Will Travel for Food

Texas Restaurants Worth Visiting on the Road This Summer

The Big Fisherman Seafood Restaurant

In Rockport

510 Hwy. 188

361/729-1997

Daily, 11am-10pm (but often closes early)

Alice Faye's Rocky Hill Bar and Grill

In Fulton

106 N. Fulton Beach Rd.

361/729-5755

Mon-Thu, 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-10pm; Sun, 11am-3pm

Bar open daily, 11am-2am

Whenever I get a few days off of my insanely busy grind, I head straight down Highway 188 to escape to the pristine flats on the bays of beautiful Rockport for some hydrotherapy and string slinging -- that's redfish and speckled trout fishing for those of you not familiar with the terminology. On the days that I'm too tired to cook my catch, I religiously head straight for two restaurants there: The Big Fisherman and Alice Faye's.

The Big Fisherman is a cavernous affair just west of the carbon-black plant on state highway 35, where the platters are big enough to match the most voracious of appetites. In its previous life, before the fire that gutted the place, the Big Fisherman was a sight to behold. Each single square inch of the airport-hangar-sized restaurant was covered with the stuff of taxidermist's dreams, with every imaginable type of stuffed animal head and body on display. But they were all consumed in a hellish grease fire. The B.F. is rebuilt now, and the decorations are far more restrained, but the crowds are just as frenzied as they were in the old days.

The Big Fisherman is known for one thing -- impossibly huge portions at ridiculously low prices. You don't go to the Big Fisherman for "fine cuisine." Anything from the sea in a fried, broiled, blackened, or grilled form is the ticket here. I'm a sucker for their Seafood Platter ($13.95). It starts with a cup of the daily soup, then attacks its eater with a mega-platter mounded 6" high with seven to nine fillets of flounder, six-plus fried shrimp and the same of oysters, a handful of fried scallops, a stuffed crab, a huge baked potato, and coleslaw. Even in my ravenous state -- after fishing for 12 hours -- I can seldom finish it all.

Almost everything on the menu can be ordered in an all-you-can-eat form (beef fillet, $18.95; fried oysters or shrimp, $12.95), but the waitresses there have always brought me more of anything I've ever asked for. The grilled catch of the day ($12.95) is always a sure bet, and it usually comes with a half-dozen fried shrimp. I had a dynamite Cajun grilled amberjack the last time down.

The B.F. makes no pretensions about what they do, "Nothing plush -- just good food reasonably priced," as the menu declares. A word of caution for the neophyte: There's a reason the closing times on the menu end with a question mark. When the staff gets tired or starts running out of stuff, they shut it down with no apologies, so don't go too late.

The best food in town now is found at Alice Faye's, which is situated in an old house on the edge of Aransas Bay, right at the cusp of the Rockport-Fulton Beach borderline. Alice's is a warm, welcoming spot with a cozy atmosphere, staffed with a veteran crew that knows how to keep the sunburned crowds happy. The food is what really shines here, and oddly enough for a city by the sea, hand-trimmed steaks are the specialty (tenderloin, $12.95; No.1 ribeye, $15.95; sirloin, $12.95). The chicken-fried ribeye with cream gravy ($8.95) rivals the best you've ever had, and there's a wide assortment of burgers available as well ($4.25-5.75). After a constant seafood diet for days while at the coast, you'd be surprised how orgasmic a dining experience a great steak can be.

Chicken ($7.95) is grilled, and available with an orange-rosemary marinade or with a basil pesto -- both are excellent. But don't think Alice snubs seafood. Tasty shrimp scampi, crab cakes, and the sautéed oysters (all, $12.95) are delicious. And there's an ever-changing selection of fresh seafood specials from which to choose.

Alice's doesn't slouch on appetizers, either, with items like stuffed sea scallops or crab-and-cheese-packed mushroom caps (both $5.95), boiled shrimp ($6.95), and oyster shooters in a spicy cocktail sauce ($.25 ea.). Thought goes into the salads here, unlike most coastal restaurants, and the shrimp salad ($8.95) is superb. Sides run the gamut from fried sweet potatoes, broccoli, roasted veggies, home fries or baked spud, to a nicely garlicky rice pilaf.

You won't find anything terribly unusual on the menu here at Alice's, but the unusual thing you will find is that everything you eat will be uncommonly appetizing and well-prepared, and you'll be treated as a guest should be, with friendly, competent service.

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