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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Clayton's Beach Bar and Other Week-end Activities

I don't get out at night a lot.  My husband is on-call 50% of every month which means he has to be within 30 minutes of the hospital...which is 28 minutes from our house...and if we do fun things on the island...well, we have a 50-50 opportunity.  We have become empty nesters and tend to stay home more and more.

This week-end was a change for me.  A childhood friend re-connected with me a few months ago and she made a trip down to the island, with her adult son, for a little summer time fun and catching up!

They arrived Friday evening and their request was "someplace fun" for dinner.  So, remembering the days of vacationing here, I automatically thought of the Louie's Backyard sunset view, huge buffet, and fireworks on the bay.  They seemed to enjoy it and it wasn't soooo loud that we couldn't talk and begin our catching up.  Fireworks were great, they enjoyed the food (especially piles of crab and shrimp) so I felt it had met the "first day criteria"!

On Saturday they wanted to shop a little and go to a beach bar for lunch, dinner someplace, and then live music and fireworks again.  I drove them around to a couple of the huge (and numerous) souvenir/resort wear shops where they got the things they wanted.  We headed to Wanna Wanna because it was fairly early and I figured it wouldn't be too crowded yet...and still pretty shady and cool.  We enjoyed eating and talking for two hours there - glorious view, nice shady table...everyone seemed content.

We next made our way down to LaQuinta, where they were staying so they could change, and I went in search of parking so we could beach it in front of Clayton's.  Holy smokes - that was a disaster.  Poor parking by space hogs (no striped parking - one hopes people will be reasonable - but no) left zero parking despite 15 minutes of my circling.  I ended up across the highway in over-flow parking.  I'd brought some bottled water with me, and couldn't enter Clayton's with that in hand - so we walked around the side and another 'holy smokes' moment!  The crowds looked so thick I couldn't see a path to the water.  We wanted to see the Sand Castle contest so we finally made our way down to the beach area in front of LaQuinta and saw Sandy Feet and Emerson at the conclusion of another fun contest morning.  I was so hot from slogging through extremely hot loose sand that I didn't even pull out my camera.  I regret that now.

We ended up finding a path to the water enough to just rinse and cool our feet and then decided the deck, under the palapa-style umbrellas was the better solution on this crowded day.  We enjoyed the glorious view of the water and sort of skimmed the top of umbrellas and the hoards.  Good plan.

My guests decided Clayton's had it all, so they didn't want to venture away for dinner and would happily eat bar food, listen to music, and watch fireworks where they didn't have to move and could walk right back up to their room at the end of the evening.  I left to go home and shower/change before the evening and we reconnected around 7:30.  Zack was playing sand volleyball and Lisa was enjoying the view and the music.  It was cool and breezy and Pelican West was doing Beatles covers when I arrived...I was one happy camper.  Fireworks promptly at 9:15 and then the final hour of Pelican West music had the dance floor hopping.

The most fun part of the evening was watching the people around us.  A group next to us was having a rip roaring good time with their parents and in-laws...the grandma on oxygen was up dancing with her portable oxygen machine...and everyone was happy to be spending the evening at "the place that had everything"...something I heard repeatedly about Clayton's Saturday night.  The group next to us were on their last night of vacation and had just found Clayton's.  They really ended their vacation with a party!  I sure hope they got home safely because those folks were partying hardy!

Pelican West is a great band - they cover a huge variety of favorites and the crowd was up and dancing...young ones, old ones, fat ones, skinny ones, break dancing, getting funky, couple was goin' on!  I so enjoy watching people having a good time.  I was a bit bummed that my husband was on-call and unable to be with me...'cause my feet wanted to boogie!  I don't think my feet or hands stopped doing a chair boogie the entire time I listened.  My son would have noted that my head was bobbing...which it always does when I listen to music.  I have plans for Mr. Flip Flop and dancing soon...he just doesn't know it yet :-)

I liked that Clayton's had some non-alcoholic choices and the grill was hopping (we had basic nachos with jalapenos and virgin pina coladas - I was driving).  I can't say I liked the daytime crowds at Clayton's but I did enjoy watching the banana boat off the beach, the sky diver's making perfect landings in front of Clayton's and the best, visiting with my friend of 54 years!

