Chef Chat

Aarón Sanchez Heats Up the House of Blues

Did you know the House of Blues serves food? If you didn't, then you should know now -- all 13 locations of the music venue are offering new dishes and revamped old favorites for their restaurants, re-branded as "Crossroads at the House of Blues," by celebrity chef Aarón Sanchez. You may know him from Food Network shows such as Heat Seekers, Chefs vs. City and my personal favorite, Chopped.

The new menu was rolled out this Monday for the Houston location, and Aarón Sanchez was in town for the launch party. I was able to sit down and chat with him.

EOW: How did you get involved with the House of Blues and their idea to re-do their restaurants?

AS: My business partner, Alex Garcia, worked with Ron Bension, the CEO of HOB, and when the thought of updating the menu came about, it was brought to me.

EOW: What did you want to personally bring to the menu?

AS: We really wanted to refocus the menu; make it more accessible to a diverse group of people. All kinds of people come to the HOB -- families and concert-goers and music lovers of all ages. I wanted to bring something that appeals to everyone across the board.

EOW: You haven't just added new items to the menu, but you've also tweaked some favorites that were on the menu. What did you do to make them better?

AS: We are really sourcing the best ingredients possible. We're making as many things in-house as possible -- we're making the mayonnaise and making the ketchup and keeping things fresh. It wasn't just about the food, it's changing how things were done, the culture. And really I wanted to bring what I would personally want to eat. EOW: Does that mean heat? We know you love heat.

AS:A little heat but mainly flavor.

EOW: What is the one dish you would you say is a must-try -- the most indicative of the concept of "Crossroads" as the intersection of food, music and art?

AS: There are a few. I definitely think the Shrimp and Grits, the meatball sliders, that have short rib in them.

EOW:You're a native Texan, from El Paso, so I'm sure this is not your first time in Houston. What do you think about the food here? Any favorites?

AS: Yeah I've been to Houston quite a bit. I love it. I think the food scene here has changed exponentially and it's very diverse. I had a chance to go to Reef this last time and I thought it was great. I didn't get a chance to see Bryan Caswell, he wasn't there.

EOW: Since this is the House of Blues, let's talk a little about music. What's the best concert you've seen at the HOB?

AS: I'd have to say my wife, Ife. She's a solo artist, and she did a great set at the Sunset location.

That should definitely get him some brownie points at home!

I was able to sample a couple of the almost 20 new menu items. It's easy to see why the Shrimp and Grits ($16.99) is the dish that the Chef singled out, it has his name written all over it. Pan-seared jumbo shrimp in a chipotle garlic cream sauce is served over a fried grit cake, with tear drop tomatoes adding sweetness to the nice heat. Fresh ingredients are key in the Seared Ahi Tuna Chopped Salad ($13.99), where perfectly cooked ahi is served over a bed of green cabbage mixed with radishes, red onions, carrots, cucumber, fennel, roasted red peppers that is tossed in a vinaigrette-- with parmesan wonton chips adding a nice crunch.

Other dishes to try are the flatbreads that include a wild mushroom and a crispy prosciutto, and there's even a Juicy Lucy on the menu -- an Angus beef patty stuffed with Gruyere cheese. Old favorites such as the Jambalaya and the Mac and Cheese are still on the menu, only better, the mac improved by the addition of lobster.

Something new you'll also notice on the menu is a symbol on select items. A portion of the money from the purchase of these select items goes to the House of Blue's foundation Action for the Arts. The program brings inner city children from schools without art and music programs into the House of Blues to learn with different artists.

Check out the new menu at Crossroads at the House of Blues for lunch five days a week and for dinner seven days a week.

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Minh T Truong