By Jim Ayres
Make no mistake. Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s did not flop with critics or the public. Their closing just 18 months after opening reflected shady fiscal mismanagement more than the tastes of Houston diners.
But…it happens. Those restaurants are history and life moves on.
Houston-born, Atlanta-based chef Ford Fry certainly did. Best known here for State of Grace in River Oaks, Fry wasted no time in claiming these neighboring spots at 1801 North Shepherd. Superica, a Tex-Mex cash cow, has opened in one.
Fry aims for something more personal at La Lucha. Drawing on his childhood memories of the old San Jacinto Inn, Fry and culinary director Bobby Matos have fashioned a new menu of “Gulf Gems and Chicken Dinners.”
That Chicken Dinner is your choice of a half or whole fried bird with biscuits (a San Jacinto Inn specialty), pickles and one of three sauce accompaniments — green harissa, honey sambal or oyster mayonnaise. It sounds marvelous, but on my recent visit, I was in the mood for seafood.
After ordering, I mentioned to the bartender that, even as I approach the big 6-0, I had never tried a raw oyster in my life. His gift to me? Three of the finest, all Gulf-sourced off the Alabama coast, served with horseradish, cocktail sauce and a shallot-vinegar mignonette.
I picked up the cute little fork, lifted the oysters from their shells, dipped them—and proceeded to eat them right off the fork. Poor form, I know, but I’m not the slurping type. Honestly, I’m not!
I can’t imagine any oysters being fresher than these. They were a great start to a lunch of lushly textured Blackened Catfish. Lime brightens up nutty brown butter and capers in this dish. The fish was as fresh as the oysters; its succulence transcends any other catfish in town.
If you’ve ever been to a crab boil, you’ll find a side order of Crab Boiled Corn to be exactly what you expect. No more, no less, and that’s a great thing. Butter and Old Bay take you to the seaside as you attack every little cob.
As for the Shrimpy Macaroni Salad, made just as my own family did, I couldn’t stop eating it. Veggie bits are mixed in with cocktail shrimp, but the sugary mayonnaise dressing makes this salad sing. I wouldn’t hesitate to get it in bulk to bring to a potluck—or for a spoonful now and then at home.
I mentioned a bartender, so there must be a cocktail, right? La Lucha has a short list of appealing ones. I tried the Analog, a palate cleansing mix of mezcal, vermouth and two mystery “aperitivos” (one must have been Campari). The dainty glass was beautiful and likely antique.
La Lucha is a most inviting place. Sort of like a favorite relative’s home where the comfy furniture is mismatched, family photos abound, and the tchotchkes mean something. A place where everybody stops by for a chat and a bite, no phoning ahead or doorbell required.
1801 North Shepherd Drive
Houston, Texas 77008