Photo by Zack Turner - at Louie's Backyard

I had intended to swing by Wanna Wanna and listen to the Bongodogs...but I was so tired I just pointed my car home.  The downside of all of this was it took me 45 minutes to make a 15 minute drive home!  The trail of tail lights across the causeway was long and slow.

Overall...Good times, good times.  Bay front or beach front...there's lots to do on South Padre Island at night in the Summer!!!

The video above is of the fireworks display - sorry for the jittery sound - I just did the point and record thing and it is what it is.  Enjoy!!!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Where to Buy Fresh Seafood in SPI Area

I often get asked "where do you go to buy fish or shrimp to cook at home?"  I struggled with this when I first moved here because I was used to a fish department in our local grocery store in Austin.  When the one place I knew about down here closed, I was frustrated and at a loss.  I was then referred to a replacement vendor and all was well.  Over the past six years, though, I have found more places!  I'm going to summarize my experience with each and have them all on one blog post.  Hopefully, that will help folks in search of fish or shrimp to have while on vacation or to take home!

Quik Stop: One of my favorite locations to buy shrimp and the occasional fresh fish.  Depending on season, you can stumble upon some locally caught grouper, flounder, or scarlet snapper.  They do import, so not always local - ask.  I wrote a blog post previously and it is linked here.  I've never been disappointed with their shrimp.  They were my sole provider for several years.  They do sell large boxes of block-frozen shrimp but I've not bought that.  I rarely need 5 pounds at one time and while I know others say to just run water over the end for what you need...that sounds like work to me.  I prefer individually frozen or already thawed shrimp (believe me when I tell you I now know that ALL shrimp is frozen on the boat - if you are buying thawed, it has been thawed at the store).

Los Tortugas:  In the bluish green building in front of HEB Port Isabel - between the Stripes and the Burger King.  Address is officially 1683 Hwy 100.  This is a new find for me.  I prepared some of their shrimp for dinner this week and am heading back on Friday to get a five-pound bag of IQF shrimp to have in my freezer.  I love individually frozen shrimp - I can thaw what I need and it always tastes fresh - it is individually blast frozen on the boat and I can control when it is thawed.  Their card says "Family owned and operated, from our boats to your table".  That's what I like to hear!  Drop in or call 956-943-5602 to see what's available or place an order.  Good people!  They also sell fresh ceviche and other items.  I don't have experience with that though.   I knew I had some good shrimp when I opened the bag, that they put in ice without me having to ask, and it smelled like I was standing on the beach sniffing fresh Gulf salty water...not a hint of "fishiness'..just beautiful freshness.  That's what I'm looking for!

Dirty Al's Seafood and Restaurants - most of their restaurants in this chain have a raw seafood case where you may purchase seafood to take with you. Ask for ice if you have more than a 5 minute drive.  I have purchased shrimp far in the past at the Dirty Al's SPI location, more recently at Daddy's, as well as at their free-standing seafood market next to Dirty Al's Pelican Station in Port Isabel.  Shrimp has always been good and smelled fresh.  Much of the other seafood is imported - always ask the should be labeled.  Check out this previous blog post.

Joe's Oyster Bar and Gulf Seafood Market - a Port Isabel standard for delicious fresh shrimp and oysters, as well as cooked seafood plates.  Always fresh, always delicious...for over 30 years!  You can find them at 207 Maxan in Port Isabel (the first street north of Hwy 100 - turn at the light by the post office for easiest access.  The building says "GULF SEAFOOD...OYSTER BAR".  Locals love it, tourists return year after year when they visit.  Can't go wrong here!

Reyes Seafood Market - Laguna Heights/Port Isabel area - I admit I have never stopped in.  My friend, Iris, said she always buys her seafood there and she loves it.  So, I'll add it to the list because I trust her judgement.  They are at 716 Hwy 100 on the left side if you are heading towards the island.

I also know there is shrimp to be had at Blue Marlin on the island - but I've never bought it there.  They do show source in their case and last time I was there, it was all imported.  I have heard from others that this is NOT always the case and that it is quite, I'm adding it to the list.  Please feel free to leave me a comment and I'll consider adding comment data to this section.

Last, but not least, I have heard good things about buying shrimp from shrimpers down on Port Road and/or South Shore Drive in Port Isabel.  I have no experience with them at all.  I've heard they sell I may need to check that out.

