Speculation is rife, as those prone to cliché are wont to say, about the late, lamented Hogg Grill. (That's three -- count 'em, three -- in one sentence.) Shortly after opening in October 1998, the Theater District restaurant, which took its name from the historic building housing it, won over patrons with its eclectic decor and, intermittently, good food. The interior, a sort of Edward Hopper-meets-Gypsy-fortune-teller look (red plastic-upholstered banquettes and wonderfully awful lamp shades sporting fringes of plastic beads), can still be glimpsed through the windows, but the kitchen has sautéed its last. A sign on the door explaining that the establishment is closed for remodeling is, of course, simple dizinformatsia, as we cold-war veterans like to call it.
What caused the Hogg to go belly up? (You can expect cheap puns from a cliché addict.) The only two people who would really know, owners Cinda Ward and Armando Palacios, were not available to spill their guts. But the owner of one of Houston's best-loved dispensaries of premium slacker cuisine opined that "You need quality downtown, and it went back and forth, back and forth." However, when told what restaurant had tentatively agreed to rent the roomy 12,000-square-foot space for a branch of its minichain, the same restaurateur gasped and could only blurt out a string of yeomanlike ejaculations along the lines of "Ugh! God! Awful!"
What sort of restaurant could cause a grown food-service professional to experience such instant horror? The Golden Arches? Is Robert Earl, who gave the world Planet Hollywood, starting a new operation, this time using daytime television talk show hosts as celebrity shills? No, actually it's a homegrown version of such innocuous national chains as Bennigan's or Friday's. A spokesperson for the Randall Davis Company, owners of the Hogg Brothers office building, stated, "It's going to be the Mason Jar."
If true, that would be the beginnings of a mini-empire for the Restaurant Specialty Group, which operates such standbys as Birraporetti's and Bonnie's Beef & Seafood. Opening a Mason Jar in the old Hogg Grill location would place it across the street from a branch of Birraporetti's. An inside source reveals that a celebrated young chef has been retained by the RSG to update and uptown the Mason Jar menu. Both RSG decisions reveal how the downtown dining scene is rapidly changing. At press time, however, the contract had not been officially signed, so persons with other ideas still have, in theory, a chance at leasing the space.
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Downtown is beginning to feel like the bottom of Alice's fabled rabbit hole. With the opening of Enron Field, restaurants are bracing for both an increase in customers and a change in demographics. The Housotn Chronicle reported that a trendy downtown spot, the Angelika Film Center & Cafe in Bayou Place, will be offering Astros fans "gourmet sausages on a stick" with such stuffings as "seafood, venison, chicken with ginger and pork with lemongrass."
To those of us conversant with French theory (those of us who are not can skip the rest of this column and go directly to the display ads in the back of the paper), this business of selling a venison wiener to a follower of the national pastime is obviously a strategy of parodic recontextualization. For those who suspect that French theory is just one more way to be a bit of a wise-ass and who want their burgers 100 percent irony-free, the Mason Jar may be just the ticket.
In addition to the Hogg Grill staff, a famous Brazilian photographer became a victim of the precipitous closing. As part of FotoFest, a set of large prints by Mario Cravo Neto was installed in the restaurant by the photographer's Houston dealer, Maria Ines Sicardi of the Sicardi Gallery.
"I spent a day installing 17 large prints," Sicardi recalls, "and the next day I went back and there was a sign on the door about remodeling." Those interested in Neto's work, which is suggestive of a Bahian Robert Mapplethorpe, can view the photos at the Sicardi Gallery, 2623 Kipling, suite 101, starting next week. Those interested in a taste of the Mason Jar's signature artichoke-spinach dip -- in a downtown setting, no less -- will have to wait a little longer.