Bruce Bogartz believes in the mystical power of food to bring people together. That simple premise was the impetus for an eclectic gathering of friends, acquaintances and friends-once-removed on a Sunday evening at RouXbarb – Bogartz’s intimate restaurant in the District in Bearden. The invitations for the inaugural “Forty Folks” event were strictly word-of-mouth. Everyone who was there was supposed to be there. Serendipity determined the guest list. Chef Bogartz cooked up some of his signature soul food and shared the love!
Bogartz welcomed the crowd, saying this was a dream of his, to host periodic gatherings of people from different walks of life, different parts of town and different ethnicities to share a meal. “I’ve seen people come together over food,” he said, “and that’s my hope, that we come together today and invite others to join us.” There were no strings attached. No donations solicited. No agenda. Just a beaming chef surrounded by adoring customers, friends, business associates and fellow foodies.
Everyone exchanged “Bruce stories” – some people have followed him like groupies since his days as corporate chef of Harry’s, the former Grady’s and Regas-family restaurant. I have fond memories of his signature dessert there – an upscale MoonPie with bananas foster ice cream and homemade marshmallow sauce. “We had to take it off the menu,” recalled Bogartz with a smile, “due to trademark infringement issues” with the iconic Chattanooga company.
Other people remember lazy Sunday brunches at Bogartz, Chef Bruce’s previous culinary incarnation in Homberg, opening on Mother’s Day in 2000 and closing exactly five years later. After blowing town for awhile, Bogartz returned to be near his daughter, Sarabeth, now nine. He did a brief stint at Harold’s Deli and made a subsequent stopover at The Shrimp Dock, fixing po’ boy sandwiches for a hungry lunch crowd. But Bogartz is no longer an itinerant chef. He’s once more king of his castle, master of his domain, happily ensconced in the original Bistro By The Tracks digs.
Among the forty folks at this grassroots get-together were Merrill and Hank Ammons, Tyrone and Lana Bean, Nick and Melissa Chase, Philip Clift, Jennifer Beyt Coffin and Jared Coffin, Mick and Angie Connors, Steve Dupree, Linda Guisset, Rhiannon and Rob Kirkpatrick and Barry Steinberg. All of us were drawn to RouXbarb on this rainy Sunday to experience the “culinary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Food is Bogartz’s art; feeding people is his passion, and feed us he did!
On the tables were relish trays of locally grown vegetables, featuring heirloom tomatoes from David Meadows at Mountain Meadows Farm in Anderson County. Their succulent tomatoes have wonderful names like “Cherokee Purple” and “Green Zebra.” To complement the raw vegetables, there were milkshake glasses of homemade blue cheese dressing, recipe courtesy of Jerry Cross, who served it at a memorable meal in his home years ago – “one of the all-time best meals of my life,” said Bogartz.
There was also a mustard-based potato salad featuring homegrown fingerling potatoes, fresh herbs and hard-boiled eggs, whipped up by Bogartz’s mom, who was in town from Atlanta for the gathering. Next came steaming plates of mouthwatering fried chicken, brine-cured in an overnight salt bath and then battered with a buttermilk/Coca-Cola mixture. “The Coke gives it a zing and balances the flavor,” explained Bogartz with a mischievous grin. You get the impression he’s making it up as he goes along, but he’s not. He’s part connoisseur, part party host and part mad scientist.
The fried chicken was accompanied by RouXbarb’s signature dish – dry-rubbed spare ribs, prepared on-site and smoked right out back. The “Forty Folks” gang dined on the succulent ribs with blackberry barbeque sauce from just-picked berries. Bogartz plans to bottle and sell his seasonal barbeque sauces, which also include pumpkin, pear and fig varieties. There were also “evolutionary sweet potatoes,” as Bogartz christened them, because they “evolved” after being peeled and candied with the remnants of the decadent finale: rhubarb, peach and raspberry cobbler with fresh whipped cream. It was a warm, buttery-crusted triumph, brimming with sweet fruit. How’s that for Sunday supper?
The event was B.Y.O.B., or guests could wash it all down with pitchers of delicious watermelon lemonade, nectar of the gods. My dinner companion brought a stash of bootleg mojitos. It was all good.
“Forty Folks” was a bit like the first Thanksgiving – long tables of natives and pilgrims gratefully sharing a bounteous spread. Everyone helped serve and clear between courses. There was a great sense of camaraderie in the restaurant, packed to the rafters with laughing, gregarious people. Glasses clinked. Dishes clattered. We became instant family and fast friends. After two hours, there wasn’t a stranger in the place!
“It completely exceeded my expectations,” said Bogartz of the first-time gathering.
Bogartz’s lady love and business partner, Amy Hackett, was also his co-hostess for the evening. A former executive with Ruby Tuesday, she now bakes fabulous desserts for RouXbarb, like her peach melba cake with butter cream frosting. But she also prepares rhubarb on occasion. Hackett said that the first time she fixed a pie with the trademark Southern veggie for Bogartz, he was deeply touched by the tribute. “No one’s every fixed me rhubarb before,” he told her, with simple astonishment and gratitude. You see, Bruce Bogartz has a big heart, and he wears it on his sleeve.
If you call him and get his recorded voice message, you’ll understand what motivates Bogartz. “You’ve reached Bruce,” it says, “I’m spreading love and cheer through good food and drink.”
For Bogartz, food is always the underlying theme. “I’m at the pinnacle of my career,” he said, sounding shocked by his own success, “and I’m still doing what I’ve been doing all along.” What Bogartz has been doing all along is bringing people together by making regional food exceptional and accessible!
RouXbarb is located at 130 S. Northshore Drive and is open Tuesday-Saturday. For more information, call 865.212.0024.
All Photos © 2009 Karen Krogh, All Rights Reserved.
I have heard good things about RouXbarb… I need to try it out sometime.
Bruce does a great job. You need to have reservations on a Friday or Saturday night because it gets packed fast. Another similar type eatery is Foothills Milling Company in downtown Maryville.
I’ve been a fan of Bruce since the Harry’s days. My all-time favorite dish of his was the carpetbag filet at Harry’s: a filet mignon stuffed with oysters and remoulade. Wow.
Great post, Laura.
He’s fixin’ to do it…opening a new venue on the ROUBARBARY COAST… gonna call it ROUXBARBEQUE…go figure…in the Rocky Hill area I believe, sometime early spring ( maybe sooner if we get a break!) CANNOT WAIT!
can’t speel for beans… ROUXBARBARY COAST…
well, darnit… spell…
Was lucky enough to check out RouXbarb’s recently when I was in town. Not only was the food fabulous but the atmosphere was comfortable and inviting, and the staff was both friendly and skilled. Mr. Bogartz has done a wonderful job offering a variety of menu items that offer a bit a flair without being over the top. There’s something for everyone and this is a menu that will please the palette and entice the inner foodie. My absolute favorite was the Pimiento Cheese Beignets but I hear the Crispy Chicken Livers are to die for! Everything I sampled had my taste buds singing and the desserts were pure heaven. I can’t wait to make it back that way and enjoy another evening at RouXbarb’s!
Robbie, I’ve heard rumors of new ventures as well. Bruce is equal parts entrepreneur and culinary impresario! Stay tuned …
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…the 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…?