Monday, June 4, 2012

Blue Collar

It’s rare you discover a restaurant in Miami where you feel as much love in the environment as you do at Blue Collar, found on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 68th Street. A tiny gourmet diner that makes up for what it lacks in size with food that’s exponentially tastier than any diner fare you’ve ever dabbled in, Blue Collar is the self-actualization of owner/executive chef Daniel Serfer, a bold culinary whiz who took a chance at cooking the cuisine he’s most passionate about to see if the palates of the public feel the same. So far, his investment has proven to be spot-on, with locals flocking to Blue Collar since its opening in mid-January.

Chef Serfer’s menu features elevated interpretations of what a highly-skilled grandmother would cook, utilizing classic techniques and the best ingredients he can get his hands on. He crafts a rib special (baby backs, spares, prime rib, short ribs, etc.) a braise special (brisket, ox tails, pork shoulder...), and a parm special (chicken, veal, eggplant...) everyday, in addition to mouthwatering sandwiches -- like tempura grouper po’ boys and homemade veggie burgers -- salads (like Jen’s zero-anchovy Caesar), and fresh catch, including grilled swordfish and crispy-skin snapper.  There are also globally-influenced “noshes,” an extensive selection of vegetable dishes that will convert haters into absolute fanatics, and wine and craft beer galore -- everything you could possibly want in an affordable chill spot.
First, I sampled some noshes: Cuban sandwich spring rolls with Serrano ham and Manchego, wild mushroom and goat cheese croquettes with tart pomegranate-fig jam, and Chanukah latkes (a.k.a. potato pancakes, served year-round, thank goodness), topped with homemade applesauce -- marvelous offerings, indeed. Next, a plate of pork and beans, blanketed with a fried egg and served with thick triangles of buttered toast -- not like the stuff you’re used to pouring from a can. With a sweet, smoky barbecue flavor and flecked with savory bits of bacon and Berkshire sausage, these simmered white beans are anything but ordinary, and the richness of the egg yolk takes you further to the edge of decadence. 

After non-stop devouring, I took a break to enjoy some IBC root beer and my immediate surroundings:  a packed house, the gray wall to my right adorned with funky old-fashioned lunch boxes, and an open kitchen straight ahead, with two chefs grinding it out in a state of completely-controlled chaos.  Then, one of them sauntered right over to my table with a platter of four different veggies to sample. 
It was Chef Serfer himself, and he was making his rounds throughout the restaurant to see if everything was exceeding his diners’ expectations -- and building solid relationships with his clientele.  It would’ve been impossible for me to choose four things from the 20-plus items on his “Veg Chalkboard,” so Chef Serfer selected his favorites -- caramelized Brussels sprouts, green peas with mint and extra-virgin olive oil, mango chow with citrus and jalapeno, and roasted artichoke hearts with lemon aioli. Each one was top-notch, and you can pick your own favorite four for just $14 to create a vegetable plate for the ages, including grilled asparagus with blue cheese, roasted beets with goat cheese, homemade french fries, and buttered baby bok choy. 

Shrimp and grits came next, and Blue Collar’s version is fantastic. Trugole cheese gives his grits a mashed potato consistency, and the shrimp come swimming in a spicy, New Orleans-style BBQ sauce. The baby back ribs and braised brisket were equally spectacular; both incredibly tender and served with delicious sides like “warm bacony potato salad,” full of buttery fingerlings and heavenly bits of smoky bacon, and curried cauliflower puree, with seductive sweetness and subtle spice. 

With a staff that radiates positive energy and cuisine that makes you feel like you’re back in grandma’s kitchen, Blue Collar has earned a place in my heart (and its food a spot in my stomach).  It’s even worth going to just for dessert -- like the butterscotch heath bar bread pudding, made with challah and dolloped with cayenne-kicked whipped cream.  With wallet-friendly, creative, feel-good food and a welcoming crew, Blue Collar is truly a place where anyone can go for an excellent plate of grub that’s heavy on the love

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