RouXbarb: A Fresh Start

Chef Bruce Bogartz begins again with a new restaurant—with brilliantly unpretentious food

Bruce Bogartz—chef, entrepreneur, and force of nature—has returned to Knoxville in some style, transforming a low-slung, surly little building on Northshore Drive into a beautiful (and currently liquor-free) gem of a restaurant.

The indefatigable Bogartz is certainly a better cook than he is a christener of restaurants; as well as being an appalling pun, the name of his latest is, I would imagine, more or less Google-proof to anyone who hasn’t actually seen it written down.

From the outside, RouXbarb’s premises at 130 S. Northshore Drive appear as limited as its opening hours. Inside, however, one is greeted by an interior that is intimate but not restricting, and a maitre d’ with the same qualities. The intelligent yet unpretentious menu and handful of specials together offer some of the very best fare for perhaps 200 miles.

Largely Southern traditional cuisine with a twist, the food here is robust, hearty and tactile. Gratis cheddar-and-herb biscuits are dispensed as liberally as table water. Chunky, fluffy, and served with a deliciously tangy chutney, they are substantial enough to suggest the possibility of putting on weight without actually ordering anything.

The restaurant claims to use hormone-free, organic produce from family-sustained farms “wherever possible.” (On further probing, this proves to mean “more often than not.”) The benefits of this policy are not just ethical. The duck confit is delicately flavored and unbelievably moist, and the steakhouse filet, while being one of the less adventurous dishes, offers just the right amount of polite resistance to the knife.

Throughout the menu, Bogartz’s inventiveness is never absent, but occasionally his wit can be unnecessary or distracting. Chicken wings come, somewhat counter-intuitively, with an egg. Huge, fresh shrimp and sweet, almost nutty grits are drowned out by an over-salty bacon accompaniment. Yet when his ideas work, they work beautifully. The crawfish soup, less celebrated than Bogartz’ wedding variety, is a bold balancing act of rustic and sophisticated flavors. And rather than delegating the preparation of a wan, token non-meat item to a lowly sous, the chef seems to actively relish cooking for vegetarians, sacrificing neither quality nor brio in their daily specials.

The menu, although varied, is relatively brief and is made shorter by the philosophy of preferring to run out of something rather than keeping it overnight. This can be rather frustrating, but such absenteeism is redeemed by the dessert list.

Chief among the desserts is arguably one of the better chocolate mousses in the hemisphere. Bourbon-spiked and with a dusting of pecan shards, the mousse is impossibly plush, the alcohol giving just one good kick before backing off. A Drew Barrymore among desserts, it is ample and glamorous yet so soft and comforting it could move you to tears.

A word about the prices: They seem expensive (entrees go from $16 to $26), but they’re not. This is the price that food is meant to be. These are natural, good-quality ingredients prepared by someone who actually cares about what you’re going to eat tonight. As Marx reminds us, quantity changes quality, and that’s as true for the number of animals squeezed into a factory-farm as it is for the number of covers in a restaurant. As a society we’ve been pretty consistent not only in celebrating the desire to own as much as possible but also in rewarding lack of imagination and lack of taste. Hence the corporation—ironically the closest thing we have to anything Soviet in America.

As a nation, we have collectively voted for the cheap, the nasty and the mass-produced. But of course you can’t have both power and pleasure. Smugglers, bootleggers and resistance fighters for the sensual will find a kindred spirit in Bruce Bogartz, a man with passion and talent larger than his restaurant. There’ll be a statue of him here when the culture wars are over.

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 6

devildoglola writes:

Begin with fresh ingredients as the notes; flames, smoke and the cacophony of utensils as the parchment upon which the notes are laid; staff reminiscent of the old sophistication of the Haight district with a European taint as the instruments; and, Mr. Bogartz wielding the baton creating a symphony just THIS SHORT of something more exquisite than any mere mortal can bear...there you have it... RouXbarb.

It is, if you open yourself up to it, a total "head-to-toe" experience.

The audible ambiance of the intimate, close but comfortable seating has a life of it's own; feeding on the lively conversation between friends, occasional "kitchen" sounds, the almost subliminal tunes and then out of nowhere the tinkle of laughter breaks out and brings an involuntary smile to your face just as you put a bite of the most delectable amalgamation into your mouth!

One or more or the unobtrusive yet imminently attentive staff most likely will be looking right at you at that EXACT moment and inquire with a quizzical glance or a more straight-forward thumbs-up question mark as to whether you have precisely what you wished for...

And the answer from this humble devotee is always and most resoundingly YOU BETCHA! YUM!

All you have to do is show up (well, calling ahead is always best) and without much ado the most glorious rhapsodies of flavors and textures and aromas have those taste-buds you which you heretofore figured had two left-feet dancing with each other in most intricate and uniquely balanced steps.

I have got to say that it is my extreme pleasure to plant myself and await what will undoubtedly be my next favorite thing, just EXACTLY what I was wishing for but could not for the life of me name or even dream...HOW DOES HE DO THAT!?

kayteebeeW writes:

I had my first, much anticipated dinner at RouXbarb last week. It was everything I had hoped it would be. Each table seemed to be having a wonderful time, and many of the patrons chatted across the "bar" with the chef as he turned out dish after delicious dish. The small plates, although probably intended as appetizers, are a meal in themselves. I had the mussels, steamed in an assertive bacon-y cider broth. When the mussels were finished, I wanted to pick up my bowl and drink it! (I didn't---but made good use of the chedder biscuits) The evening's only disappointment was that I was way too full to even think about ordering dessert. Next time for sure!

devildoglola writes:

I've got to say that this has been quite an extraordinary day. I participated in a very innovative idea to foster and engender a sense of community. To paraphrase, it was the sheer genius of factoring it down to the lowest common denominator which, in this instance, was FOOD.

