What's Eric Eating Episodes 338 and 339
Aaron Bludorn dishes first details on his new Memorial restaurant, plus our visit to Cocody
On this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” chefs Aaron Bludorn and Alexandra “Allie” Peña, join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Bar Bludorn. First announced in March, Bar Bludorn will be the hospitality group’s — led by Bludorn, his wife Victoria Pappas Bludorn, and their business partner, director of operations Cherif Mbodji — new restaurant that will occupy Jonathan’s the Rub’s original location in Memorial (9061 Gaylord Dr.).
The interview provides chef Bludorn with the opportunity to reveal the Bar Bludorn name and introduce Peña as its executive chef. Currently on track to open in March, chef Bludorn explains the fundamental difference between original Bludorn and Bar Bludorn.
“Bar Bludorn is more of a neighborhood restaurant. The menu will be focused a little more on — maybe comfort food — I hate that term, but that’s kind of what it’s going to be,” he says. “At a neighborhood restaurant, you want menu items that guests are going to come back for again and again whereas at Bludorn we’re changing the menu. This restaurant, we want to fit into Memorial in a way that becomes part of the neighborhood.”
From there, Bludorn discussed how he and Mbodji chose Peña to lead Bar Bludorn. She’s worked for them from the very beginning of Bludorn, where she quickly rose through the ranks to earn a position as a sous chef. More recently, she’s worked at Rice Village seafood restaurant Navy Blue as the executive sous chef alongside executive chef Jerrod Zifchak.
“She worked all the stations at Bludorn in under six months. It was really quick,” Bludorn says about Peña. “She rose to the top really quickly and was the meat cook for a long time. She was running the whole line. That’s where you see leadership. She was also very humble on her way up. She supported the team.”
Peña will bring her experiences working at Bludorn and Navy Blue to Bar Bludorn. It’s a big step, but one she feels ready for.
“It was great to see the way [Zifchak] works and the way chefs Aaron and Chase supported him. Now I have all three Infinity Rings as I get ready to open this new spot,” she says.
“Since the beginning, I’ve been put in positions where I want to show I can give them 100. Because they believe that, I’m able to, and it’s happened every single time. I’m ready for the challenge.”
As for the food at Bar Bludorn, chef Bludorn explains that certain staples of the Bludorn menu — think the burger or oysters three ways — will be tweaked to match Peña’s style and to distinguish them from the original location.
“One of the most important things is we don’t want a dish to be the same at Bludorn and Bar Bludorn,” he says. “The chef’s identity needs to speak through. Ali and I will work together to find that. I will support her in ways that fit the restaurant well.”
While Bludorn is mostly tight lipped about menu specifics, he did offer one preview.
“We’ve been working on sandwiches, but doing it where we’re baking our own bread. I love sandwiches, especially for lunch,” he says. “It’s no surprise that Houston’s [now Hillstone] is a favorite of mine. I think there’s a little of that vibe we want to bring. There’s no Houston’s on that side of town.”
Listen to the full episode to hear Bludorn and Peña discuss the first year of Navy Blue. Chef Bludorn also discusses some of his goals for the collaboration dinners that have become part of both restaurants’ identities.
In this week’s other podcast episode, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discuss the news of the week. Their topics include the recent closures of Acme Oyster House and Common Bond’s downtown brasserie; the opening of Tavola, Ben Berg’s new fine dining Italian restaurant; and the announcement that the team behind The Burger Joint will open a pizzeria in the Heights next year.
In the restaurants of the week segment, the two friends discuss their recent meal at Cocody, the new fine dining restaurant in the River Oaks Shopping Center that’s led by French chefs Lionel Debon and David Denis, who worked together at Le Mistral. After praising the dramatic dining room created by local designer Nina Magon, they take up the question of whether people should consider Cocody to be a French restaurant based on the dishes it serves.
“This is the most French restaurant Houston’s ever seen,” Clarkson states. “It feels very French,” Sandler adds.
From there, they turn their attention to the new location of La Griglia. Listen to the episode to hear Sandler’s take on why the new location of the Italian restaurant is “quite literally, not my father’s La Griglia.”