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[Houston] Topwater Grill - San Leon


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Inevitably, there comes a time when life gets a little hectic, frustrations accumulate, I find myself getting grumpy . . . and hungry. It is time to change my attitude by changing my latitude and I head off to Topwater Grill. (With apologies to Jimmy Buffet.)

First, a disclaimer is in order. I am not a restaurant critic. I arguably don’t even have that great a palate. This probably isn’t even a fair and balanced report, the sub-title giving you a clue. Consider it a case of sharing with you one of my favorite places, why it is a favorite, and . . . oh yes . . . the food.

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Topwater Grill came into being about three years ago. Captain Wally Jakubus owns the April Fool Point Marina in San Leon Texas. I don’t know the details but someone got the good idea to open a restaurant. So his son, Robert Jakubus, did. The idea probably started with the fact that Captain Wally owns some mighty pretty shrimp boats and shrimp are rumored to be good to eat.

The locals showed up, tried it out and rejoicing in the streets ensued . . . or something like that. You can’t keep a good secret forever and word got out. That is probably a good thing because it is still here and thriving besides being in a quirky community like San Leon (that a surprising proportion of the Houston area population never heard of) and being just about impossible to find, even if you have heard of San Leon. (I will help you out with that later.)

In its short life, Topwater Grill has continued to grow and change; a patio here, added docks there, a deck up top might be a good idea. The menu continues to evolve and grow as well, but as you might expect, is centered on the local seafood. The “regulars” seem to feel that they have been a part of all of this as the staff is always willing to enter into discussions regarding various menu items and architectural details.

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As you approach, the inviting patio is the first thing you pass.

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My favorite spot is the outside tables. It is closed-in in this shot because the day is a bit brisk. It opens up in fine weather. During those scorching summer days, you can get heat stroke on the parking lot but be wonderfully comfortable out there. The secret is that a prevailing southeast breeze comes in off the water and sweeps through the area.

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Adjacent to the restaurant is the boat ramp and bait shop. I am including this here because folks are always asking about bringing kids here. Well, they love it. Notice there is a fish cleaning station between the ramp and bait shop. Pelicans and gulls squabbling over scraps makes for great entertainment.

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Kids also get a kick out of the parrots. This is one sitting beside his oh-so-neat nest next to the parking lot. These are actually Monk’s Parakeets and have been resident in San Leon for many years.

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Just to whet your appetite, one of the oyster scows is just coming in to deliver your dinner if you are in an oyster frame of mind.

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Moving inside, this is the main dining room. It is normally not this empty. I chose a time in between lunch and dinner so I wouldn’t disturb too many patrons with the camera.

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The bar is about as comfy as a bar gets. That big thing hanging from the ceiling is a huge replica of a Topwater Lure.

A little more background for you folks that may not be obsessed with harassing our finny friends: A Topwater lure is a long favored lure for catching any number of species. Why they decided to name the grill after that I haven’t a clue.

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A word about the clientele: They are as eclectic as San Leon. All you have to do is take a good look at the parking lot. Here you see the little roadster generally favored by intellectual baby boomers next to the gleaming Harleys favored by our many gastronomically inspired motorcycle clubs. You also find an assortment of geezer barges, pick-up trucks, soccer mom mini-vans and the family SUVs.

The other piece of this picture is the staff. They are friendly and helpful, very efficient, and charming in the face of chaos. Yes, when things get crazy, service may slow down or get a bit confused. But if you chill out, settle into the ambience, have another cold drink, listen to a little more Jimmy Buffet, all will be well. They always come through and I have never had a bad time.

Well, let’s eat. For some reason, we were in a shrimp kind of mood. I know. It is not shrimp season. This is the time of the year for oysters. But, I don’t like oysters and my companions were having a craving for their favorite shrimp dishes. I don’t know where these guys get their shrimp but they are excellent even out of season. Maybe you can imagine shrimp season when the shrimp come in from Captain Wally's boats and flip their way into the kitchen. OK, maybe you can't, but you gotta trust me here. I also have to say that the quality of the various fishes measures up to the shrimp. I haven’t had any aquatic fauna here that wasn’t good.

But . . . You have to start somewhere.

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The Bloody Mary here has been known to inspire intense cravings.

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We got talked into the lump crab meat and it is a good thing we did. See that little cup of sauce on the side? See fifi’s jaw drop at the first taste? Well, it did. Why haven’t I had that sauce before? It is described as a lemon butter sauce, made by sautéing some garlic and shallot in butter, add white wine and reduce, add lemon juice and heavy cream, drizzle in butter while whisking. They strain it before serving. All I know is, it is light, incredibly tasty, and I want a vat of it. Snorkel, please.

