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House of Blues' food and atmosphere worth a trip

The House of Blues

114 Mt. Auburn, Harvard Square.

By Aaron R. Prazan
Staff Reporter

It's 106 miles to Chicago. We've got a full tank of gas and half a pack of cigarettes. It's dark and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it." Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi immortalized these words. Though only one of the Blues Brothers remains, anyone can get that bluesy feeling in the Aykroyd-owned House of Blues. Featuring a rustic and colorful atmosphere, a southern menu with worldly influences, and boasting a "Best of Boston" Award for great live music, the House of Blues is a great place to eat, drink, and be merry.

A laid back decor and interesting layout make up the first layer of the House of Blues' unique character. The walls are adorned with primitive paintings in plywood frames. On the ceiling are bas relief tiles depicting blues greats like Robert Johnson, Aretha Franklin, Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and the like. The same great names play on the jukebox, creating a dining room full of blues. The stage on the upper level sees lives performances from local and national bluesmen. And each Sunday there is a legendary Gospel Brunch that gets everyone on their feet and clapping. If your blues are not gone when you walk through the door, a full meal at the House of Blues is needed to relax you competely.

In two words, I can describe the food at The House of Blues: spicy and messy. The Blues' Cajun southern food gives you a two day ration of fat and a week's ration of flavor. Appetizers are highly recommended. The Crispy Cheese and Chicken Quesadilla is popular, but not extraordinary. Better are the New Orleans BBQ shrimp or Mississippi Cat Bites. The prawns are spiced (like nearly everything else) and sauteed with beer and Worcestershire. Cat Bites are fried nuggets of the river-bound staple of southern cooking - catfish. Despite its nasty diet and appearance, catfish is one of the better eating freshwater fish, more tender than any I can think of, and worth a try. The House of Blues chef, Don Dickerson, takes advantage of it more than once on the menu.

After the first course, the House of Blues offers smoked meats, more Cajun classics, and some surprising international selections. Meaty ribs and succulent smoked chicken are expected favorites, making up about half of the menu's entrees and sandwiches. There is a choice of barbecue sauces: the thick and spicy Texan, a classic Memphis recipe, and a very sweet Jack Daniel's based sauce. All are very good, with rich, lasting flavors. Most meals are also served with garlic mashed potatoes and collard greens. The potatoes are redskins mashed with skins on, and are deserving of praise. Liberal use of garlic and butter make the potatoes just as flavorful as the entree. Jambalaya and Shrimp & Crawfish Etouffee make up the Cajun selections. Jambalaya, a rice-based dish with a quartet of meats and a lively creole sauce, is an indispensable part of Cajun cooking and the The House of Blues does it well, not afraid to make it hot and generous with the seafood. Also on the menu are dishes based on Indian and Thai styles. Dishes like Coconut Curry Fettucini are unexpected, but celebrate the House of Blue's "Unity in Diversity" theme. Pizzas topped with Tandoor chicken and smoked salmon seem a little out of place. I never had the chance to try the pasta or the pizza, but judging from the rest of the menu, I would not be afraid to give them a taste, as they are probably outstanding.

Southern dessert selections are also designed to satiate your tastebuds and expand your waistline. Bread pudding with whipped cream and bourbon sauce tastes just like Grandma's. Hot fudge sundaes and peanut butter pie should appease even the most demanding chocoholic. All desserts are made from scratch on the premises. It would be wrong any other way.

All in all, The House of Blues was one of the best restaurants I visited all semester. It is just oozing with charisma and charm. The food is elaborately flavored and inexpensive, with most meals fetching less than ten dollars. Eating there is an experience and a pleasure, whether you need a few wetnaps afterwards or not. Mr. Aykroyd has made a blues heaven without making it into a tourist trap and deserves a visit.