331 Broad St., Lake Charles • 602-6343
The Local Grubscape • By Justin Morris
I like to wait until the shine has worn off the proverbial apple before I go and check out a new restaurant in town (certainly when it comes to a review). But I just couldn’t wait to try Panorama Music House.
Late last year, I sat down with owner Jay Ecker and got the skinny on what this new venture was going to be. Ecker told me that he was hoping to have a New Year’s Eve show to introduce Panorama, but things developed more slowly than anticipated. That may not have been a bad thing. The best things come to those who wait, and this shining new gem was worth waiting for.
Panorama opened just in time for Mardi Gras, on Feb. 28. The first weekend saw a ton of great music lined up, including a performance by the Flamethrowers on Lundi Gras that (according to the pictures I’ve seen) packed the place. That kind of crowd wasn’t going to be very conducive to sitting down and enjoying a meal.
I waited until the following Friday to make my way over. I discovered not only that Panorama would still be serving food late that evening, but also that a favorite local band of mine, Justin Martindale and the Backstabbers, were to take the stage at 9:30 pm. It seemed like a win all around.
Fully refurbished and with decades of history behind it, the former Panorama Burger House — now Panorama Music House — sign looked spectacular hanging above the doorway. Inside, custom lighting, craft fixtures, and digital screens at the booths and throughout the building give this place a “next level” feel as you walk in the door.
In the main room, there was a beautiful and well-appointed bar to the left. A carpeted stage filled the back of the room to the far right. The stage was festooned with a simple but very well-executed stage lighting system. There was visible sound dampening material dotting the brick walls in the room that, to me anyway, will always be the “brewery side” of Rikenjaks back in its downtown days.
We found a spot stage right from which to watch the band for a bit and worked on our first drinks: a Bayou Spiced rum and diet for me and a Tito’s Screwdriver for my girlfriend, who reached out to PMH co-owner Frankie Randazzo via a Facebook comment to compliment him on the superb sound quality in the place. He quickly tracked us down to give us a little walking tour of the new venue.
Frankie immediately led us to the back patio, which was almost shocking to see. That dusty little “backdoor” corner was now a well-lit, beautifully decorated patio complete with tables and umbrellas, a patio bar with double windows, cornhole and washer boards and more.
Frankie was particularly proud of the sound system that kept the perfect balance between audible and unobtrusive for those conversing outside. A third partner of PMH, Buck Maraist, joined us and talked more about what the three of them had done and were hoping to do with this brilliant new venture. He also fetched us a copy of their Week 1 soft opening menu (which is changing weekly throughout March) so the missus and I could sit down for a bite once The Backstabbers finished up their set and Toledo Ben took over, playing a killer background music mix.
At this time of evening, we were advised to place food orders at the bar. We did so and were told to check back in 15 to 20 minutes. The food was ready on time despite the hustle and bustle of the busy bar. We made our way to the front room, with its big open-air windows, calm and quiet lighting and interesting décor and sat down with our food: a burger known as “The Roadie” for me, and a bunless variation of the House Burger for her, both served with tasty, thinly cut French fries.
The Roadie comes with American cheese, a fried egg, potato sticks, bacon and a garlic and herb mayo. The House Burger is a double meat burger with American cheese, arugula, tomato and bread and butter pickles. Both were cooked nicely. The meat didn’t have the most profound “beefy” flavor around but did have a bit of smokiness that implied an open top grill.
The Roadie was an excellent amalgam of ingredients that worked exceptionally well together, wedged inside a lightly toasted bun. Whether or not it makes the cut for the full menu in April is yet to be seen, but I do hope it makes it that far. Regardless, I imagine anything they do bring to the permanent menu will be worth checking out.
It feels a bit silly writing about a restaurant under these circumstances. They’re hardly up and going, and they don’t even have a permanent menu. Putting a critical eye on any restaurant this early in the game would put it at a disadvantage. But my early review does highlight two very important points about what’s really going on at Panorama Music House.
For starters, despite all the inherent pitfalls stated above, even the toughest “critic” would be hard pressed to find a real complaint. The food was tasty and well prepared and served in a timely manner. The service was exceptional, considering that it was from the bartenders at a very busy bar at around 11 pm. If anything, that shows you how capable these guys and their team are, and it paints a nice picture of what this place will be and accomplish once it’s really in “go mode.”
The other important thing that stands out is that there is so much more to talk about than the food when it comes to this place. From the style, the live music, the patio, the lights, the chill “front patio” and the game room (which I never even made it into) to the forthcoming Southwest Louisiana Music Museum display to the Speakeasy, whose whereabouts and precise purpose I am not at liberty to write about, this place has, if not everything, then most of it. And I think it is something that Lake Charles’ downtown has been wanting and waiting for for a long time.
I have great confidence that these guys are doing what it takes to make this place all, and possibly much more, than any of us can expect. We’ve seen what these guys have done with Madison’s in Beaumont, Dylan’s in Port Arthur and Rikenjaks in Vidor and right here on Ryan Street. But Panorama Music House is something that those other places aren’t.
It’s 100 percent ours. It belongs to Lake Charles. It has a certain history and passion for music, food and good times that speaks to most of us. Though many restaurants and bars have occupied that space over the years, this one may be the one we were waiting for. I suppose time will tell, but I’d bet on it — and I’m hardly a gambling man.
It makes me sad, in a way, as I’m soon to move away from this fantastic town. I’m sad that I won’t be around to see it, or to keep cruising the local Grubscape, for that matter. I’ll still be close and keeping my finger on the pulse of things, but I may have to leave the Grubscape in all your very capable hands for the time being.
If I’ve accomplished anything, I hope I’ve gotten you all a little curious about all the fun and tasty places in our local food scene. And I hope I’ve motivated you to go check out and discover some of your own. If Panorama Music House is indeed the last place that I get to put the “Local Grubscape” seal of approval on, I’m thrilled beyond words that it is this business, which I see doing remarkable things in the years and decades to come.
So, until we get to do this again, go see and taste them all and tell ‘em Justin sent ya. I hope to see you soon.