Smooth Tony’s: Finding Buried Treasure in the Backyard

{Originally Published in The Island Guide, October 12, 2012}

One can easily forget, when strolling the streets of downtown Galveston, that the mainland is a mere three miles away. It seems entirely possible that there is some portal or wormhole positioned discreetly in the center of the causeway, and even though you may feel that you have only traveled minutes, you have actually traversed centuries and transcended a distinct, often-stereotyped Texas culture. This is perhaps why many Islanders view the link between Island and mainland as a menacing monstrosity to be utilized only when absolutely necessary.

And so it is fitting that Smooth Tony’s is the product of an Island native, for the nearly indescribable aura of this relatively undiscovered establishment provides, in true Galveston fashion, a complete and utter respite from daily life, and likewise can very easily provide a vacation within a vacation. The first time you visit Smooth Tony’s you will wonder how it is that you have never before been there. At the same time you may feel like you have been coming there your entire life.

Smooth Tony’s is simply the kind of place that beckons, with an atmosphere that draws you in and transports you to a world of tranquility, a world where the harmonies of jazz play into a peace that is contagious, a world that gives solace to those with family in the hospital as easily as it shares laughter with the locals. If these seem lofty words for a sandwich and smoothie joint, one trip to Smooth Tony’s Backyard will justify the claims entirely. In the Backyard it indeed feels that the steely architecture and stoic façade of the University of Texas Medical Branch is miles and miles away, instead of just across the street.

Tony Gonzales, the owner and namesake of this getaway, is also the author of its ambiance. Tony has an affinity for plants, artistic copper working, New Orleans style, and for transforming discarded antiques into treasures. The soothing sound of running water from various fountains about the outdoor area underscores a display of various foliage, metal works, and refurbished antiques, all lovingly made, grown, or re-made, by Tony. Even the large orange tree, the star of the Backyard, was grown from a seed of an orange used in one of the first smoothies Tony ever made. Included in the collection are a door from a house in New Orleans and an iron balcony from Bourbon Street, both of which surely feel right at home when local jazz musicians liven up a scene that could easily be mistaken for The Big Easy itself.

Smooth Tony’s also falls in step with the Island as a place of restoration and re-invention. This restaurant is yet another local business that offers proof of the circle of Island life that gracefully transforms history into a launching pad for the future. The building was originally constructed in 1890, and was home to a barber shop for forty years, from 1944 to 1984. It was then owned by an elderly resident, and Tony was contracted to repair the porch in 1995. When the resident passed away a few months later, the family contacted Tony. He agreed to purchase the building, and opened Smooth Tony’s in 1997 as a juice and smoothie bar. At the front of the building, nestled in the landscape, a red and white striped barber’s pole sits proudly and quietly to commemorate the journey and the progress rendered from the archives of Galveston history.

Soon after opening, Smooth Tony’s began to receive requests for sandwiches, burgers, and other lunch items. Tony decided that if was to expand, he “didn’t want just any burger, I wanted the best burger.” He remembered the best burger he had ever eaten, and tracked down the man whose hands had made the patty. That man was Chef Isias Amaya, who soon came on board and helped the kitchen respond to the demands and expand their menu to accommodate the burgeoning lunch interest. Thus the menu grew, as did the collection on the patio, and both are testaments to the patience and steadfastness with which Tony has slowly created and maintained the easy atmosphere and eclectic vibe. After sixteen years of business he still remarks, “This is just the beginning,” and Smooth Tony’s continues to grow, adapt, and thrive.

Occasionally Tony offers daily specials inspired by the recipes from his mother’s kitchen, but he consistently offers delicious wraps, handmade burgers, and nearly famous fish tacos. Known particularly for its lunch crowd which often forms a line out the front door and down to the sidewalk, Smooth Tony’s has extended their hours to accommodate evening crowds as well, on Thursday and Friday nights. They carry a full selection of wines and craft beers to enhance the live music, usually jazz or acoustic, and usually always in the Backyard.

A particular piece of advice may be offered to prospective diners, and that is that if you would like a quick lunch Smooth Tony’s can accommodate you, but if time is of the essence then happily eat your fare amid the rich, vintage wood and earthy feel of the dining room. If you go out to the Backyard, it is quite possible you will stay much longer than you intended.

Smooth Tony’s

415 9th St.

M-W 10:30-2:30, Th&Fr 10:30-9


Sandwiches, Wraps, Burgers, Beer & Wine

Backyard available for Private Parties

Dine-in and To-go .

Live Music every Thursday and Friday Night