By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
How does a coffee bar in Dallas transform into a well-known seafood restaurant? For Half Shells at the Shops at Legacy, 5800 Legacy Dr., the story dates back to 1994.
While treating himself to his usual breakfast at the coffee bar, Bill Bane came up with the concept of turning the coffee bar into an oyster bar. Throughout the years, Bill and wife Lovett, have endured name infringement and ownerships differences. Despite their adversities, determination and resiliency enabled the couple to create Half Shells, and spin-off restaurants, carrying the successfully trademarked name, “Fish City Grill.” The company continues to expand across the southern states, as there are presently a number of locations, dispersed from Houston to Florida.
If you Google “Fish City Grill” the results will convey the self-proclaimed “Best Seafood Joint in Dallas.” For any restaurant, that’s bold statement, which means they’re only asking to be reviewed.
Accompanied by my Cajun associate as a consultant for authenticity, we entered the restaurant with an open mind and an empty stomach.
Half Shells displays daily drink and food specials on a blackboard. These items tend to be more grandiose than the actual menu. During my visit, intriguing items included Mahi Mahi, Panko Crusted Salmon, and Pecan Crusted Rainbow Trout. ($15-19)
With seven signature drinks, Half Shells has a large bar that takes up nearly half of the restaurant. Their house cocktails lean on the sweeter side, but if you’re a bourbon drinker try the Blackberry Smash ($8.25). Otherwise, the well-known Hurricane ($6.50) is a popular, yet traditional option. The wine list is limited, but there are enough varietals to choose from if food pairing is your forté.
Don’t waste your time looking over the appetizer section. Unless your group wants to try a variety of apps, believe your server’s recommendation and order the award wining Oyster Nachos ($7.99). Crispy fried oysters, a sweet chipotle tartar sauce, and fresh pico de gallo piled on a tortilla chip equals the quintessential bar food. The fresh pico has the right amount of acidity and cilantro to balance out the rich fried oyster. For those who are averse to oysters on the half shell, this preparation is a great “beginner’s oyster.” Did I mention they’re $5 on Wednesdays? Sit at the bar, have a few drinks, and gluttonize on Oyster Nachos.
If you’re an oyster purist, raw Gulf ($7.99) and Blue Point ($9.99) oysters are offered by the half dozen. Blue Points, my personal favorites, are more expensive, but these Atlantic mollusks are smaller and have a hint of sweetness in the after taste. Create your perfect bite with the additional condiments of lemon juice, horseradish, cocktail sauce, and Tabasco. Be mindful of the amateur oyster shucker, as pieces of shell may wind up in your mouth creating a hazardous eating environment for your teeth.
Crawfish season has begun and is in full swing. Half Shells offers crayfish by the pound at market price, served either regular or “Nitro.” Disappointingly, the crustaceans came out a little flat, unless you happen to grab one that has been smothered in seasoning. One piece of corn and one potato accompanied our pound of crawfish. The potato was cooked well but the heavy dose of salt made it hard to swallow. Be cautious of the crawfish broth at the bottom of the bowl. The broth may look enticing, but the salty liquid had to be chased with refreshing gulp of my Hurricane.
Half Shells has an array of seafood options to please most guests. For those opposed to fish or shell fish they do offer Grilled Chicken Breast ($8.99), Blackened Chicken Sandwich ($7.99), “Darn Good” Burger, ($7.99), Red beans and Rice ($3.99/cup $6.99/bowl), as well as Mac n’ Cheese ($9.99).
Serafin’s Fish Tacos ($10.99) are quoted as, the “Best Fish Tacos in Town.” Fried tilapia, “tangy” cabbage, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, a “ranchero” sauce, rolled in a flour tortilla then grilled is essentially a fish burrito. The idea is “outside the box,” but rolling a crispy piece of tilapia inside a flour tortilla with slaw and a creamy sauce makes little sense. The fish batter is tasty, but turns soggy do to all the “fixens” inside the burrito.
Offering five different proteins for their Po’ Boy, the toasted baguette with creole mayo is best consumed with the fried oysters. Substituting Red Beans and Rice instead of fries seemed like a good idea at the time. To my dismay, the ratio of rice to red beans was 4 to 1. My counterpart lucked out with the gumbo. A Cajun specialty, the “Dark Roux” is hard to master. Not too burnt but just dark enough, the gumbo was a well-seasoned stew and rich enough to stick to my bones.
Crab cakes are often replete with bread and other extraneous fillers. The Lump Crab Cake Sandwich ($11.99) barely has enough filler to hold itself together, which is a good sign. The remoulade on the wheat bun was just sweet and rich enough to augment the crab cake.
Dining with a large party? If so, Half Shells has you covered. Boil it Big offers different varieties of crab. The Beach Party serves 4 at $49.99.
Aiming to please, Half Shells offers over ten different sides to accompany your entrée. Take your time and choose wisely. But they can be hit or miss depending on the day.
Taking a moment to breathe, I pondered over the three desert options. Making it easy, I usually ask for, “the house specialty, please.” In this case, homemade bread pudding ($4.99) was the server’s decision. Coming in a bowl, soaked in a whiskey anglaise the massive piece of bread pudding made my heart stop.
“Really, sir, did you not just see how much I ate, and now you want me to consume this?”
Tasting like a gourmet version of “Cinnabon,” the pudding, san raisins, was hot and particularly tasty on the chilly evening that we last visited the restaurant. Needless to say, the portion was large enough that between the two of us, we only managed a few bites.
Overall, our server was well versed and an obvious veteran of Half Shells. Sadly, his expeditious intent flooded our table with entrees before we were finished with our appetizers, leaving little room to maneuver.
P.S: If you work in Plano or use the Tollway as part of your daily commute, stop at Half Shells for happy hour, offered Monday through Friday, from 4-7 p.m. Those $2 Domestic Lights, $3 Wells, and $3.50 Ritas, will turn any bad day into a good day.
Over All: 2 and half stars
Food: 3 stars
Beverages: 2 and a half
Service: 2 and a half stars
Atmosphere: 2 stars
Price $$ to $$$
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25