As they were planning their new restaurant, SoLou, which opened on Perkins Road in mid-March, partners Peter Sclafani, Kiva Guidroz and Michael Boudreaux made a key decision about the spot’s existing patio. The dreamy space under sprawling live oak trees featured a large outdoor bar, part of the Caribbean theme that defined its former tenant, The Rum House.
The SoLou partners saw the chance for something they considered more important. They removed the bar, and replaced it with additional seating.
“With what’s happened,” Sclafani says, “having more seating outside seems like the right thing to do right now.”
Before the pandemic, the rooftop bars installed at the The Chimes and now-closed Bumsteers, and the trail-blazing elevated parklet created by Cocha, seemed like exciting exceptions. They were glimpses into a slowly changing dining landscape in a city that had generally thumbed its nose at eating outside.
Until recently, the perception had been that it was too hot and humid to dine outdoors in the summer, and too damp and cold during the winter. The brief comfortable days of spring and fall weren’t enough to warrant the investment in outdoor dining options.
But now, more restaurant operators are giving permanent patios serious consideration, especially those who are in the midst of opening new establishments or making changes to existing ones. More diners want to dine al fresco nowadays, having grown accustomed to the idea during the pandemic.
They’re finding vast and varied options, ranging from temporary structures erected to help restaurants navigate COVID-19 restrictions for indoor dining, to a growing number of permanent plaza-like additions. Throughout, the use of fans, misters and heaters have made outdoor dining a pleasant, year-round option.
“I think it’s become part of the way we think about operations these days,” says Bistro Byronz partner Emelie Alton. “You can’t really consider not doing it. We wouldn’t have chosen a location that didn’t provide some opportunity for outdoor seating. It’s critical.”
The Willow Grove locations of Bistro Byronz and Pizza Byronz both feature outdoor dining. But at the new Mid City location of Bistro Byronz, underway in the former White Star Market, Alton says there will be considerably more outdoor tables. She and her team plan to arrange tables along the breezeway between the restaurant and the adjacent building, extending them back toward the complex’s parking lot.
“We’re working on making it feel more integrated into the overall restaurant space, and not like an afterthought,” Alton says. “We’re going to add landscaping, and it’ll be a dedicated section.”
While the former location of Bistro Byronz on the east end of Government Street included a small outdoor patio, it wasn’t strategically located, Alton says. This time, there will be stronger logistical flow between inside operations and the tables outside.
Around town, open air dining options continue to grow. Leola’s, the new restaurant that recently moved into the spot vacated by Yvette Marie’s in the Circa 1857 complex, is taking advantage of the vast patio space outside. Owners LeAnn and Corey Ringe increased outdoor seating significantly when they took over earlier this year. Outdoor dining is also plentiful throughout Electric Depot, where spots like City Roots and Boru Ramen include lots of outdoor tables on large patios. Makers, the Lebanese restaurant that opened late last year on Lee Drive, is planning to add covered outdoor seating at the entrance.
At DiGiulio Brothers Italian Café, a beer garden-style outdoor patio will soon be part of the longstanding restaurant.
Owner Mike Johnson says just before the pandemic hit, he and partner Richard Cole were able to purchase the property next door, where the now-closed Thai restaurant Rama operated. Their motivation at the time was to use the space for additional parking, but their vision for the site has grown to include a permanent patio.
“We’re living right smack in the middle of a paradigm shift when it comes to outdoor dining,” Johnson says.
During the pandemic, Johnson increased the number of outdoor tables immediately in front of his restaurant from around 6 to 18, taking over a portion of the parking lot to do so. The planned terraced area, which Johnson hopes to complete before football season, will seat about 40. Despite doubling his footprint, Johnson says he has no plans to expand the existing structure that holds the 35-year old restaurant.
“I can’t change anything about the restaurant. People will say the food doesn’t taste the same,” Johnson says. “But we can add more outdoor dining. People are just really into it now.”
MORE SPRING FOOD NEWS
A Vietnamese take on the traditional crawfish boil that’s found popularity in Houston and New Orleans. Now, it’s gaining a following at Baton Rouge restaurants like Chow Yum Phat, Soji and Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine. The cooking method includes adding lemongrass and plenty of citrus to the boil seasoning. Once cooked, the crawfish are doused in a butter sauce flecked with more lemongrass, garlic, peppers and other seasonings.
Number of toppings on the Caribbean Chicken & Mango pizza at Pizza Artista, which opened in late March near Sprouts on Perkins Road. Co-founder Scott McKlaskey says the restaurant’s specially developed crust is built to withstand the pizza’s toppings of chicken (or steak), feta, mozzarella, pineapple, mango, cilantro, fresh lime, garlic and a balsamic glaze. pizzaartista.com
New food truck alert
Mediterranean food truck Abu Omar opened Easter weekend on Coursey Boulevard. The brand began as a food truck in Houston back in 2011 and has since expanded to more than 20 food truck and bricks-and-mortar locations. Baton Rouge marks Abu Omar’s 24th location. Its signature item is a shawarma wrap made with halal chicken or beef, long-cut pickles and a garlic-based sauce served on tortilla bread. The restaurant also serves kabobs, sandwiches and falafel. abuomarhalal.com
City Pork adds a location
The City Pork family is set to add to its roster of locations this May when it takes over the Adrian’s Restaurant & Bar spot at Highland Park Marketplace. Owner Stephen Hightower will lease the building from Juban’s Restaurant Group, which closed Adrian’s nearly a year ago during the pandemic. With the larger footprint, Hightower plans to bring back some previous City Pork concepts, such as menu items from its former Kitchen & Pie and Deli & Charcuterie restaurants. citypork.com
“Even if the restrictions are completely lifted, I think we’re still going to aim for outside (for live music). You can take the restrictions away, but that doesn’t mean people are going to be completely comfortable.”
—La Divina senior front-of-house staff Brennan Haggard. While the state loosened restrictions on indoor performances in March, many local restaurant owners said they were sticking to outdoor performances for the time being.
This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of 225 magazine.