Thursday, October 3, 2019

Rejiggering Blue Dog Café, George Rodrigue, Approachable Annie Café & Bar

Blue Dog's Burger Special on Burger Night

"...Reading between the lines, Blue Dog is placing bets on a younger hipper crowd..." (Virginia Billeaud Anderson highlights changes at Blue Dog 
Café where specialty cocktails, imported beer and live music will appeal to a younger hipper crowd. George Rodrigue's art remains. Similar changes made Annie Café and Bar in Houston more "approachable.")

Rejiggering Blue Dog Café, George Rodrigue, Approachable Annie Café and Bar

On a recent trip to south Louisiana, I found myself sipping on a drink at the Blue Dog Café, and learning about recent changes at the restaurant.  For one thing, there was a debt reorganization.  One would imagine that's a thorny process.  As well, Blue Dog closed, renovated, and reopened.  Owners Jacques and André Rodrigue are hell bent on taking the restaurant in a new direction.

This involves invigorating the bar.  According to the owners, the refashioned bar offers a “cool contemporary atmosphere” with live music, specialty cocktails, super premium liquors, local Louisiana and imported bottled beers and drafts, and an “approachable” wine list.  Reading between the lines, Blue Dog is placing bets on a younger hipper crowd.

Blue Dog - Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Hand in hand with a cool bar are lower priced menu items.  Not a dumb move.  Particularly if you want to target young people, many of whom have insufficient savings.  In this vein, Blue Dog christened “Burger Wednesday,” the day gourmet style hamburgers are trotted out of its newly refurbished kitchen.  Clearly, burgers can be fertile ground for creativity.  The blue cheese with blueberry reduction that makes the Mike Burger seductive, is precisely what I’m talking about.  Such a concoction calls for bar staff’s expertise in pairing booze, the perfect craft beer for instance, in the same way a sommelier delegates a kick-ass Bordeaux with rack of lamb in an upscale restaurant.

Some menu items remain unchanged.

Predictably, founder George Rodrigue’s art images will continue to decorate Blue Dog’s interior.  So expect a number of blue dogs with spaced-out eyes to stare at you while you're hunkered down at your table.

Georges Rodrigue, “Kiss Me I'm Cajun”

It startled me to be reunited with the late George Rodrigue’s artworks.  In fact, to see art images I knew in the 1970s made me feel bloody old.  By the time I came upon Kiss Me, I'm Cajun, Rodrigue’s portrait of his four year old son André, I needed another drink.  Painted forty years ago, the image is quite famous today.

Rodrigue’s art wasn't the only thing that rattled me.  Being in Blue Dog’s building resurrected memories of its past occupant, Chez Pastor Restaurant, where I spent time in the 70s.  My mind conjured some of Chez Pastor’s dishes, Escargot for instance, and Snapper Pastor topped with crabmeat.  I fancied myself sophisticated when I ordered that stuff.

More than anything, I recalled the live music and carryings-on in the Chez Pastor bar.  In those days Pat and Maugie Pastor hired exceptional musicians, so it was possible to hear very fine renditions of Sinatra and Ray Charles, of Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife, and Tony Bennett’s I Want to be Around to Pick Up the Pieces.  Being absurdly young didn’t stop me from knowing the music was special.  And not solely in the bar at Chez Pastor.  At Jay’s Lounge, I saw the incomparable Clifton Chenier perform.  Face dripping sweat, gold capped teeth reflecting light, backed up by Cleveland’s washboard, a tenor sax, and others, those evenings were memorable.  Looking back on it, I further assimilated music by way of Charlie Goodson and Earl Hebert’s remarkable album collection during the years I worked for them at Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon beginning in 1974.  Nothing like Willie and Whalon to animate the regulars, while I served them another round of double Scotch and Sodas, or Darrell’s sexy Bloody Mary’s.  Yep, the music impacted me, and it was integral to the boozy shenanigans.  I kept that waitress job until I finished college.

George Rodrigue’s art made clear statements regarding the importance of music in south Louisiana.  It seems fitting to see the art in this location.  But of course Rodrigue knew that.

Blue Dog - Burger

So while I downed my second drink, and dickered with the art, and felt spooked about being old, Blue Dog’s manager Mitchell Pellerin came to my table and introduced himself.  I told Mitchell that in a sense I was in my old stomping ground, but all of that was before he was born.  Mitchell nodded politely, but I don’t think he understood.  Owner Steve Santillo also visited my table.   Steve seemed closer to my age.  Perhaps he got  it.

Blue Dog’s change in direction is apparently typical.  I see the same thing happening around me here in Houston.  The high-octane Café Annie, for example, recently closed, and announced a complete overhaul, with Ben Berg as new money partner.  Renamed Annie Café and Bar, the new Annie has a significantly expanded bar, an elegant patio, and a highly touted revamped lower priced menu, which includes Burgers.  The new Annie, the owners are spinning, is “approachable,” younger, more casual, with sweeter prices.

What are we to make of all this?  Ever since it opened in its original Westheimer Street location in the early 80s, Café Annie was a highfalutin joint with Houston’s top bananas crowding in.  For all its glitzy prestige, for all its supercharged clientele, and despite the fact that Robert Del Grande was the first Houston chef to receive a James Beard Foundation award, business tanked sufficiently to force Annie’s owners to change direction.

As my readers know, I’m not a food critic.  I do however enjoy sharing when I come upon interesting things being done with food and booze.  All of the Blue Dog Café images are from Blue Dog’s Facebook and Instagram.

Blue Dog - Clovis Marie Bloody Mary
Blue Dog - Loup Garou

Blue Dog - Blue Mint Julep

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