slimy, and the flavor can sometimes strike with a sea potency that shoots shivers of revulsion down the gullet.

Someone once told me that you should never chew an oyster, but simply introduce it to your mouth for a few seconds and quickly swallow it, absorbing its ripe sensuality in the throat. I soon discovered consuming oysters in this manner--lubricated with plenty of champagne--is a great form of recreation. This discovery was made richer when I learned of the alleged aphrodisiac qualities these mollusks have long been thought to possess, though with time I realized this is due more to their eroticized appearance and texture than to any stimulative effect on libido.

I realized the flavor is not at all unpleasant, and that, with the exception of fresh-squeezed lemon, the dressings we shroud them with--cocktail sauce, drawn butter, vinegar seasoned with shallots and pepper--never did much except mask and pervert. That's why I was suspicious when Shell's Oyster Bar and Grill recently introduced, with a lot of fanfare, a new oyster concoction. Dubbed Absolut Oysters, this seemingly gimmick-ridden creation includes a dozen freshly shucked oysters topped with a pico de gallo marinated in Absolut vodka plus a side of lemon wedges and cocktail sauce. It also includes a couple of shots of cold vodka.

It's far from a gimmick, however. The pico de gallo treatment worked as well with these mollusks as a simple squeeze of lemon--maybe better. The clean freshness of the tomato, onion, bell pepper, and jalapenos blended seamlessly with the briny oyster flavor, while the fresh vegetable crunch provided a welcome contrast to the soft flesh.

Shell's introduced this item just after opening its third location on Lemmon Avenue (the other spots are in Snider Plaza and Colleyville). Launched in 1995, Shell's is owned by partners Randy and Michele DeWitt and Bill Bayne. The Lemmon Avenue spot is tucked in a circa 1916 house that was an Asian gift and antique shop before it was transformed into the restaurant in June. It's a comfortable spot stuffed with fishing tackle, distressed wood, lighting fixtures made from upended aluminum oyster buckets, and lots of celebrity photos with silly quotes about Shell's scrawled across them.

Unfortunately, the rest of Shell's menu seems to take its cues from the intentionally disheveled decor. The shrimp and crab platter for two was loaded with succulent, tender, sweet peel-and-eat shrimp. But the snow crab was mushy, lacking this crab's characteristic supple freshness and delicate flavor. Chunks of andouille sausage, firm and juicy with a good spice clip, were buried among these shellfish.

From the "things that don't swim menu," the Louisiana pot roast was a pleasant surprise. The meat is rubbed in Cajun spices, seared on a charcoal grill, and braised in a puddle of beef stock, creating a full-flavored, moist slice of roast, though the spices could be up-ticked.

Other selections were complete non-starters. The catfish, served lukewarm, was moist but bland, with no distinctive coating seasonings to engage the palate. Following suit, the blackened shrimp was dry, bursting with flavors reminiscent of musty cardboard. And the grilled amber jack with mango salsa--a fresh fish selection--was a complete mismatch, pairing huge chunks of mango with a flat, dry strip of fishy-tasting meat.

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