Houston Restaurant Eugene’s Gulf Coast Offers Some of the Best Gumbo & Fresh Fish
View more photos from Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine on my Facebook page.
I spent six years of my childhood as a Texas ranch girl. Eugene’s Gulf Coast at 1985 Welch reminds me of the kind of restaurant we’d dress up for (as my grandmother would say, we “cleaned up real good”) and drive 35 miles to visit. My grandmother only ate the familiar, my uncle only ordered steak and I ordered — well, whatever my little heart desired. That’s not to call Eugene’s “fine dining”. The main dining room is indeed well-appointed, but it’s the more casual front dining area next to the lengthy bar that has my heart.
Eugene’s, tucked away in a quiet Montrose neighborhood, is the successor to Danton’s Gulf Coast. The latter — known and loved for its fresh oysters and signature gumbo made with a deeply cooked roux — was forced to close when the building that had long housed it was slated for demolition. Danton’s closed in September 2019, and Eugene’s Gulf Coast debuted nine months later, taking over the space once occupied by Mockingbird Bistro. Eugene’s had five-and-a-half months to establish loyal clientele before the Great Pandemic Shutdown of 2020.
Owner Kyle Teas is a third-generation Houstonian who says he still keeps in touch with some of his high school and college classmates. In addition, several of the Danton’s regulars followed him over and the neighborhood residents embraced having a new restaurant in that space. So, it’s safe to say that he has built a lot of loyal support over the years. “Within three days, we had people lined up down the street,” he said. “It was really meaningful.”
You, like me, may wonder why owner Teas didn’t just reopen as Danton’s. It seems that he simply felt that it was time for a fresh start. “I wanted to pay homage to my dad. It was his name and my middle name,” he said. “We had a great run at Danton’s but wanted to create something with a little different atmosphere.”
Still, Eugene’s Gulf Coast, although only a few years old, feels steeped in history thanks to the combination of Danton’s history and the former Mockingbird Bistro space. Teas has added his own touches, though, such as the wood panels and light fixtures from Danton’s. The bar was rescued from the Joske’s store downtown. (You’ll have to look that one up, kids. It closed a long time ago.) The chandeliers are from the legendary, long-gone restaurant Sonny Look’s, which was also in downtown Houston.
It sounds like an interior design mish-mash, but the end result feels like a well-established Texas seafood restaurant (Teas says the steaks are excellent, too), and the dark wood accents, long, curved bar and high-ceilinged former dining room add sophistication. The space hits a comfortable middle ground of formal enough for a celebration yet casual enough to pop in and sit at the bar for a beer and a half-dozen Gulf oysters, some boudin balls or, my favorite, the Crab-Stuffed Jalapeños. The latter are huge, also stuffed with Monterrey jack and cheddar, and only $3 each during happy hour. (The rest of the time, a plate of four costs $14.75.) Two practically make a meal — but stopping there would be a shame.
I’ve long revered Danton’s gumbo and am gratified that it was carried over to Eugene’s. There are different styles of gumbo, and everyone has a favorite, but Eugene’s serves the kind I like. The foundation is a dark roux. Making a proper dark roux without burning it takes patience, time and constant stirring. The result is the color of mahogany, with the well-cooked flour and fat transformed into a thickening sauce with aromas of nuts and baked bread. I could have ordered just a bowl of gumbo and a glass or two of red wine and left happy, but there was no way I was leaving without a taste of fresh fish.
The gumbo is a two-day process. The cook wears leather overalls to protect against splatter. (Hot roux is roughly the temperature of molten lava. Teas says he still has some burn marks from back in the day when he made the roux himself.) After it’s made, the roux goes into the cooler to chill overnight. The next day, the stock pot is filled with the other gumbo stock ingredients, such as crab shells and the “trinity” — the traditional Louisiana mirepoix of onions, bell peppers and celery. The aromatics are strained out, the roux mixed in, and the mixture goes into the cooler another night. The next day, the stock is heated, seafood and other ingredients are added and the gumbo is ready to serve.
There are indeed specials, such as grouper, snapper and mahi-mahi. The selections on the Gulf Coast Dinners menu are Texas farm-raised redfish and catfish. Have it any way you like thanks to the variety of preparation choices: fire-grilled over oak and hickory, fried in peanut oil, pan-broiled or blackened. Additional fresh fish dishes on on the Signature Dishes and Gulf Coast Classics menu, including broiled redfish with crab claw meat stuffing and Salmon Bianca, which is rubbed with rosemary and thyme, grilled over hickory and topped with Bianca sauce, a white sauce made with white wine.
Feeling in the mood for both spice and a classic preparation, I selected blackened redfish. The filet I received represented pitch-perfect preparation, with a bold sear outside and silken texture inside. The fresh hunks of grilled veggies — that night a mix of carrots, zucchini and yellow squash — helped with my virtue, but I have to confess that the dish that excited me most on the plate was the extra-large, twice-baked potato. It’s good ol’ comfort food, but the key is there has to be enough of the flavor and texture elements mashed into the potato mixture. You have to go hard or go home with the cheese, sour cream, butter and bacon — and Eugene’s met my expectations. (The portion is so generous that it, like the Crab-Stuffed Jalapeños, could be a meal unto itself. Don’t take up a table for this; just belly up to the bar and enjoy your casual meal. Besides, talking to bartenders is the best.)
For new visitors, Teas recommends soft-shell crab (when in season), Oysters Montrose with jumbo lump crabmeat, cheese and garlic, and, of course, the gumbo. For dessert (which I woefully had to skip out on, having stuffed myself already), he recommends white chocolate bread pudding, key lime pie, crème brûlée and Peanut Butter Pie with a graham cracker crust.
“Eugene’s is for good people who have a sense of family, enjoy great food and have high but reasonable expectations,” said Teas. “We’re here for people who enjoy great seafood and a fun environment.”
Eugene’s Gulf Coast is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch is served on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sadly, Danton’s Blues Brunch did not carry over. Teas says he doesn’t have enough room now.) Happy hour, served in the oyster bar area only, is Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. Note that the restaurant does have a detailed “business casual” dress code. Visit the website for details.
Update, 11/10/2023, 1:03 p.m.: This article was updated with additional fish dishes and a correction to the time between when Danton’s closed and Eugene’s opened.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.