From its paradisiacal perch on North Padre Island, Black Sheep Bistro spices up its menu of fresh seafood, steak, and pasta dishes with an array of international flavors, ranging from Mexican to Martian. Rich, flavorful appetizers like Nacho Ordinary Crab ($8)—a savory pile-up of toasted corn tortilla chips and fresh blue crab meat, topped with pepper jack cheese—complements the Bistro's warm, colorful ambiance and gives taste buds a seamless segue way to entrees such as the locally famous Little Joe ($25), a filet smothered in blue cheese and caramelized onions, and the Pescado La Ticla ($15), the catch of the day grilled over mesquite coals and slathered in pico de gallo. Diners with ample post-prandial stomach space can close with a slice of Grandma's Homemade Apple Pie A La Mode ($4.50). Otherwise, savor a glass of Napa Valley wine on the outdoor patio and feel the ocean breeze playfully muss your hair as you indulge in a little people watching, fleeing-people watching, zombie watching, and zombie fleeing.
Though chef Daniel Nemec specialized in classic French cuisine at the Texas Culinary Academy, his heart lies in the smokehouse. As the leader of Woodfire Kirby’s kitchen, he draws from his experiences growing up in Corpus Christi, where steaks and barbecue pepper the culinary landscape and are considered legal tender.
Nemec imbues hickory flavor in ribs, chops, and sirloin burgers, but demonstrates the wood’s versatility with a menu that also includes wood-fired soups and thin-crust pizzas. New york strip steaks and blue-ribbon fillets are cooked to a choice of six temperatures, including classic medium rare and charred-yet-red pittsburgh. Available raw, grilled, or poached, seafood showcases spices that range from asian to argentine to creole.
A private room welcomes up to 48 visitors with a high-definition TV and four banquet menus, and the dining room attracts nighttime guests with handcrafted cocktails and a buzz as vibrant as a birthday party inside a hornet nest.
A high-quality cut of beef really lets chefs express themselves, and Ounce Steakhouse’s owner, who works closely with cattle ranchers throughout the country, provides his chefs with handpicked USDA beef and renowned Akaushi beef. Akaushi grades three levels above prime and is raised in Texas in the strict tradition of Japan’s highly sought-after Kobe beef. With a menu of Akaushi, Angus, and USDA Prime, the restaurant’s chefs find plenty of inspiration for high-end dining techniques and rock operas about Meat Loaf and other fine beef. Among stone walls, original artwork, and sleek, modern decor, diners also relish equally elegant entrees of Chilean sea bass, Australian rack of lamb, and cabernet-braised short ribs. The restaurant strives for the highest fine-dining experience, complementing dishes with wine from vineyards across the globe while keeping small-batch, handcrafted California cabernet sauvignons as its main focus.
Originally founded in 1929, The Grey Moss Inn Restaurant gives the impression that the world has spent the last several decades growing around it. A canopy of Texas oak branches practically conceals the eatery's outdoor patio?complete with a low stone wall?and main dining room. At night, this canopy bursts to life as strings of colored lights flicker on above diners' heads.
The views are no less impressive during the daytime though. Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and other animals occasionally meander across the nearby expanse of lush, green meadowland and blooming flowers are almost always within sight. "The number of couples who have held secret rendezvous here must be astronomical," posited Texas Monthly "But how could they resist? Romance fills the air like incense at this oak-shaded cottage in the woods."
The Fiery Heart of the Restaurant
The most eye-catching set piece on The Grey Moss Inn Restaurant's patio also happens to be the eatery's most used feature: a circular stone grill filled with smoldering mesquite charcoal. Originally, this pit served as the building's main water well. However, it was eventually capped off and converted into a massive pit where the chefs can roast everything from free-range chicken and lamb chops to Choice rib eye steaks and Pacific salmon. The subtly sweet smokiness of these freshly grilled meats helps lend a distinctively rustic and traditional charm to the menu of refined southern cooking.
Comfort Food With an Elegant Touch
There's no reason for the chefs to completely change the classics, although they do elevate these dishes whenever possible. Using organically grown herbs from the restaurant's own gardens, the chefs follow recipes that haven't changed in decades as they prepare everything from cumin-tinged squash casserole to chocolate pecan pie. At the same time, they are willing to experiment with new flavors to create entirely new dishes, such as the roasted Texas quail stuffed with homemade chorizo.
The selection of more than 500 wines?which earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence?features premier cru Burgundies alongside local Texan wines, similarly demonstrating the restaurant's dedication to refined dining.
A towering chalkboard announces the menu at Chef Mark's restaurant, which certified executive chef Mark Carpenter erases and redrafts each day. Drawing from nearly 40 years of experience, Carpenter oversees an experienced kitchen staff as they whip up hearty comfort breakfasts and lunches from scratch. The restaurant's countertops steam with freshly made platters of pot roasts, meatloaf, and pork chops, and a salad bar showcases colorful vegetables and dressings. Meanwhile, a dessert bar is piled high with trays of warm cinnamon buns, crusty rolls, cookies, and pies. After selecting their meals, customers retire to a sunlit dining room filled with white-clothed tables. The welcoming, communal atmosphere is accentuated by decorative flower arrangements, a bookshelf of reading material, and a prohibition on duck hunting of any kind.
Those passing by Tequila Coast often hear melodies played on classical guitar drift out from behind the restaurant's towering stucco walls. After walking inside, guests see a sunlit courtyard, where guitarists wander between wrought-iron balconies, a four-tiered fountain, and a Talavera tiled staircase, serenading evening diners who linger over Mexican dishes and glasses of tequila drinks. In the kitchen, chefs fold freshly made tortillas, Angus steak, and gulf-water seafood into appealing arrangements of Mexican food. Behind the lengthy bar, drink-masters dole out beer and wine under the glow of flat-screen TVs. Guests can also snap photographs amidst the restaurant's rustic decor and artwork, posing alongside friends or the plate of seven enchiladas they've been double-dared to finish.