Monday, November 2, 2015

Tale of Two Captains

My first memories of Houston are of food.  While in high school and barely legal to drive a car, my friend Terry’s brother hired us to drive heavy duty oil field trucks headed for Saudi Arabia to the port of Houston from Dallas.  Unfortunately, money was tight at the truck company and once we arrived in Houston with the trucks, we discovered our pay was limited to lunch at a local restaurant.   So that meal needed to be special.

Terry knew of a fried seafood joint shaped like a boat on S. Main named Captain Benny’s.  Having been there before, Terry ordered for us and confidently said “we’ll have one of everything on the menu”.  The drink choices were limited to Tab and warm Coors.  But the food was the attraction!  Corn meal breaded shrimp and oysters, raw gulf oysters, fried catfish and stuffed crab were the stars.  Eating at a run-down, smoky and sloping bar where the staff trusted the patrons to keep up with what they had ordered on the honor system only added to the flavor.  

On every trip to Houston since then, I’ve tried to eat at Captain Benny’s.  Locations have opened and closed over the years and the S. Main store was even rebuilt.  When Trudy and I moved to Houston I couldn’t wait to introduce her to this wonderful place.  On our way to our temporary apartment in Katy, I spotted a boat shaped restaurant around Mason road and I10, but the sign said “Captain Tom’s”!   Could there be two captains in town now?

Captain Tom’s follows the same model as Captain Benny’s with cornmeal battered seafood in a “rustic”, seafaring atmosphere.  In fact, the Captain Tom’s fried shrimp was just as good as I remember from Captain Benny’s.  All the food is very good at Captain Tom’s.  We even discovered the “Michelada” there which is sort of a beer based Blood Mary.  Way better than it sounds!
So those of you tempted to venture into the boat are faced with a decision.  Which captain?  I’d say the food is equal although Captain Benny’s has a larger menu including some grilled and broiled items (what a waste of good seafood).  The big difference is the service, cleanliness, noise and language barrier.  Captain Benny’s has matured into a place with actual tables and it appears they clean periodically, but has maintained the “charm” I experienced in the late 1970’s.   It’s the kind of place where Trudy and I can have a nice lunch in a boat while receiving good, friendly service. And they have great Micheladas too.

Captain Tom’s is not so much that kind of place.  At lunch, there can be an odd mix of 75% Hispanic construction workers, 5% white bankers, and 5% screaming kids.  If there isn’t a spot at the bar you order by walking up behind someone sitting at the bar and yelling your order once you get someone’s attention.  And you hope that your yelling in English is understood.  When your order is ready, you hope that the person sitting at the bar in front of you is nice enough to hand your food to you.
You can’t go wrong with the food at either place, so you only need to choose the experience you are looking for.  Captain Benny’s combines great food, good service and minimal hassle so that’s where I recommend you try some delicious fried sea creatures!