A swift Gulf breeze rustles the palm fronds that bookend Pat and Don Herron's canalside cottage on Mustang Island, Texas. Though the Herrons spend weekdays four hours north in Austin, low-key relaxation is foremost in their minds at this leafy waterfront retreat. To unwind, they cook up a storm in their restaurant-grade kitchen for a houseful of guests. "After all," Pat says, "we need somebody to cook for."
Friends hightail it to Mustang Island to indulge in Pat's spicy blackened shrimp, sip cocktails on the deck, cast for redfish off the side of Don's boat, and hunt for shells and driftwood on tiny islands that are just a short boat ride away. The colorful beach house feels more like an elegant B&B than a weekend hideaway. Pat has kept a menu log for 10 years, so those lucky enough to spend multiple weekends here never eat the same dish twice.
This evening's meal includes potato cakes topped with a smoked fish, sweet apple, and horseradish relish; spicy blackened shrimp served over a sweet, crisp salad; fresh Gulf snapper; and zesty citrus sorbet. Pat accomplishes it all with a shrug of the shoulders and a welcoming grin. For her, cooking means pure happiness. Already, she and Don have unloaded huge ice chests filled with gourmet groceries and delicacies that can't be bought in this still-rustic fishing village by the sea. They don't bother bringing fish. After all, that's what Port Aransas does best, and after 16 years of weekend parties at the beach, Pat and Don know just where to meet the shrimp boats early in the morning.
Mustang Island, though in the throes of a resort-like evolution (think world-class golf course, spas, and lattes), still maintains its sleepy, fishing-village ambience. Not so long ago, tourists came to camp on the beach, dawdle at dusk in search of washed-up pirate treasure, and fish from the shore. Truly great restaurants were hard to find, and most visitors made sure to rent condominiums with kitchens. Things are changing―and the outlook suggests a more uptown paradise in the future. But the Herrons and their guests won't notice. They'll be too busy enjoying Pat's food and lifting glasses to weekends at the coast.