Oyster shells crackled under the car tires as I pulled into Gilhooley’s in San Leon. The parking lot is paved with them, and a pile taller than me rose like a dune at one end of the parking lot. A storm was rolling into the small town on the Gulf Coast, and beside the restaurant two men were splitting as much wood as they could before the sky opened up. Through a screen door was the kitchen and a grill fueled with oak and pecan. I wanted a closer look to see if it was covered with oysters on the half shell for the restaurant’s signature dish, Oysters Gilhooley, but a glare from the cook sent me back around to the front door.

Andrew Zimmern called Gilhooley’s “the most notorious oyster shack on the Gulf of Mexico” when he filmed there for his Bizarre Foods show. Guy Fieri didn’t get so lucky. The server told me Fieri demanded the recipe for Oysters Gilhooley and a kitchen tour, which the owner promptly refused. T-Bone Tom’s in nearby Kemah made it onto his show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, instead. The server also said a crew from the Food Network was coming later in the day, but at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I had the place to myself. I also had a clear understanding that a kitchen tour wasn’t in my future.