Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Week In The Life At The Blue Door Cafe

Am I recognized when I walk through the front door? Yes. Am I given seating priority over other customers? Never. Do I ask for special treatment or go off menu when ordering? Nothing that I wouldn't do at any other restaurant. Do I think that the kitchen might take an extra second or two to make sure my plate of food is a stand-out dish both visually and in how it tastes? Absolutely.

Lest I set the bar too high so early in the review, let me bring some reality to the situation. I have been going on a fairly regular basis to Blue Door since they converted over from The Golden Goose just under a year ago. On the whole, the food is creative, very tasty, and fun. Have I ever gotten a bad plate of food -- something I would send back to the kitchen? No. Have I ordered items off the menu that weren't as stellar as others? Yes. It is a sad fact of life that not all dishes are created equal and while I've been knocked out of this world too many times to count with the food here, sometimes a dish can be cooked correctly and seasoned properly, but still only register a "meh" in the taste department.

So why do I love Blue Door so much? Mostly because of the commitment of every single person that works there to provide a positive experience, from the homemade breads and pastries, to the effort to use seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible, to the knowledgeable waitstaff, and to the kitchen team that not only continually strives to innovate new dishes on a daily basis, but also has the chops to be able to pull it off.

While the restaurant has a regular menu which changes very little, the true magic of this place is the daily "specials" menu, which tends to rotate definitely on a weekly basis, and quite often, on a daily one. This week, dishes on the specials menu centered on an Italian theme, some of which were of true Italian descent, others were a nod to an Italian tradition.

Shall we begin the journey with Wednesday, May 16th?

Blue Door Cafe's Specials Menu for Wednesday

Many times I already know what I am going to order even before walking through the front door. This is because owner Michael Bruno does a great job of fairly regularly updating the status of the restaurant's Facebook page. He'll list out the daily specials for the following day so that customers have an idea of what to expect. Nine times out of ten, that status update will be what prompts me to come in the following day for breakfast or lunch.

So what was today's sirens' song? Fresh Pasta Carbonara:

Homemade Pasta Carbonara

Made with homemade egg noodles, fresh peas, shallots, Nueske's bacon, and Parmesan cheese, this creamy and salty concoction made my head swoon with delight. I am particularly fond of the fact that from it's very inception, Blue Door has championed the use of the deliciously smokey and salty Nueske bacon, which adds such great depth to any dish it appears in. The fresh peas were delicious and added little pops of sweetness to a pasta dish which could've easily landed on the salty side.

Not wanting me to miss out on the opportunity to try one of the kitchen's homemade meatballs, at the chef's request, my server also brought me one covered in the house marinara sauce:

Homemade Meatball with Marinara

This was one of the most tender meatballs I think I've ever eaten, probably due to the freshly ground bread crumbs that were added to help retain the meat's moisture. The marinara sauce had a nice acidity to it that complemented the fattiness of the meatball. On the menu, this meatball was intended for the "Not Just Any Spaghetti and Meatballs," also with homemade egg pasta. Had I not been so hot and bothered for the carbonara, I would've gladly ordered this in its place.

On Thursday, May 17th, I returned for lunch and decided this time to try the Italian Sausage Sandwich accompanied by a selection of Fresh Fruit:

Sausage and Peppers Sandwich with Fresh Fruit, Angle 1

Here's a slightly different angle:

Sausage and Peppers Sandwich with Fresh Fruit, Angle 2

Placed in a toasted housemade baguette roll, the Italian sausage was a little bit spicy, substantial, and delicious. Housemade marinara along with roasted peppers and onions also filled the roll and was finished off with melted cheese and a chiffonade of fresh basil. When the plate was first set down in front of me, I had to pause for a moment to consider my line of attack. While I'm sure some could unhinge their jaw and attempt to eat this like a normal sandwich, today I opted for knife and fork. Everything about this plate of food was delicious. And while the interior crumb of the baguette was nearly perfect, the only concern that I had was with the exterior. When toasting a baguette, it can get a bit too crusty for my dental work. The fresh fruit was an excellent complement to the savory sandwich.

