A much-anticipated taste of the French Quarter arrived in Montrose last month as Acme Oyster House opened in the historic Tower Theater. The spot was last home to El Real Tex-Mex, and hungry locals now flock there to feast on raw and chargrilled oysters instead of chips and queso. (But don’t worry, seafood tacos are still on the menu.)
“Acme is known for its typical New Orleans food,” says Tony Rodrigue, food and beverage manager and corporate chef of the family-owned franchise. “Fried seafood, red beans and rice, and oysters. But for our Houston restaurant, we’ve added a few Texas specials.”
There are four Texas-exclusive tacos on the Houston menu: fried shrimp, fried oyster, fried alligator, and Boom Boom tacos (fried shrimp with the house Boom Boom sauce, chipotle ranch slaw, and green onions). And thanks to having inherited two frozen-drink machines from El Real, there are also frozen margaritas.
“Houston has impressed me with how busy the bar has been,” Rodrigue notes, “and I come from a drinking town!”
Where the tortilla station used to be, there is now an oyster-shucking station where you can watch your mollusks being prepared. You can dine on them raw on the half shell, fried, or chargrilled in a garlic-herb butter sauce and topped with Romano cheese. Unlike most oyster places in Houston, Acme’s oysters are all from the Gulf Coast and are not designated by bay. But that doesn’t seem to slow down their consumption at this new hot spot.
Another go-to menu item has been the crawfish dip. “We can’t seem to keep it on the shelf,” Rodrigue says of the appetizer, which is served with pita bread. He also recommends trying his favorite dish: a plate of butter beans cooked with shrimp and tasso served over rice, which he eats topped with fried alligator. Another of his top choices is the “10 napkin” roast beef po-boy piled high with debris (meaning shredded) meat. “We’re known for our seafood, but I’d put that up against any beef sandwich in Texas or Louisiana.”
Acme opened in 1910 in New Orleans’ French Quarter as Acme Café, but the name was changed to Acme Oyster House in 1924 when the eatery moved into another building after a fire at the original location. In 1985, it was bought by Mike Rodrigue, father of Tony Rodrigue, and his sister Monique Rodrigue Ricci, who serves as the director of marketing and branding for the business.
“No one really knows why it’s called Acme,” Rodrigue Ricci says. “We like to think it’s because the definition of acme is ‘at its best,’ or ‘perfect.’”
The chain now has five locations along the Gulf coast, but this is the first location in Texas.
“We had been looking for a few years,” she says. “Houston is like a sister city to New Orleans, so it just fits. And the neighborhood here is so like New Orleans, with so much culture and history. And when we saw this building, it just spoke to us—it has so much character. And we’re known for our neon signs, so the neon marquee out front was perfect.”
Houstonians who frequently travel to New Orleans—and those transplanted from there—were thrilled to have a taste of the French Quarter come to Montrose. April’s opening weekend saw long lines waiting to get in, and the restaurant had to shut down the following Monday and Tuesday to restock.
“I think we’re going to stay closed on those days for a while,” says Rodrigue. “It’s also a staffing issue. We’re all having a hard time staffing.” Since the pandemic caused the loss of so many jobs in the hospitality industry, restaurants around the country are struggling to hire more employees as COVID-19 restrictions ease and more people are dining out again.
Long lines are a tradition at Acme Oyster Houses (much like Houston’s popular barbecue joints), and Acme doesn’t take reservations. But Rodrigue says the lines in Houston have been socially distanced, and he’s removed about 20 tables inside to keep diners safer.
“And all the staff are wearing masks,” he adds.
When you’re ready to head out to eat again, Houston’s first Acme Oyster House should be at the top of your list for fresh Gulf Coast seafood. (But don’t forget to try that roast beef po-boy, too!)
Acme Oyster House is currently open in Houston for lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information, visit acmeoyster.com.
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.