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The SCENE Magazine

From Grit to Pearl: Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar Goes Through Transformation

Oct 10, 2018 05:22PM
Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, located at 2555 Bay Area Blvd., has been a staple of the Clear Lake community for 24 years. Owner and operator Tom Tollett has worked in the restaurant industry for close to 50 years. After overseeing the operations and expansions of several multi-million dollar establishments, Tollett decided to go out on his own and opened Tommy’s original concept (Tommy’s Patio Café) in 1994. Since then, the restaurant has evolved with the times and with Tollet’s growing passion for food and commitment to outstanding customer service. In 2001, the restaurant was revived and renamed Tommy’s Seafood Steakhouse, and in 2009 it became what it is today, Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar. The concept is an elite oyster bar and seafood restaurant offering fresh from-the-bay oysters, Gulf seafood, and prime cut steaks while providing impeccable service in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Tommy’s has been remodeled four times over the last 24 years, but with each remodel, there was a punch list of things they weren’t able to get done. The ideas have been percolating for the dream restaurant design for quite a while and, determined to get it all done this time, Tollett hired a Houston design firm to help turn the dream into reality. Every square inch of the front of the house has been remodeled with a design concept that reflects the community and draws inspiration from the water that surrounds the area, and Tollett is very pleased with the result, “The restaurant has become a much more fluid space, the colors and design are reflections of the water and our connection to the waterfront community,” said Tollett. One wall in particular is an image from the inside of an oyster shell; an adjacent wall is a nautical map. New lighting, new flooring and new wall fixtures have all been carefully chosen to blend harmoniously with the mariner theme. The main dining area is now all one level providing a much more open feel.

The Oyster Bar is still the main attraction in the new space and guests can watch the chefs as they shuck oysters, and since Tommy’s serves around 10,000 oysters per week, these experienced chefs are fascinating to watch. Tollett is serious about oysters. He is adamant about serving only the freshest oysters possible that are harvested using the most sustainable techniques. 

When 75% of Galveston Bay’s oyster population was lost due to Hurricane Harvey, Tollett was forced to buy oysters from Mississippi and Louisiana, but the oysters they sent him were spawning, making them more translucent and watery, so not only did they lack the flavor of a full-grown oyster, harvesting oysters while they’re spawning limits the amount of eggs they would otherwise release. (They can produce up to 100 million eggs per year, which can cause devastating effects to the oyster population.) This practice was definitely not in line with Tollett’s commitment to sustainability – and he refused to serve them, opting instead to be out of oysters for a few months, Tollett would much rather lose money not selling them, than serve an oyster that is subpar and not aligned with the conservation efforts he so proudly supports. 

Tollett’s passion for conservation serves him well as a board member for the Galveston Bay Foundation, a position he has held for five years. The foundation’s role is to advocate for Galveston Bay’s marine life, and the wildlife living along its shores, “And to create an environmentally safe and quality bay for all of us to enjoy,” said Tollett. Because he is highly involved in the foundation’s oyster shell recycling program, Tollett ensures that every shell makes its way back to the bay so the population of oysters can continue to grow. 

Did You Know? Oysters are found all over the world; each region has its own unique shape, taste and texture. But Tommy’s only serves oysters harvested in Galveston Bay. “Frankly, in my opinion, Galveston Bay oysters are the best oysters in the United States,” said Tollett, always the consummate ambassador for the bay he holds so dear. But even the oysters in Galveston Bay differ in taste from the varying reefs (appellations). The amount of fresh water or salinity present in the area, the tidal flow and the mineral composition of runoff from the land above the reef all have an impact on the oyster’s taste. Each spring, the Galveston Bay Foundation hosts an oyster tasting event at Tommy’s, which allows guests to taste oysters from up to12 appellations. 

The expert culinary team at Tommy’s is committed to using only the freshest ingredients of the utmost quality for every dish they serve, and the produce is sourced locally whenever possible to provide guests with farm-to-table freshness. Not surprisingly, the top three menu items served at Tommy’s are Oysters, Oysters and Oysters. Served on the half shell, grilled to perfection or combined with seafood, there are many oyster selections to choose from, such as Tommy’s Grilled Oysters (with butter, garlic, shallots, white wine and topped with Parmesan cheese) or the Crawfish Au Gratin Oysters (topped with Au Gratin cheese sauce, crawfish tails and jalapeños). Other customer favorites include the Seafood Gumbo (made traditionally with a dark roux), their USDA Prime steaks, seafood dishes like the Pecan-Crusted Redfish or Stuffed Trout Filet. Off the menu seafood specials are prepared in correlation with the seasons and new menu items will be added in the next few months.

Tommy’s two newly renovated private rooms can accommodate up to 50 seated guests each and up to 80 people reception-style. These spaces are ideal for hosting holiday parties, birthdays, receptions, rehearsal dinners, and any other special events. With new renovations complete, and the holiday season approaching, reservations will likely fill up quick. Please contact Barry J. Kirk, the private event manager, to book a private party. (Email: [email protected] )

Like opening an oyster, only much easier, the brand new doors at Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar have been opened and their new interior design and resurgence is the much sought-after pearl.

By Shawn Domingues