Jesse Roque’s latest twist is a Creole-leaning French bistro
Jesse Roque is no stranger to a new adventure. Since opening her flagship restaurant Never Blue in 2008, she has tried her hand at a food-truck/art-collective combo and a tarot reading/tattoo parlor/taco shop. Her latest endeavor, The Blue Ruby Bakery & Bistro, is a Creole-leaning French kitchen in Flat Rock with business partner and longtime Never Blue worker Lesley Milhas.
“We’re going to be focusing on classic French dishes as well as some Cajun and Creole classics,” says Milhas, who grew up in New Orleans, where her family runs a gourmet alligator-jerky company, Cajun Jerky & Meats. (They had a food truck, too, but it was shuttered for good during the pandemic lockdowns.)
Milhas followed her husband to Western North Carolina, relocating to be near family. Within months of moving to town, Milhas took a job at Never Blue, working her way up from waiting tables to becoming general manager.
To launch Blue Ruby Bakery & Bistro, Milhas joined Roque to take over the Our Recipe Roots storefront location from Jessica Owenby. That business primarily did pre-order and corporate events, and Blue Ruby will interpret some of the popular logistics of Owenby’s menu: think Jambalaya and seafood gumbo sold as heat-and-eat meals, New Orleans-style finger sandwiches, and picnic boxes.
Compared to other Roque menus, “The food here is going to be a little bit lighter,” says the award-winning restaurateur, citing the lack of a deep fryer in the new kitchen. But Roque also promises: “We’re not getting rid of cheese, and we’re not getting rid of butter.” In fact, she reveals, “There’s butter in nearly every recipe. Butter is our theme.”
The Never Blue twist is apparent in such menu items as the Saucisson-en-croute — what Roque calls a “fancy-ass pig in a blanket.” There’s also deviled eggs topped with black lumpfish caviar and scallions. Sandwiches include a Poulette Apricot — pulled chicken with whipped-brie mousse, caramelized apricot jam, arugula, and chardonnay shallot aioli on a brioche bun. Or choose from a mortadella sandwich, a Reuben with house-made kraut, or a Japanese-style egg-salad sandwich with Kewpie mayo on homemade milk bread.
“We’re really just playing on the basics,” says Roque.
The spacious locale, which once housed the Flat Rock Wine Shoppe and music venue The Back Room, leaves Roque with a slew of other ideas, as well. “Where the Back Room was — it looks like a dungeon, and it’s connected to our bakery space. So we are going to open up a very exclusive little tapas bar in that space in mid to late summer.”
Themed around the Blue Ruby concept, the space will be “sparkly and dark” with a focus on craft cocktails, says Roque.
“I think Flat Rock is really lacking a craft-cocktail option,” notes Milhas.
Naming the tapas venture will be an additional challenge, it seems. “I was going to call it the Blue Ruby Dungeon, but Lesley doesn’t like that,” Roque says with a laugh.
The Blue Ruby Bakery & Bistro, 2702 Suite C, Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock. Opening day is Thursday, May 11. Hours are 10am-3pm Thursday and Friday and 9am-3pm Saturday and Sunday, with weekend brunch offerings. Call 828-595-9353 or see theblueruby.com for more information. (@bluerubybakery on FB and IG).