I love shrimp, most of my kids and grandkids love shrimp or fresh fish...having access to delicious fresh seafood is one of the true joys of living at the coast.  I hope you find this helpful.  Not much better than a big old pot of shrimp boil thrown out on the table for everyone to enjoy!!!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Spicy Shrimp Teriyaki Stir Fry

Last week-end I was in Austin and stopped into Central Market to pick up SIX bottles of my favorite Teriyaki Marinade/Sauce.  It is sooo delish!  I used to find it down here at the coast from time to time, but not recently.  We love the stuff, so I had to lay in a supply!  They didn't even blink as I checked out.

The last time I used the last bit on hand, Mr. Flip Flop said "you know, this would taste really good with shrimp".... and all I could think was "yes, but it would double the cost of my week-night dinner!"  I started feeling guilty about that, so today I stopped in and got some incredibly fresh smelling large shrimp at Los Tortugas in Port Isabel.  I'll write more about them in an upcoming blog...but I'll say today...a high contender for some of the best wild shrimp in the area!  When I prepped it - it smelled like fresh ocean water.  That is a very good thing!

Here's the way I put this dish together.  It was absolutely delicious.

by Debbi Hook


1 pound large fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/3 bottle Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce, shaken very well
1 Tbsp. Chili Garlic Paste
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Lite Soy Sauce
1 large or 2 small zucchini squash, quartered and sliced
1 small sweet onion, large diced
6 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 large red bell pepper, sliced and large diced
1 package prepared mixed chopped salad (I used HEB Fiesta Salad Mix this time - but have also used broccoli slaw as well as chopped Asian salad blend found at Wal-mart or Sam's Club)
1 Tbsp corn starch mixed with 4 Tbsp water to make a smooth slurry
White or Brown rice - cooked.  I used the HEB frozen steamable brown rice in a bag.  4 minutes.  Done!

Thinly sliced green onion and raw sesame seeds for topping


Prep all vegetables and set aside.  Clean and de-vein shrimp and keep cold until ready to add to pan.

In the largest pan you have (if you don't have a wok - which I don't), add the olive oil and chili garlic paste.  Bring temperature to medium high then add all prepped vegetables except the bagged mix.

Stir fry until vegetables begin to soften.  Add soy sauce and toss.

Add the chopped salad mixture and stir to coat with sauce. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes.  Add shrimp and stir fry for 1-2 minutes.

Start the rice in the microwave if you are using the steam bag.  Add the Teriyaki sauce to the stir fry and bring to a boil, stirring to coat all ingredients.

Add the completely smooth slurry and stir until returns to boil and sauce thickens.

Add prepared rice and stir to coat.

Plate the dish and sprinkle with green onion and raw sesame seeds.  Serve immediately!

I baked a box of HEB frozen chicken egg rolls and served on the side with some Duck Sauce.
Did I say how delicious this dish was?  Oy vay... Enjoy!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

La Hacienda - Take Two


My first, and only, visit to La Hacienda on South Padre Island's beautiful bay front was less than stellar.  We went on a holiday week-end, during their inaugural Summer.  They were short staffed, it was a tortuously long wait, the hostess bordered on rude (and I'm being generous), and 2 out of 4 at the table didn't care for their food,.  I never wanted to spend my restaurant dollars there again.  For many months I heard nothing but the same sort of thing we experienced...and then I heard "nothing"...crickets.

In mid-winter 2013/2014 I began seeing La Hacienda in Facebook posts again, people raving about the food, the location, and the good service.  I smiled to myself and thought "okay - that's good - they got their act together".  The restaurant and amazing view is outstanding.  I always had hoped it would make it, turning around all of the bad experience into good.  It appears they have!

Mr. Flip Flop came home Monday in a very good mood after winning a very nice prize at work and getting off work early after having spent a grueling two days on-call at the hospital.  After he sat in his recliner for a bit, resting after the work day, he said "let me take you out to dinner"...and I was on that like a chicken on a june bug!

Our original thoughts were going to one of our favorites but as we hit the island, I mentioned I felt bad that we never went anywhere "new" and there were some places we might want to consider.  I told him that I'd been hankerin' to try La Hacienda again and told him about the locals who seemed to really enjoy it.  Being Monday, I wasn't sure they were open (many restaurants close on Monday down here) but it was worth checking.  He was agreeable so we headed over after a quick stop at the Blue Marlin for lottery tickets.  He felt like it was a lucky day so he wanted a ticket.  Fingers crossed!

