My family spent Christmas at the coast, doing it up island style. In my world, that means a lot of good food, and good drink. In my son’s world, that means taking a dip in the ocean even when it is a bit too cold. He was also quite concerned that Santa wouldn’t be able to track him down, so we sent Frederick, his Elf on a Shelf, on vacation back to the North Pole to provide directions (and because in a colossol #MomFail, I forgot to hide him in our luggage so that he could magically reappear in our condo). We also brought along a star shaped “Santa beacon” that to hang in the window.
I was determined to eat my fill of fresh seafood and almost accomplished it, considering I could probably eat some type of seafood daily and not tire of it. Dirty Al’s was our destination on our first night, and their fried shrimp were the best I had during our stay. They use a Panko breading, for maximum crispness. I was jonesing for oysters, and they were pulling tray after tray out of the kitchen for customers. Oysters are my “shoulda, woulda, coulda” of the trip. I ended up not having any raw oysters, but did enjoy fried ones at Joe’s Oyster Bar in Port Isabel. Unfortunately, I came home still craving raw oysters, something I plan to remedy as soon as possible.
I scored some amazing black drum at the seafood market, and grilled it for dinner one night along with roasted cabbage and garlic roasted red potatoes. Our condo came with a nice grill, and we put it to use several times, including our unconventional Christmas dinner of grilled jumbo gulf shrimp, mushrooms and onions over fettucine alfredo. I made a rookie mistake of crowding the shrimp in a grill basket, and a few were slightly overcooked. No one seemed to mind, though, so I considered it a good grilling lesson and moved on. My alfredo sauce recipe is a simple one, found everywhere online, but I rely most on the measurements from this one. I didn’t have nutmeg, so I left it out as I often do and no one even noticed.
It’s always interesting seeking out local craft beer. Two stores had failed to yield anything bottled or canned from the immediate area, but I had done my research. We hit up Padre Island Brewing Company at happy hour for very reasonably priced brews and heavy appetizers. The food was alright, but I’ve had much better. The beers were decent, although I was a tad disappointed in the Speckled Trout Stout (far right in the photo). I wanted a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, but this beer had a tinny, slick one. In my most humble of craft beer drinking opinion, a little more carbonation would steer that beer into greatness. Of the sampler lineup, I chose the Tailing Red Amber (first beer on left) as my favorite. It was everything an amber should be, well balanced yet crisp.
In addition to enjoying yums & libations (and bacon every morning), we did a lot of walking on the beach, hunting for sea shells and generally relaxing. One afternoon we went out to Isla Blanca Park and walked out on the jetty, watching the dolphins and pelicans. The park has a memorial that reminds me of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, but it’s made of copper instead of concrete and soapstone. The statue is named El Cristo de los Pescadores and has the bilingual message “Father! Receive the souls of these brave fishermen who have sailed through this pass and never returned” at its feet. Plaques mounted on the stones at the base have the name, boat name and dates of birth and death inscribed on them, except for one heartbreaking plaque without a death date. It simply stated “never returned.” The area has many shrimpers and fishing boats, yet I’d never thought of the dangers of the trade. I promise you from now on I’ll think of those fishermen each time I eat seafood from our gulf coast.
A quick trip across the bridge to Port Isabel netted an afternoon of shopping, climbing the lighthouse to the top, and ice cream. The balcony on the lighthouse is in disrepair and closed to the public, but if you continue up the stairs to the top the view of the bay is awesome. Later, we ended the trip on a high note, spending time in the heated pool and hot tub at the condo. I returned home refreshed, and with a new perspective on our shrimping and seafood industry. We hope to make visits to South Padre Island an annual event, and this was a fine bit of R&D for future trips.