BROWNSVILLE — A blue marlin dives toward a table of diners; its flight frozen in mid-air by a taxidermist.
The smells of blackened fish tacos, crawfish etouffee and ribeye flow into the dining room of Dirty Al’s Seafood Market and Cajun Kitchen, taunting me with conjurings of ocean tastes and Louisiana spice.
It’s a little after the lunch crowd, but I imagine this restaurant at 4495 North Expressway 77 to be a popular place.
It feels so alive and I recall again the seaside cafés and restaurants of my native Corpus Christi and surrounding places, Rockport, Port Aransas and Loyola Beach.
This is a taste of the nostalgic in a modern setting, with large screen TVs, fish tangled in nets hanging from the ceiling and pelicans perched on wooden pallets hovering like magic carpets.
My young waitress is quick to bring my coffee and a glass of water, and I look over the menu to find a broad variety of dishes.
The fried seafood section lists enticing dishes like the Mardi Gras combo, red snapper ribs, and the fish and shrimp combo. The quesadillas in the Mexican section grab my attention, as does the shrimp brochette and ribeye in the Surf and Turf section.
Ultimately, feeling somewhat nostalgic as I’ve just mentioned, I request an old favorite: fried oysters and French fries. I sip my coffee for a few minutes and relax in the seaside world well-fashioned to convey myriad sensations.
The expansive dining room allows for spacing of tables which accommodates a sense of privacy while at the same time allowing patrons to draw on the energy of other diners. High ceiling fans circulate the air, and a woman’s upbeat country voice fills the restaurant with a pleasant afternoon energy.
An impressive bar holds a commanding presence, and TV screens offer football games, scuba diving videos and movie trailers of transformers engaged in heated battle.
My meal arrives, a basket filled to its edge with French fries and fried oysters broken into bite-sized morsels that are a perfect fit for my mouth without burning it.
I recall in years past when I had fried oysters I’d have to wait until they cooled down. Chopping them into small pieces allows them to release more heat more quickly and therefore cool down enough for quick consumption.
However, quick consumption is not the way of this particular meal. It’s so good I want to take my time and savor every nuance.
“Sir, is everything alright?” my waitress asks.
And then at the next table, “Thank you for all your help” says a man leaning into a walker and handing her a bundle of fresh green before heading out the door.
Moments of kindness, generosity and service are tasty morsels of time in themselves, experiences to be savored and repeated long after the flavor of the meal is gone.