We must now make progress on the mission of the day.

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This has to be our very favorite dish, shrimp en brochette. Before we get to the details, please note the bed of black beans. I don’t know what these guys do to black beans and they ain’t talkin’. I typically order a container to go.

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Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Somehow, the bacon is always perfectly crispy, the shrimp is meltingly tender, the sliver of cheese and strip of jalapeno hiding inside is in just the right quantity for optimum creaminess and heat level. That greenish sauce is poblano cream? Cilantro? I dunno but it is good.

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Now to my current fixation, coconut shrimp. I normally don’t like sweets in my entrees but coconut shrimp has wriggled its way into my heart. I get it at restaurants in this area and on my travels in an obsessive case of comparison fever. This is still my favorite version. The crunch of the crust and the tenderness of the shrimp just works. They also advertise that there is some Malibu® Coconut Rum in there somewhere. Note the sauce in the cup. It is the usual mango habanero concoction but they have added pineapple. They also have the sweet sour balance just right and the heat is pleasant but not overwhelming. I have a confession to make. I begged some extra sauce to take home. I had it on buttery toast for breakfast. With a tiny adjustment in sweetness it would be dynamite on pancakes or French toast. Note to the dessert department: Think about this on ice cream or sorbet.

Perversely enough, I still gave them a hard time about the coleslaw that is served with it. It is a sweet version and very good for what it is: crisp and fresh, just enough dressing, little shrimp hiding in there. I just hate sweet coleslaw. Note to self . . . Ask for a substitution and quit griping.

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Speaking of dessert, we got talked into the bourbon pecan pie with chocolate chips. It was a worthy version of pecan pie. I do have to mention that I have friends who are connoisseurs of key lime pie. They pronounce the version that Topwater serves as particularly terrific and I agree.

So, what is it about this place that has captured my heart? I can’t put my finger on any one thing: The food? The setting with the soft gulf breezes wafting through? The warm hospitality of the staff? Jimmy Buffet playing in the background? The interesting and friendly folks that frequent the place? The fact that so many of us have been around to see it change and grow? The memory of celebratory gatherings of family and friends? I have to conclude that it is all of these things together that have made Topwater Grill more than just a restaurant to many of us.

I am sure that some of you have similar special places and could tell a similar story. If you do, please share.

I want to thank General Manager Brandon Hart for his kind hospitality and forbearance. I am especially appreciative of the hints about the lemon sauce. (But, darn it, he still won’t spill the black beans.)

Topwater Grill

815 Avenue O (south end of 9th Street)

San Leon, TX 77539

281.339.1232

Web site coming soon.

I said that I would help you find it. Here is a useful map link. Use the zoom feature to get the scale you need.

Click here.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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the pics were so good it had me looking at the map link u provided and while i probably could not get to it on my own...im sure my fiance wouldnt have any problems....too bad we didnt know about it a couple of months ago when we were in the houston area...it might have tempted us to stay overnight and try the place out...absolutley looks great in every way...what was the average price range?

a recipe is merely a suggestion

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. . . . .

...what was the  average  price range?

Somehow I knew that this was going to come up. I came to that realization when I got home and realized that I had forgotten the copy of the menu that I intended to get. :wacko: This is a guess but here goes. Appetizers are in the $3-5 range. Main course may run up to $15-18 with many less than that. Let's just say that prices are on par with or better than a chain and you aren't paying any extra for the quality and setting. :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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AWWWW! Woodburner, thank you for the kind words. :blush::blush::blush:

I have tried several tricks with the maps. There doesn't seem to be a good way to post the multiple scales here. I am going to leave the link at the overall view so folks can see where this is in relationship to the Houston area. Then you use the zoom in scale to get more detail of the major roads in the area then down to the detail in San Leon proper.

Edit to correct: Ooops. Now the map link isn't working like it was. It is now defaulting to the close in view. I have no idea what you will get when you click on the link. Back to the zooming. I will look for a better solution.

Edited by fifi (log)

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Topwater is a great joint. I think the food is good but it really is the type of place I want to get drunk in(i have never been drunk here though) and eat all day. The fried shrimp is first rate. And I have to get down there for some oysters, like right now. Looks like a weekend trip is in order.

