Review: AC and Really Good Food Have Been Added to The Boot
The plywood walls and rickety shelves are gone, replaced by eggshell-colored paneled siding and sleek black wall mounts holding rows of Southern beer and half-empty liquor bottles. There's a new coat of paint on the outside, though years of chipped layers are still visible under the facelift. The perpetually open garage doors have been closed to keep the cool air from the newly installed AC unit in the building as much as possible, and a large OPEN sign has been hung outside, lest people assume the shuttered doors mean the joint is out of business. But the double-parked cars in the small gravel lot are a sure indication that the place is hopping, and the smell of late-season boiled crawfish and sinus-clearing red beans with sausage is more than enough to lure in any patrons unsure of the bar's status.
Photos by Troy Fields Seasonal seafood and flavorful bowls of red beans and crawfish étouffée make up the small but mighty menu at The Boot.
It's back, it's open and it's better than ever.
Better is a matter of opinion, of course, since some are bound to see the new and improved Shady Tavern Ice House, now called The Boot, as an unfortunate upgrade from the gritty neighborhood watering hole it once was. The original 1939 structure was so hidden among the towering pecan and oak trees on West 20th that to many it felt like a weather-worn oasis, an escape from the hustle and bustle of Houston and a return to a simpler time when everyone shared a complimentary bowl of peanuts and only classic rock poured forth from the ancient juke box.
Though the exterior has undergone some (much-needed) renovations, the vibe of the bar is still the same. Area folks mingle over a game of washers while the bartender inquires earnestly about each customer's day. Beer is cheap and cold, and wine comes in white or red. Hours pass without anyone realizing where they've gone.
And now there's food. Really surprisingly great food.
Tommy Duplechin and his brother Billy opened The Boot about four months ago, taking over the run-down but effortlessly charming former home of Shady Tavern. Together with their business partners Jimmy Jones, Chico Ramirez and a third brother, Glenn, they did some remodeling that mostly consisted of aesthetic changes, but they did add air conditioning in the small interior space that holds the bar -- the first time in the building's 75-year existence that it's been climate-controlled. They also introduced a short but mighty menu of Cajun classics ranging from crawfish to gumbo to pair with an excellent selection of Abita beer. While folks are still coming mainly for the beer and camaraderie, the food should not be overlooked.
The brothers learned to cook in Louisiana, where they were born and raised, and because of their devotion to Louisiana meats, spices and seafood, they import as much as possible from our neighbor to the east. Late-season crawfish are covered in a lip-numbing spice blend that Billy created and has manufactured in Louisiana to ensure authenticity. Red beans are served in a styrofoam cup with a scoop of white rice that helps to quell the heat of the chile powder and pepper in the ruddy stew dotted with Louisiana sausage, another proprietary recipe trucked in from out of state.
"It's just better when it comes from Louisiana," Tommy says, as if excusing the fact that he hasn't jumped on the locavore bandwagon.
Oh well. At least the Lone Star is from Texas.