Perched on the edge of the traffic circle at Camp Bowie Boulevard and Alta Mere Drive is an unassuming little building with a better-than-average pedigree: It’s the former home of Charlie’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and, more recently, the much-missed Salsa Fuego. If you didn’t know any better, though, you could drive right past the place thinking the current occupant was nothing more than a suds shack serving baskets of deep-fried everything. You’d be missing out — The Dive Oyster Bar has flavors that will make you clutch your pearls.
The Dive Oyster Bar
3520 Alta Mere Dr, FW. 817-480-4623. Closed Sun. 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted. $$
Chef Josh Rangel, formerly of Waters Bonnell’s Coastal Cuisine, is the mind behind the menu, blending classic Gulf Coast and New Orleans dishes with Korean flavors to create a fusion cuisine that is truly unlike anything else in town. The kitchen makes its own kimchi and ketchup and brines its own pickles. There are plenty of familiar fish-fry items on the menu. If you want a basket of fried catfish and hushpuppies, you can get it straight up. But you can also get hand-cut fries topped with kimchi and a fried egg.
My guest and I met up for an early weekday lunch, and we had the tiny place to ourselves. Painted a jarring electric blue and decorated with Galveston-style surf shop paraphernalia, the dining room offered little to suggest that we were in for anything unexpected. The service was friendly and very casual — it wasn’t until the menus arrived that we realized this wasn’t Margaritaville.
We started with a half-dozen oysters Roc-A-Fella broiled with spinach and bacon and topped with Parmesan cheese. The oysters were sweet and tender, tasting of the open sea and not of Houston.
The kitchen’s clam chowder was bright and delicate, a cream-based bisque that bore exactly no resemblance to the gummy white pastes we’ve all come to loathe. The flavor was carried by a good stock, and the clams, visible and distinct, tasted every bit as fresh and alive as the oysters.
Not so good was the gumbo, a grayish gruel of well-made roux and black pepper — but little else. There wasn’t much in the way of animal, vegetable, or mineral to liven up the dish, and I wished we had doubled down on the clam chowder. The gumbo is the only item we tried that I wouldn’t happily order again.
We split a blackened shrimp po’boy but asked for the toppings of kimchi and sesame aioli to come on the side. Sometimes there’s a tendency to be cautious with new flavors, but I think we would have been in good shape trusting the kitchen on this one. The house-made kimchi, a vibrant fermentation of chiles, carrots, and bok choy, was a beautiful accompaniment to the perfectly cooked shrimp. The sesame aioli gave an exotic nuttiness to the grilled French bread. The combination of flavors was effortless, natural, and delicious. The sandwich was served with a generous helping of hand-cut fries and the kitchen’s homemade ketchup.
The showpiece of our meal was the blackened redfish topped with crawfish étouffée. The kitchen serves a huge portion — plenty for two diners to share even if they hadn’t already eaten as much as we had. The redfish was flaky with a salty sear, cooked perfectly so it seemed to melt in our mouths. The étouffée had all the flavor and personality I wanted in the gumbo, along with ruby-red crawfish tails by the handful. There were no fusion twists in this dish, just a Creole classic prepared as well as any I’ve had.
It’s always exciting to see a chef venture out on his own to bring his culinary vision to the public. It’s even more exciting when so much of what he’s doing is working so well.
[box_info]The Dive Oyster Bar
Oysters Roc-A-Fella (6) $8
Gumbo (small) $7
Clam chowder (small) $7
Blackened red fish $18
Blackened shrimp po’boy $12[/box_info]