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jscarbor, I think you may have hit on one of the reasons this place appeals to me. When I was a kid, there were various "joints" on the east end of Galveston island, along the landward sanded in part of the jetties. The grown-ups would stake out a spot at one of the places, drink beer and eat shrimp while us kids would crab and generally play at being wharf rats. There is a whif of that here. Of course, today's parents would never allow the degrees of freedom that we had along the waterfront and that makes me very sad. But I suppose that I sense the possibility here, probably never being realized, but at least the food is a whole lot better.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Topwater is terrific.

After lunch, I took the kids to the baithouse next door and they had a blast. Just about then, a shrimp boat pulled up to the dock and we walked over to talk the the cap'n.

I was there about 2 weeks ago and the oysters were incredible. Hard to find, even with a map, but don't give up....it's worth it!

Kerr.

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  • 1 month later...

Yesterday was a dreary, rainy day here in SE TX, so Steve and I decided we'd take a car trip and ended up At the Topwater. We didn't have a bit of trouble finding it. There is a big sign on the corner (at a beer/gas/burrito place) that pointed us in the right direction. We drove right to it. I ordered the highly-touted shrimp brochette, and it was super. Just spicy enough to make you go back for another bite!!! The black beans were delish - I found a big hunk of bacon in mine. The sauteed veg side was great as well - not to al-dente. I can't stand a veg saute where the veg are only heated up, not cooked. Steve got the fried shrimp plate. They were good and fresh, but both of us prefer a crispy, chunchy batter like cornmeal or bread crumbs rather than the flour based batter Topwater uses, but they were still good. We liked the slaw, not having the same aversion to sweet ones as fifi. It was served in a red cabbage cup - very cute presentation. We didn't get dessert, but had a glass a wine in the bar. It was a bit of a drive for us, but we'd go back (want to try the fish tacos), especially with out of town guests who don't ever get to see boats, shrimpers, etc. It is a very enjoyable place. Thanks for the recommendations, everybody, esp. fifi!!

Stop Family Violence

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Dana, I am so glad you had a good time. My favorite for the fried shrimp, as I said above, is the coconut shrimp. I prefer the cornmeal preparation as well. I seem to remember that they do that with the small shrimp for the shrimp po' boy but I might be wrong. The cool thing about this place is that us regulars can "influence" the menu.

Yeah . . . my prejudice about the cole slaw was showing when I cut it out of the picture of the coconut shrimp. :raz: It was attractive in that red cabbage leaf. I guess my "influence" as a regular stops at the cole slaw. :laugh:

I hear you about the weather. I was slogging around in it at the rodeo BBQ cook-off and I am beginning to mildew. (Stay tuned for more on that later.)

I can't wait for shrimp season (May?) when the shrimp are going from the boat to the kitchen.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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  • 1 month later...

A couple weeks ago I took my son along with my sister and her family to Topwater before we went to Kemah for the kids.

My BIL and I shared a dozen grilled oysters rockefeller and 1/2 dozen grilled oyster mojo d ajo and both were incredible. I want to get back this weekend just to order these oysters but wonder what the oyster crop looks and tastes like now. Anyway, the rockefeller oysters were close to perfect, maybe a wee bit more shrimp and a wee bit less cream. Along with the bacon and cheese these bad boys were delicious. How many "rules" does this dish break (cheese/cream and seafood). After this I had the fried shrimp which were great, only to be surpassed last week at another dining establishment that will surprise the heck out of you in my Cat Spring/New Ulm report. BIL had a broiled red fish with drunk sauce and it was wonderful as well.

My son (almost 2) and nephew (4) ran around the whole time scaring the bejesus out of me. The docks have no railing on them and the patio railing has about an 8 inch space making it easy for a youngster to fall through. Thankfully all was fine but I certainly wont be letting him of my site until he is a little bit older.

This place really makes me want to live in this area. I'm not a big clear lake guy, i just see too much I'm to cool for you guy, trashy girl stuff that turns me off. But this place has soul and the foods great to boot. I just love it.

Next time here I will get the shrimp brochette.

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jscarbor, you make a good point about the kids. I am a bit removed from having kids to be attendant to the details. When I say it is a great place to take kids, I mean those that are old enough to let them roam. What is that? Eight to whatever?

