Rouxpour: Gumbo and Bros
See more photos from the New Orleans-style interior of The Rouxpour and its busy kitchen in our slideshow.
Lunch at The Rouxpour is a relaxing affair, even surrounded by the office buildings and traffic of Sugar Land's busy Town Square development. The windows of the New Orleans-style restaurant are thrown all the way open in nice weather, letting a cool breeze circulate through the restaurant and allowing you to enjoy the French Quarter courtyard look of the big patio without having to sit in the sun. If only the lunch specials themselves were more of a draw.
For $11, you can order a four-inch po-boy — from roast beef to fried oysters, Rouxpour offers a huge assortment of the sandwiches — and choose between an equally large assortment of soups and salads to complete your meal.
Crawfish bisque, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, a wedge salad — there are a dozen different ways to round out your po-boy, but choose wisely: That four inches worth of po-boy doesn't go very far, and it doesn't come with fries (those are a $2 upcharge). It's pricey for what you get — although this is a general trend at The Rouxpour, where a dozen chargrilled oysters are $17 and appetizers can cost up to $45.
The po-boys themselves are decent sandwiches, but I'm hard-pressed to call them "po-boys." The soft bread is all wrong, they're barely dressed (a squirt of mayonnaise under your fried catfish doesn't count as being dressed) and the produce that comes on top — a few shreds of lettuce and one very small, barely red slice of tomato — rounds out the feeling of disappointment when you see the little sandwich delivered to your table on an unnecessarily large plate. It's a shame, too, as the meat of the po-boy — whether it be fried catfish, roast beef or fried oysters — has always been very good on my three visits.
I get the sense that someone back in the kitchen at The Rouxpour knows what they're doing, but that they're perhaps not given enough freedom to execute consistently good meals across the board. For instance, a cup of crawfish bisque features an odd broth that's more like the creamy tomato soup found at La Madeleine than a bisque. Again: It's not bad, but it's just not quite a bisque. On the other hand, the red beans and rice are soulful and rich, with a pleasant snap to them from the green onions scattered on top and the judicious application of some Tabasco sauce.
This inconsistency in dishes has featured across my visits to the two-year-old establishment, but I wish I could say that's the biggest of The Rouxpour's problems.
On my first visit to The Rouxpour, my dining companion and I had the unpleasant experience of being harassed throughout dinner by two inebriated customers who were wandering in and out of the open-air restaurant.
The two men were clearly there to drink and watch football, which would be perfectly fine if the restaurant itself had a clearer partition between the bar and the dining area. As it was, the two men kept crashing into our table, using it as an ashtray, setting their drinks down next to ours while they smoked and being generally loud and obnoxious between calling us names and insulting my friend's haircut. (To be fair, she said, her bangs did need a trim.)
The entire patio that night was quite rowdy, however, and the two men's behavior went more or less unnoticed in the raucousness of it all. Even a request to a manager to move the two over-served customers was ineffective; the men stayed put, but not before screaming to the poor manager that they spent money at The Rouxpour every night. "We've never even seen these bitches before," one said of us.
When I brought this up with Lincoln Ward, one of the owners of The Rouxpour, he was appropriately horrified. Ward, who started in the industry washing dishes at a restaurant off Highway 290 when he was 17 years old, has poured himself into the Sugar Land restaurant. He and his chef, Jose Luis, worked together for the better part of ten years and were excited to open what Ward calls "a real New Orleans deal" in the previous Mi Luna space.
Ward knows that it gets rowdy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights — "We are a Louisiana restaurant," he says, before emphasizing, "we are a New Orleans restaurant" — but Ward says the levels of frat party woo-ing and stumbling about that I witnessed on that Thursday night weren't typical of the weekend crowds.
"That's extremely rare if not nonexistent, and that's unfortunate," Ward said over the phone, clearly upset by my recounting of the night's events. "It's unacceptable, and that is absolutely not the impression that we want to put on anybody in our restaurant. We hold ourselves to a high standard and we hold our managers to a high standard and that's discouraging."
But what, he wanted to know, did I think of the food?
I told him truthfully about the one item I've enjoyed above all others at Rouxpour: the gumbo. Although the bowl I had on that first visit had a few rubbery, tough shrimp in it, the roux itself more than made up for the shrimp, which I could easily pick around. A central Louisiana-style gumbo with a dark, thick, resonant roux — nearly burnt in that most perfect of tiptoeing dances in front of a line that shouldn't be crossed — this is a dish which Ward and his crew can certainly be proud of. Replace those frozen shrimp with some fresh Gulf beauties, and it'd be the best gumbo in Houston without question.
The same could be said of the muffaletta I enjoyed on that visit: There is a solid structure there, with excellent slices of Genoa salami and Capicola ham under a nicely melted layer of provolone, but — as with the po-boys — the bread is all wrong. Where is the traditional Sicilian sesame bread? Other restaurants in town have the bread right, so I'm sure The Rouxpour can do the same. They'll also want to put quite a bit more of that olive salad on the muffaletta; you could barely taste the thin layer that was spread on top.
The boudin, however, will have to be completely reworked — or at least imported from Louisiana. The Rouxpour's version is far too heavy on the rice and on black pepper; both entirely dominate the classic liver sausage. But for all of its flaws, one of the things The Rouxpour does very right is making most of its dishes in-house.
Source out that boudin and get some better bread, and then I think you'd find the beginnings of a much better restaurant. I want to like The Rouxpour. It has good bones. It has a chef with a lot of promise, a beautiful patio, a lovely interior (although it can be a bit fussy, something I find ironic given the very masculine crowds that dominate the bar and patio) and two of the better desserts I've found in a while.
With so few restaurants focusing on their pastry programs these days, it's increasingly rare to find desserts that aren't bought from Sysco or Costco, let alone noteworthy desserts. At The Rouxpour, you'll want to save room for the housemade cheesecake and white chocolate bread pudding. The former is made with soft mascarpone cheese, which leaves the typically dense dessert with a fluffy texture and refreshingly tangy flavor. The latter features a surprisingly excellent white chocolate sauce (I normally dislike white chocolate with a fervor) that tops a soft, spongy bread pudding packed with the flavor of freshly grated nutmeg and sweet currents of butterscotch.
I would love to see this same attention to detail applied to things like the crawfish étouffée, which features a beautiful blond roux studded with tiny, tough crawfish, or the bisque, which could be set on the right path with just a flick of sherry into that broth.
I'd also love to see more support for the staff, who can seem overwhelmed by the floods of people that crush the patio on weekend nights — something Ward attributed to the nicer weather we've been having lately, and promised to rectify. On that first visit, our waitress was clearly as upset by the two drunk customers as we were, but she wasn't empowered to do anything about it. And on a second visit, our waiter — likely in the weeds — wasn't able to reach our table for at least 15 minutes after we were seated. We rarely saw him that Monday night, and our food runner took care of nearly everything, even bringing us silverware.
Meanwhile, the patio was once again getting rowdy as Monday Night Football kicked into high gear. I watched as some of the bros inside began that pattern of stumbling drunkenly between the inside bar and the patio, one of them balling up trash in his hands and tossing it through the open windows onto the patio, where it landed next to a table of customers.
The customers, a Middle Eastern family, didn't seem to notice the trash as they were attempting to wrangle an explanation of what gumbo is from their harried waitress. "Um, it's like a soup," she attempted. "With a roux. And sausage and sometimes chicken. It's spicy."
The gumbo at The Rouxpour deserves a far better introduction than that.
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