And who better to do the factoring in this medium than Bruce Bogartz at Rouxbarb

He probably had an idea about what he wanted to impart to the guests and what he wanted them to leave with and take into the community when he was planning and pulling this event together

The structure was simple about 40 or so invited guests come to a sit-down dinner, dine with people they didn't know and while partaking of a very simple yet exquisite meal (we are talking Rouxbarb, remember) in family style service, big tables, lots of people, good food passed amongst each other, lives touched and a small step in the direction of letting down barriers that keep us from feeling connected to our neighbors was made by something as simple as fried chicken, ribs, potato salad and warm Rhubard, blackberry and peach cobbler washed down with watermelon lemonade and mint sweet tea.

Asking the stranger next to you to pass the potato salad or freshly whipped cream for the cobbler goes a long way toward breaking down the barriers we create to keep ourselves from being involved with anyone not in our normal circles

And it's just so easy - it's neutral - it's FOOD!

It's not political, it's not socio-economic, it's not racial, it's JUST FOOD! GENIUS!

SEE NEXT COMMENT... THIS IS PART ONE OF TWO

devildoglola writes:

THIS IS PART TWO OF TWO CONTINUED FROM ABOVE...

I just observed, listened and soaked it in much like any other night sitting at the bar at Rouxbarb

Remember the old exercise where a bunch of people are blindfolded and put in a room with an elephant? They each are told to discern the characteristics of the elephant using all their senses, experience and perceptions.

Then those people are put in another room and asked to recount their perception from their own unique perspective.

The amazing diversity of perception and the communication of that perception is the food of creating understanding, enlightenment and the kernel or grass roots of the formation of a thriving, living organism called community.

I don't know that everyone can comprehend my perception of the elephant. IT doesn't matter. What does matter is the insight gained into my perspective which allows the community to try to understand my viewpoint and incorporate me into the the living organism as an integral component, an important part of the whole BECAUSE of my unique experience and perspective

Each person who sat down at the table and shared a meal with people they did not know at Roubxbarb today had the experience to broaden their own experience by listening to other people describe the elephant

The end of it, I believe, if what was started this day can be sustained is an atmosphere structured by a Maestro adept at plying the best out of us all as human beings with the most common of denominators... FOOD

I think that each of the paricipants, named as mentors in this first of hopefully a steady schedule of events, left out with a different sense of what could be accomplished within a proactive thriving community

My elephant is most likely very different from many of the other participants' elephants. But that is in fact the beauty of the endeavor

From hearing, examining and contemplating another person's perspective, the horizon of interaction and possibilities for success within the community as a whole is exponentially increased

Like the proverb that says "like iron upon iron, so a friend sharpens the countenace of a friend"... here's to creating a community that sharpens the countenace of each of its members as friends and collegues over many more excellent meals.

Who would have thought it? A master at creating just what you wanted before you even wanted it and making it taste exactly the way you would have asked for it if you only knew you wanted it and an altruistic genius to boot!

devildoglola writes:

We were sitting one evening trying to discern a simple descriptive term that would in a phrase or a word convey to anyone who had not yet experienced what exactly it is that Bruce Bogartz contributes to the world, and it came to me like as if in a dream...
Gathered 'round the bar, like emissaries from far and exotic places such as Andersonville, Norris, Sevierville, Colombia, New York, New Orleans and the like- we bandied about our takes on just how to put words to the treasures Mr. Bogartz coaxes out of the plainest of ingredients- European with Low Country Southern influence? cajun meets cordon bleu? traditional cuisine tempered with natural, nutritionally health-friendly overtones? JUST PLAIN GOOD FOOD PREPARED DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU'VE EVER HAD IT BEFORE?
It occurred to me that it would be nearly impossible to put a label on anything Bruce Bogartz prepared...then man is a master at looking at everyday, common elements with fresh eyes, an expansively educated palate and years of experience and intuition to see and create totally unique and infinitely exquisite morsels for the rest of us to relish.
And just when you think he's done all any human being can do in terms of innovation and creativity, it gets a fresh new face and direction to travel... a new venue? ROUXBARBEQUE?...well DUH! What took you so long, buddy?
We have all been waiting for Mr. Bogartz to get into a full-tilt, open-up-the-flood-gates and have room to just flat-out do what he does best mode. And what he does best is make us ecstatic over such a simple pleasure... consumption of a meal!
This ROUXBARBEQUE venue promises the best of Mr. Bogartz's tried and true techniques and treatments of smoked, barbequed meats, fowl and vegetables- and sticking with the "ROUX" roots, should have enough cajun/creole flair to satisfy the most discerning bayou rat or Acadian sophisticate.
Of course the "Bogartz" factor will undoubtedly make it one of the most memorable experiences a body could have...
So there you have it- I concluded the most descriptive term to convey the contribution Bruce Bogartz makes in this world can best be communicated as "The Bogartz Factor"...
Looks like Northshore is gonna henceforth be known as the "ROUXBARBARY COAST"!
Knoxville today, tomorrow the world...?

lfaber writes:

Has anyone read how insane this commenter, devildoglola, is? Holy crap.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.