Not being an oyster freak I can't say about the quality but I understand that this year was outstanding. I am told by those that are oyster freaks that you have a couple of weeks until the water temperature comes up. The old adage of oysters in the months with an "R" seems to hold. Also, once you get to spawning time, forget oysters and wait until next season. But the good news is that shrimp season kicks in.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Last night I took two friends that were here on business from Washington State. Even though it was Monday night and the glorious weather of the weekend got replaced by a good imitation of the rain planet in Star Wars, we had a great time. I got out of my coconut shrimp rut and ordered the pecan crusted snapper with lemon butter sauce. Highly recommended. The redfish with drunk sauce was outstanding. Since my friends were leaving the next morning I have a terrific doggy bag.

But here is the news . . . They are coming out with a new menu soonest, as soon as the printer gets it out. I will go back and see what's up. Our server was really enthusiastic about it. There are supposed to be lots of new items that they have been testing for some time. More later after I have talked to Brandon.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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  • 3 weeks later...

Had the new menu last night, the only new things prettymuch are the prices, all up at least a buck, a $20.99 flounder, wooden chairs and tablecloths on the porch. As much as I love the food, eating there at least weekly, I think I smell the upsccale syndrome :sad:

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The old adage of oysters in the months with an "R" seems to hold. Also, once you get to spawning time, forget oysters and wait until next season. But the good news is that shrimp season kicks in.

fifi, you are so right.

My grandfather, a fisherman by trade, would never oyster during the summer months, period. During the off season for Oysters he would shrimp or catch specks out by the Pensacola bay bridge. (I know, different state, but same Gulf)

The only reason oysters are served in off season is because tourists who know no better think they should have them all the time. It is an ecomonic thing. trying to supply the demand. How do we let people know that oysters during the summer is just not the thing to do? I would never eat a gulf water oyster when it is hot. That is when you eat lots of boiled shrimps, and cooking them with the the heads on really does help improve the flavor.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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  • 7 months later...

I first read about TopWater Grill in this thread, when I found this forum last summer. So I really wanted to go, especially since I live not too far from there. Well, finally my dream came true, but even better: I went there with fifi herself!!!

I am better at photographing than at writing, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Well... the sign’s still there –

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The weather was warm despite it being winter, with a slight breeze; there was nice music playing in the background, and an artist was painting right there -

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We chose to sit on the patio:

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(Oops, I just noticed my own reflection in the door :biggrin:).

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Linda was very nice, explaining different items on the menu. The owner even came out to talk to us. It was decided to start with crab:

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I love hush puppies, so I wanted to make sure theirs were good...

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They were! :rolleyes:

Linda, of course, ordered her favorite coconut shrimp, which came with a salad:

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I got a taste of the shrimp - I can see why it's fifi's favorite: freshly crunchy, with this subtle coconut flavor:

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Since I don't have any objections to sweet coleslaw, it actually made it into the picture this time :raz:. Even better: I got all Linda's slaw, and it was good. The shrimp is still served with that tropical salsa.

I ordered stuffed shrimp:

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We both agreed that I should have ordered it fried, not grilled. But it was still good.

To me, dessert is the most important part of the meal :smile:. So after agonizing over the choice of key lime pie, pecan pie, and other homey and tempting desserts, I chose bread pudding -

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I had a wonderful time, talking with a fellow eGulleter and enjoying a meal. Thank you, Linda! Hopefully you will write more on our experience :smile:.

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I was soooooo glad Alinka brought her camera. Actually, Topwater is undergoing some major renovation. They were closed a few weeks after hurricane Rita in order to accomplish the most of it. The patio is gone and has morphed into this big roofed area. New restrooms are going to be really nice. Then they had to reopen before the local populace brought out the torches and dogs. The weather here has been unseasonably warm so the demand has been higher than usual.

I was there again Monday, January 2, and it was 78 F and clear blue sky. We had gone fishin' with our favorite guide and put in there for an after-trip late lunch. The water was pretty, the day was pretty, but the fish were hung over or something. We only caught a keeper flounder and a sand trout. We gave the fillets to Brandon and he had them grilled up with a mushroom and shrimp sauce. That is fresh fish! :raz:

The menu changed over the summer. The favorites are still there and quite a few additions. Probably the most fun addtition is the "create it yourself" section. You select whatever fish you want, get it cooked to your preference then add sauces and toppings.

I agree with Alinka about the stuffed shrimp. The stuffing is designed for holding together while frying. It doesn't do well texture-wise under the broiler. Tastes good, though.

The latest news is that Robert bought Wreckers (they didn't last long) and has turned it into Panga's. The menu is still developing and is headed sort of south of the border but a focus on seafood. Brandon swears that their shrimp en brochette is better than Topwater because of their awesome grill. I doubt that but I will try it and let you know.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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