Veg­eta­bles rule at Blue Col­lar

Restau­rant is still offering big meals and max­i­mum com­fort.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Ken­dall Hamer­sly

“I’m not the big­gest veg­etable eater my­self and never really have been,” Blue Col­lar chef-owner Danny Ser­fer says.

You wouldn’t know it from the restau­rant’s menu. Po­si­tioned as a com­fort-food hang­out for lo­cals, Blue Col­lar does some­thing more al­tru­is­tic than merely fill­ing you up on rib-stick­ing meats, pota­toes and bread pud­ding. It gets you to eat your veg­eta­bles.

Blue Col­lar does this by making veg­eta­bles as ap­peal­ing as any­thing else on the menu, us­ing su­per-fresh pro­duce and cre­ative com­bi­na­tions and, in some cases, making veg­eta­bles taste like some­thing else en­tirely. Hey, what­ever works.

Open four years come Jan­uary in the MiMo dis­trict, Blue Col­lar has nes­tled into the space be­tween fam­ily-style diner and up­scale gourmet, and found a loyal fol­low­ing of re­peat cus­tomers. Its tiny, stain­less-steel kitchen doles out the likes of mac­a­roni and cheese, potato latkes, burg­ers and ribs with care­fully sourced, top­drawer in­gre­di­ents.

That’s not just any ba­con in the Ger­man potato salad. It ’s Nueske’s, from Wis­con­sin. Those aren’t or­di­nary sausage chunks in the jam­bal­aya. They’re from Miami pur­veyor Proper Sausages. Those lus­cious grains in the shrimp and grits aren’t from Sysco. They’re milled to or­der at An­son Mills in South Carolina. It’s as if Ser­fer launched a food­iecul­ture in­va­sion of a Mor­ri­son’s Cafe­te­ria, with con­sis­tently sat­is­fy­ing re­sults.

Ser­fer manned Blue Col­lar’s kitchen un­til sum­mer 2014, when he opened Mignonette in Edge­wa­ter. He brought on the tal­ented Ervin Bryant as Blue Col­lar’s chef de cui­sine, let­ting Bryant put his stamp on the menu, which be­gins with about 10 ap­pe­tiz­ers, mostly hearty stuff.

Pork and beans are a lush mix of Proper Sausage, ap­ple­wood ba­con, San Marzano toma­toes, rich home­made pork stock (made from the drip­pings cre­ated by roast­ing ribs), can­nellini beans, a hint of Scotch bon­net pep­per and a runny fried egg on top. Ser­fer says it’s his fa­vorite thing on the menu. It’sserved with grilled bread from Parisian Bak­ery in North Miami.

Cuban spring rolls are the prod­uct of Ser­fer’s de­sire to serve Cuban sand­wiches com­bined with the kitchen’s lack of space to make them. Clas­sic in­gre­di­ents such as Ser­rano ham, manchego cheese, Proper chorizo and yel­low mus­tard go into a spring roll and are quickly fried, and the fla­vor is un­mis­tak­able.

Shrimp and grits starts with grits cooked in home­made lob­ster stock. Seven to nine large shrimp stand out, as do the grits’ in­tense corn fla­vor and the mix of tru­gole, sharp ched­dar, fontina and Parme­san cheeses. Chunks of ba­con add tex­ture and salt, and the bar­be­cue sauce of Worces­ter­shire and lob­ster stock has just the right tart­ness.

Ev­ery day, Blue Col­lar of­fers a se­lec­tion of one type of ribs (short ribs, baby back, etc.), a Parme­san dish (chicken, veal, egg­plant) and a braise (brisket, oxtail, pork shoul­der). Our half-por­tion of baby back ribs was seven big fat ones, slow-roasted with a sea­son­ing rub and fin­ished on the grill with bar­be­cue sauce made with pork stock. Ger­man potato salad on the side hits all the right notes of mus­tard and ba­con.

The en­tree menu has lots of choices from all the ma­jor meat groups. Our or­der of Cor­ben, brisket done in a tra­di­tional red­wine braise, had plenty of depth and ten­der­ness. It’s served with two toasted Por­tuguese muffins, which Ser­fer says is what you’d have if an English muf­fin, brioche and white bread had a baby (shaped like the muf­fin, white in color and with brioche’s gen­tle sweet­ness). Two home­made potato latkes are on the side, along with Di­jon mus­tard and a tub of the brais­ing jus. You can make a sand­wich or eat it all de­con­structed, your choice.

Crispy-skin lo­cal snap­per is a 7- to 10-ounce fil­let seared hard, skin-side down, for a quick crisp and suc­cu­lent, juicy flesh. Rock­shrimp veg­etable fried rice with pineap­ple and sweet potato and co­conut red curry sauce are on the side (our curry sauce ar­rived cold, but that was quickly fixed).

Jam­bal­aya is a sa­vory mix of spice-rubbed wild Royal Red shrimp, spicy An­douille-style Proper Sausage and pulled chicken thighs nes­tled in bas­mati rice cooked in gumbo file and lob­ster stock. It’s a huge por­tion.

Those veg­eta­bles dot the menu as side dishes, are of­fered a la carte or can be or­dered as a four-part veg­etable plate for $19, and this plat­ter was eas­ily the most ap­pe­tiz­ing of any­thing we tried.

Spaghetti squash is roasted and pulled apart, the soft flesh warmed with just enough but­ter and Parme­san to bind it but leave it tast­ing like squash. Wilted gar­licky spinach is sautéed in home­made gar­lic aioli. Caramelized Brussels sprouts are blanched a few min­utes to set the color, then seared and sautéed in but­ter to cre­ate nut­ti­ness, no bit­ter­ness.

Cur­ried cau­li­flower purée starts with chunks of cau­li­flower poached in milk with red curry paste and madras curry, then puréed with hot cream and cold but­ter with red-wine vine­gar, honey and salt. Large spears of as­para­gus are blanched briefly to set their color, then grilled with olive oil, salt and pep­per and topped with blue cheese crum­bles.

A lone mis­step was kale sautéed in olive oil with crushed red pep­per, shal­lots, but­ter and white wine: The un­der­cooked kale was served ba­si­cally in one gi­ant leaf that could have been a salad bar garnish at the Golden Cor­ral, and the level of red pep­per brought tears to our eyes.

“I’m not much of a pas­try cook,” says Ser­fer, and there’s no space in the kitchen for bak­ing. But there’s a dessert of leg­end here, but­ter­scotch Heath Bar bread pud­ding, on the menu from the start. It’s a cus­tardy bread pud­ding with rich but­ter­scotch fla­vor, and you can really taste the Heath. It’s served with spicy cayenne whipped cream.

THE MIAMI HER­ALD/COUR­TESY

Blue Col­lar will turn 4 years old in Jan­uary.

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