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Food & Drink » Chow

Better than Before

Blue Pine reboots a familiar space

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It is often said that everyone deserves a second chance. The same seems to hold true for buildings.

Located on Century Drive a few blocks east of Galveston, what is now Blue Pine Kitchen and Bar for years has been known as Players Bar and Grille, a neighborhood dive bar. A few pool tables and a bar reminiscent of an old Elk's lodge, Players reeked with the lingering stench of cigarette smoke and had served as a favorite watering hole for perhaps a handful of folks.

But two years ago, Josh Marquet of Astro Lounge bought the space envisioning a different purpose for the venue. The result: a surprisingly repurposed building and upscale tavern, the Blue Pine Kitchen and Bar.

Marquet is joined by Matt Neltner and his wife, Jill Moore, as the three new co-owners. Neltner spent five years working at the Deschutes Brewery and, most recently, as the executive chef at the Kokanee Café in Camp Sherman. He now serves as Blue Pine's executive chef, and is dishing up his own creative version of pub fare.

Even a casual drive-by reveals that the building has been cleaned up. The antiquated signage is gone, replaced with an organic and updated sign made of steel and blue pine (of course).

The changes inside are even more dramatic. Gone is the old carpeting and linoleum, replaced with a rustic, stained concrete floor. When I asked about the spectacular 20-foot-plus bar, I was told the entire length was from a tree that once lived downtown on Jefferson Street.

Blue Pine has a full bar including an extensive local beer list—Good Life, Crux, Boneyard and Deschutes—yet, as if acknowledging the space's dive bar prior life, also gives a nod to classics like Bud Light and PBR.

The entire menu screams gastro pub, touting under-$10 snacks and sides like heirloom popcorn, house-made hand pies and "Goulash nachos" made with a delicious mess of potato chips, paprika braised beef, melted raclette cheese and pickled fennel. Also, a standout on the snacks menu are the grilled Creole frog legs, served with a creamy garlic aioli. Moore refers to them as "chicken fish" and says they sell like crazy. She claims they are irresistible.

The small plates are no less intriguing, dynamic choices like savory shitake mushroom pancakes with roasted corn and fresh basil served with a reduced balsamic syrup and sundried tomato butter, steamed mussels with vodka, cream, pancetta and sweet piquillo peppers and a lavender scented crab risotto with morsels of linguica sausage cured with aromatic garlic and smoky paprika.

My lunch at Blue Pine began with a snack of pencil-thin shoestring garlic fries that arrived piping hot and perfumed with fresh garlic and parsley. The accompanying dip was a smooth blend of more sweet roasted garlic, parsley and olive oil.

Next, I asked for two of the menu's small plates. First, I sampled the beet salad with watercress, toasted pine nuts, chevre vinaigrette and crispy fennel. The watercress was bright and spicy, and the tender beets were roasted and then pickled in tangy sweet and sour brine. The garnish of crunchy fennel added texture and a slight sweet flavor.

Then I dug into the "Pork and Beans." Made with a slowly braised South American spiced pork cheek and tender anasazi beans served smothering by a house made sope—a traditional Mexican corn cake ideal for soaking up all the flavorful sauce—the dish is hearty and rich with a sidekick of spiciness.

The staff at Blue Pine are relaxed, welcoming and friendly. Although the restaurant wants to feel a bit more upscale, just as easily it serves as a place to drop in for a snack and a beer after a long bike ride.

In this world of reuse and recycle, Blue Pine Kitchen and Bar has repurposed this old westside tavern into an exciting new gathering spot.

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