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

www.smoothtonys.com

409.765.5200

Sandwiches, Wraps, Burgers, Beer & Wine

Backyard available for Private Parties

Dine-in and To-go .

Live Music every Thursday and Friday Night

 

Seaside Bistro: A Hidden Gem

{This article originally published in The Island Guide, September 28, 2012}

Seaside Bistro

A Hidden Gem

By Kimber Fountain

 

Seaside Bistro has been in operation for several years, hidden away in the center of The Victorian Condo Hotel at 6300 Seawall Blvd. Despite its location inside a popular vacation rental spot it has always maintained a loyal local following, which has grown tremendously since the operation and management of the Bistro was taken over by Todd MacKenzie and Thomas Fiero in late January of 2012. These two men are true Galveston entrepreneurs, focused on bringing quality goods and services to the Island. Their resume currently includes Galveston Pack & Ship, a joint venture in Galveston Island Costumes, and Lucky Lounge, and they were the proprietors of Oysters Bar & Grill on Post Office, which was closed after Hurricane Ike.

Walking up through the hotel to the Bistro almost gives you that sensation of how it must have felt in Galveston during Prohibition, to know the secret route along the back alleys to the speak-easy. (Thankfully signs clearly mark the way from the parking lot so it isn’t too mysterious.) The Garden Room is surrounded by enormous picture windows that overlook the well-landscaped atrium below. They provide a wonderful natural light and open up the room tremendously to give the effect of private patio dining, without concern for the weather. This hidden gem is the first restaurant Todd and Thomas have operated since the loss of Oysters; when they heard the business was for sale it seemed to be a natural fit for two gentlemen who love Galveston and truly appreciate the history and character of the Island.

Todd, stoic and sophisticated, is focused primarily on the business side of the partnership and the restaurant, but he lavishly praises the passion, dedication, and enthusiasm of Thomas and the joy he derives from his work in the kitchen. Indeed a dining experience at Seaside Bistro is a subtle reflection of the complementary differences of the two owners. The atmosphere is simple, a bit reserved, almost subdued, but then the food hits the table and wow. At the very sight of the dish in front of you, your mouth begins to water, and you can taste the love that went in to its preparation before you even take the first bite.

Thomas grew up in a large Italian family, and the reputation of Italians and cooking is nearly as synonymous as Texas and oil. A few of his mother’s recipes are favorites on the menu, but he believes the secret is truly in the freshness. A simple club sandwich can be extraordinary when the ingredients are fresh, and the side of vegetables almost outshines the huge portion of chicken on an entrée, so bright and fresh is their appearance.

I also appreciate the variety in their menu; they give diners a wide range of choices, which is perfect for occasions when everyone in the group is in the mood for something different. Southern style Shrimp and Grits takes its place on the menu under an unmistakably Italian selection of Chicken Cotoletta, a breaded chicken breast topped with a Tasso cream sauce and diced ham. Stuffed Flounder, a New York Strip Steak, and even Meat Loaf Roulade are prepared fresh right along with pizza, Crab Cakes, and a Cobb Salad. Desserts change often, but Mom’s bread pudding is always available.

To Thomas and Todd the mission with Seaside Bistro is really about value, and it shows in the generous portion sizes and in the quality of the ingredients, together with an incredibly reasonable price range. The breakfast menu, served all day, ranges from $3 to $8 dollars, unless you splurge on the Steak and Eggs. Entrées range from $12 to $22, and are all served with your choice of soup or salad and two side dishes. A variety of appetizers and entrée salads are available, as well. Seaside Bistro offers a full bar and liquor or wine bottle service, available in the dining room, at the pool, or in your condo.

Seaside Bistro is happy to announce they will offer a plated, full-service Thanksgiving Dinner from the hours of 11am to 4pm on Thanksgiving Day. The holiday menu is a four course festivity, with a variety of delicious, homemade options for each course. Pumpkin Soup or Shrimp Bisque to start, followed by your choice of Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, Citrus Shrimp Salad, or Field Greens. For the main course you have the option of the traditional fare, Fresh Roasted Turkey Breast with Cranberry Dressing, or for the more adventurous, a Spinach and basil Pesto Stuffed Pork Loin. Each entrée is served with four side dishes, an array of many different potatoes and vegetables are there for your choosing. You are spared your most difficult decision until the end, where you must choose between their homemade Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie, or Chocolate Mousse. Thanksgiving Dinner at Seaside also includes a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage (soda, iced tea, or coffee); only $27.99 per person.

In keeping the proverbial best for last, perhaps the most valuable asset of the Seaside Bistro is its vast capabilities as a private dining establishment, aside from its main dining rooms and Garden Room that can be reserved for private events. The Victorian Condo Hotel has over 10,000 square feet of space divided into thirteen different venues able to accommodate groups of any size. Along with easy access from Seawall Boulevard and a fresh, quality catering menu from Thomas’ kitchen, Seaside Bistro is an ideal choice for fundraisers, receptions, reunions, showers, and corporate meetings.

In any capacity, breakfast, lunch, holiday, or private dining, Seaside Bistro is sure to please residents and visitors alike. This is a perfect hideaway for Island locals who love their hideaways, and it offers guests hotel dining and room service without the hotel dining prices. Most importantly, the quality of the food is exceptional and consistent. Whether you dine at Seaside once a year or once a week, you will always look forward to going back.

 

Seaside Bistro

6300 Seawall Blvd., Inside the Victorian Condo Hotel

Park at the rear of the building and follow the signs

To-Go, Room Service, Catering, and Private Dining available

409.744.1447

www.seaside-bistro.com

Open Seven Days a Week, 7am to 9pm