Speak Up

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tasty Comfort Food

Blue Smoke
Executive Chef Ken Callaghan entices guests with his smoky flavors and juicy meats at an East side eatery with a built in jazz music box: Jazz Standard, located conveniently downstairs. Danny Meyer invested is money wisely in a BBQ joint with a mock view of grass and plants out its south facing windows. As you walk in you might be confused upon the first greeting. You might wonder, "Is this man seating me the maitre'd or a guy fresh from a Thursday at the office?" After all, he was wearing jeans and button up colored and collard shirt. In fact, the whole staff was wearing the same thing. I couldn't really tell the staff apart from the patrons waiting for their various pig products. Except for the servers, they all wore jeans too, but also a black "Blue Smoke" tee.

Okay, enough about the clothes, but I will stick with the front of the house. Greeted promptly, as I should have been. (Take a note please, in this. Some of you other joints seem to think I like standing in a crowded restaurant entrance with shopping bags ripping grooves into the palms of my hands forcing me to wonder if in fact I am wearing an invisibility cloak.) The service was clumsy at best. Not once, but twice servers came to drop food off at our table while suddenly looking frazzled as they realized we hadn’t ordered that, or anything yet. Annoying.

Now the food. It was very good for the price and pretty much exactly what I expected for this BBQ place that was well suited for families with children crawling over the red booths, the business men, the UES moms and strollers and the wonderfully happy gay couple to our left. We ordered: chicken wings, creamed spinach, hush puppies, a sampler of BBQ, fried green tomato salad and chocolate cake with ice cold milk. After receiving our cowboy looking mini bucket for sticky chipotle chicken wing carcasses we dove right in. The wings were great-larger than expected, crispy on the outside, warm and tender on the inside. But nothing crazy. Just good wings. I liked them. The hush puppies were next, terrible for your heart, but heartwarming to eat with their soft but firm, flush-white center and perfectly "golden-brown", thick exterior. Content with the sampler because it was, for lack of a better word: a sample. Now we know what to order the next time. And what to skip. Would get the pulled pork again, though it was a little dry. Actually, everything needed more BBQ sauce on it, but thankfully it was already on the table. Maybe they knew. The St. Louis ribs had a smoky flavor and smell and the flesh was teasingly tender. Fried green tomato salad was a salad that actually matched the dressing it was dressed in, delightfully. A buttermilk dressing quickly aided in the strict bitterness of the baby arugula. Would not, and I must actually repeat: would not order the creamed spinach again. It lacked seasoning and thus flavor. We added plenty of salt, but still it was a watery, pond looking mess. No worry though, there is no real need to order sides at Blue Smoke. Unlike most other pop-restaurants in the city, Blue Smoke offers larger portions. An entrée and an appetizer ought to do it. We especially overdid it with the chocolate cake. His idea, not mine. For a simple piece of chocolate cake, it was done most excellently. Too often are cakes over hyped on sugar and hard to bear with each new bite. But this cake was moist, yet not flimsy under the pressure of icing and paired perfectly with milk. Does the sommelier take care of that?

All around, I enjoyed Blue Smoke. Nothing to throw a ticker tape parade over, but loving and warm, matching its price to the food-gifts it tenders.

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