It takes a mighty confident restaurant to sport a logo flying the proud red, white and blue flag of Texas, along with the equally iconic local culinary term “pit” to then turn around and pitch the unexpected : oysters and seafood, with nary a classic barbecue item in sight.
But if you’re the 8-month-old Texas Pit Oyster Bar, located in Fossil Creek, and you’re the offspring of Saginaw’s 11-year old award-grabbing Texas Pit Bar-B-Q, then you probably have every license to leave behind familiar turf for adventuresome surf.
Indeed, of the 48 menu items, no less than 39 are devoted to sea creatures — from such humble bottom feeders as catfish all the way up to octopus, oysters, shrimp and tilapia.
Of course, fresh seafood always seems an oxymoron in landlocked North Texas. But then I slurp one of Texas Pit’s six raw Gulf oysters and I could swear I hear that faraway body of water lapping at my table. These half-dozen bivalves, each naked save for a drizzle of lemon juice, arrive on an ice floe “cold combo” platter ($11.99) with six jumbo boiled shrimp. The oysters are briny wonderful, and need no help from an accompanying cocktail sauce — which is required to perk up the plump, juicy, yet slightly lackluster, shrimp.
The meal soon goes from the gargantuan oyster to Lilliputian crustacean with the arrival of 18 crab claws ($7.50). Huddled on the outer rim of a bowl like lifeboat survivors, each tiny crab claw is a slender digit of sweet sea meat, perfect for trawling through a nearby pool of herby garlic butter.
For its entry in the currently undeclared restaurant fish taco war, this restaurant’s tilapia version ($7.25 for 3) won’t disappoint. A soft corn tortilla encases a few pieces of perfectly grilled tilapia chunks, speckled with lemon pepper and topped with an extra layer of pico de gallo and a creamy wedge of avocado. All of it unites under the spicy-smoky banner of the chipotle crema — essentially tartar sauce with attitude.
Though I’m vulnerable to the surface opulence of the stuffed crab, as part of the combo platter ($11.99) — it’s paired with the seemingly homely grilled catfish — I discover a crab that is all breaded shell, totally undercut by a bland stuffing.
I erase the dull crab memory with one bite of the catfish fillet. Clearly basted with the already sampled garlic butter before being slapped on the grill, this working-class catfish sports a brazen outer char and is as juicy and flaky as an aristocratic piece of Dover sole.
The fun of eating Texas Pit Oyster Bar’s simple and unpretentious seafood is reinforced by its buoyant decor. With bouncy country tunes on the sound system, paper towels for napkins and hot-sauce table adornments, the 72-seat space wins you over with cozy charm.
Walls are done up in ballpark mustard yellow or kid’s room blue, and hold the owners’ family photos. Then the interior veers off into nautical eclectic with a mix of life preservers, lobster pots, an obscure shot of Bob Marley strumming an acoustic guitar and a poster of Marilyn Monroe in all her ruby-lipped, sex kitten prime.
Bob Marley and Marilyn — next to life preservers and family pictures? Again, it’s a bit like “Texas pit” and “oyster bar” on one sign. Opposites for sure, but if they’re made for each other, opposites always attract.