When we arrived, it was nearly 7:00 and there were only three cars in the parking lot.  We looked at each other and wondered if that was a bad sign.  I took it as a good sign that I wouldn't have to wait this time!  I said I suspected many people might assume they were closed on Monday, like I had wondered and to get out of the car, because we were going in.  I later learned they were open every day.  Yay!

We were promptly greeted by our very friendly and efficient wait person, Graham.  He gave us the latitude to sit inside or out - anywhere we wanted.  Knowing my husband can't stand the sun in his eyes and it was glaring off the water as it prepared to set over the bay, we positioned ourselves so the sun was blocked by the space between two windows.  Glorious view, partially blocked sun.  I know they don't want to block the view, but some sort of sun protection would be nice.  I imagine we are not the only ones bothered by this issue.

We were promptly offered drinks, appetizers, and menus...we ordered our liquid refreshment and began perusing the menu.  Looked pretty much the same as I remembered, which is good for comparison purposes.  Our drinks came PDQ with a small bowl of salsa and really outstanding chips.  I might have mentioned previously that chips and salsa down here are rarely to my taste.  The salsa at La Hacienda was slightly spicy but delicious and the way I like it.  The chips tasted freshly made but not over-cooked like so many chips I encounter on the island.  Excellent start to our second visit.

I really waffled between ordering Chicken al Carbon or a plate called The Saltillo.  I finally chose the latter because it had a variety of items - including a beef enchilada, a seasoned ground beef taco, and two "Yolanda's Peppers" along with beans and rice.  Mr. Flip Flop decided to have the Chili Relleno plate, like he'd had on our first visit.  He loved it then and he really wanted it again!

We enjoyed the view, the nice cloud formations that remind us of puffy Summer clouds, and the sun slowly moving down over the West side of the bay.  More people arrived while we waited for our meals - so we came at just the right time.  Our drinks were refilled and our waiter checked on us, but was not intrusively attentive.  Just right.

Our meals came out, also at just the right time, we were starting to get hungry, but we weren't checking our watches!  Another "just right".

Mr. Flip Flop's Chili Relleno was reportedly wonderful.  I think I kinda heard him moan when he bit into it, causing me to smile to myself.  I'm glad it was as good as he remembered it.
Chili Relleno

My plate was HOT.  I dabbled about with my tasty beans and rice as I allowed things to cool just a bit.  My first bite was the beef enchilada and I have to say it was superb!  The red sauce was perfect, a generous amount of cheese, and the meat was tender and moist.  Two thumbs up there!  I next sampled a bit of the Yolanda's Peppers.  They are whole jalapenos stuffed with ground beef and cheese.  They are dipped in batter and fried, then topped with a light avocado cream sauce.  They were much bigger than I expected!  They were HOT - temperature wise and spicy the closer I got to the stem.  I could only eat one and Mr. Flip Flop ate the other.  They were quite delicious.  I would have been happy with some extra avocado sauce to dip my bites in...the breaded crust absorbed the cream sauce by the time I got to it.  I'll know to ask for extra on the side next time.  I was starting to get full by the time I made it to the taco - served in a corn tortilla, lightly fried, but still soft.  I will say it was good, but not great.  The meat was kind of dry and bland by the time I got to it - I suspect that's my fault for eating it last.  I ate half and Mr. Flip Flop ate the other half.  The other flavors were so powerful and seasoned that I think my tongue was underwhelmed by the less seasoned taco.  I would also have enjoyed some cheese on the taco.  Still, I was so filled by that time, I certainly don't hold the taco against them.  It was certainly generous in proportions - the plate was really large and a reasonable $13.
The Saltillo Platter

Overall, I definitely believe they have gotten their feet underneath them.  I doubt I will go back on a holiday week-end (actually we don't go ANYWHERE on a holiday week-end) but I think we can comfortably add it to our restaurant rotation.  I really want to try the Chicken al Carbon dish - it sounded awesome.  I'm thinking Monday nights are a good night to go out and eat at La Hacienda!


4 – Lip smackin’ - good quality – flip flops will definitely be parked under their table again!

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