Monday, July 17, 2006

Sartin the Crab Man

Although I never got to know him when he was at The Austin Chronicle, Robb Walsh of the Houston Press is one of my favorite food writers. He knows his stuff, writes about it well and pulls no punches when they’re deserved.

Walsh's Tex-Mex Cookbook makes me almost as hungry as the gatefold of ZZ Top's Tres Hombres. His Legends of Texas Barbecue cookbook won a James Beard award.

Walsh tackled the Sartin’s Seafood dynasty last week. Sartin’s is best known for its barbecued crabs (which are actually deep-fried, not barbecued) along with some of the best family platter service on the Gulf Coast. As Walsh aptly puts it, “barbecued crab is Maine lobster and drawn butter's roughneck cousin from Beaumont.”

Barbecued crabs were invented in Sabine Pass, Texas at a restaurant called Granger’s that burned down in 1958. The first Sartin’s opened in Sabine Pass in 1972. Damage wrought by successive hurricanes and the permanent closure of Highway 87 between High Island and Sabine Pass eventually forced them out of the low-lying city at the extreme southeastern edge of Texas.

Today, there are three Sartin’s – one in Nederland owned by Doug Sartin’s first ex-wife, one in Beaumont owned by Doug Sartin’s second (estranged) wife and a third in Clear Lake owned by Doug's sister, Kelli Sartin. It's clear from the story that none of these women are particularly fond of each other.

Walsh’s story is built around a beer-fueled crabbing excursion with fun-loving Doug. A typical exchange goes like this:

“I asked him about his two former wives. His estranged wife, Emily, looks just like his ex-wife Kim, he said. People think they're sisters. Having seen a photo of Kim Lynch on her Web site, I said she was a good-looking woman.

Doug laughed and said he bought those titties - and his second wife's, too – four titties total. I reminded Doug that I was a reporter and we were on the record. He said he was just a commercial fisherman and he could say whatever he wanted.”

Good reading about good eating, indeed.

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