When I stopped in on Friday, May 18th, I noticed that some of the specials had been reworked (like the Cannoli French Toast was now a Sicilian French Toast) and new items were listed where others had lived before:

Blue Door Cafe's Specials Menu for Friday

I am ALWAYS up for a good burger and having never had one at Blue Door before, I decided to go with the Mafia Burger with a side of French Fries. Here was one angle:

Mafia Burger with Fries, Angle 1

and a different angle:

Mafia Burger with Fries, Angle 2

So what made this burger so special? For one, the ground beef was local Ohio beef that had been grass-fed. It arrived at the perfect medium-rare I had ordered it. Second, the pesto creme fraiche, organic roasted red peppers, and toasted ciabatta roll were all made in-house. As you can well imagine, the French Fries were hand-cut and fried to a proper crispy golden brown and delicious texture and flavor. While I had read the night before on Blue Door's Facebook page that the bun was going to be a seeded brioche, I was a little surprised that the burger actually came on a ciabatta roll.

If there was one gripe about the burger, it was the ciabatta roll. Don't misunderstand, gentle reader. It was impeccably fresh and had a wonderful crust and crumb. And it was right for the kitchen to split and toast the roll in an effort to avoid a soggy bottom bun from the juicy burger patty. But because of the nature of ciabatta, the crust was tougher to bite through. This meant that with every bite, the interior contents of the burger were being squished out the other end of the roll. A minor gripe to be sure, but when you're working at such an elevated level, every little consideration counts.

I mentioned it to Michael on my way out of the door and he concurred that ciabatta wasn't the best match for the burger, but that he just hadn't had time to get the brioche done that morning. Fair enough.

 On Saturday, May 19th, I was completely stoked to see that Blue Door had received a shipment of ripe heirloom tomatoes. There are few pleasures in life as a really ripe tomato and I was excited to see what would appear on the specials menu for the day:

Blue Door Cafe's Specials Menu for Saturday

While there was a Salad Caprese on the menu:

Salad Caprese

I was thinking more along the lines of a sandwich. So, in a moment of foodie inspiration (or desperation, depending on your point of view), I decided to order the Salad Caprese and one of Blue Door's signature croissants, split and toasted on the flattop:

Split and Toasted Croissant

With salad and croissant in hand, I simply assembled the breakfast sandwich I had been envisioning all along:

Salad Caprese Breakfast Sandwich

I mean, how can you go wrong with fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh Ohio basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, 30-year-old balsamic vinegar and an incredibly buttery, flaky croissant? Truth be told that one croissant only used up about half of the salad's contents, so I had a lovely time finishing the remaining salad with my fork. For about a tenth of a second, I thought about ordering a second croissant to make an additional "sandwich," but decided to keep my butter quota in check for the meal. If you have the chance to try this for yourself, do it!

For my final visit, TODAY, I had arrived early enough to consider a breakfast dish instead of lunch. As such, I decided to give in to my sweet tooth:

Blue Door Cafe's Specials Menu for Sunday

Any time I order something sweet, I also try to order something to balance it out. In today's case, that would a cup of coffee from local, Akron-based coffee roaster Angel Falls:

Angel Falls Roasted Coffee

Hot and bitter, this was a lovely way to start my meal and wake up in the morning.

The Sicilian French Toast had been teasing me most of the week and a comment from a Facebook friend finally pushed me over the edge:

Sicilian French Toast

The French Toast was made with housemade Challah bread, soaked in lemon, milk, cream, and eggs, which had then been griddled and then layered with a lemon pastry cream, topped with Creme Chantilly (aka fresh whipped cream), sprinkled with Vietnamese cinnamon, a chiffonade of fresh mint, fresh raspberries, and powdered sugar. I was surprised at how well the lemon and mint went together. Actually, the whole thing was delicious and while it wasn't the best French Toast I've had at Blue Door (that honor goes to the brandied peach French Toast), if you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, this would be the way to go.

Along with the sweet portion of my meal, I decided to add a bit of smokey saltiness with some of the Nueske applewood-smoked, thick-cut bacon:

Nueske Applewood-Smoked Bacon

Honestly, this is some of the best bacon I've ever eaten. It isn't inexpensive, but it is meat, hearty, rich, salty, and smokey all at the same time. I probably shouldn't have gone the extra step because I couldn't finish everything, but every time I taste this bacon, it takes me back to my youth when I would camp out with the Cub Scouts and we'd cook most of the food over an open fire.

So there we have it, gentle reader, an entire week's worth of Blue Door Cafe and Bakery.

Now, I will be the first to admit that Blue Door is not inexpensive. On a fairly regular basis, with tip and tax, each of the meals I wrote about above was anywhere from $15 to $20. Those wandering in thinking that Blue Door is the same old greasy spoon diner it used to be in one of its previous lives will be a bit shocked. In fact, I have seen people sit down, look at the menu, then at each other, get up and leave before ordering anything. Honestly, those aren't the kind of folks that Blue Door cater to anymore.

But if you are interested in nearly everything being made from scratch, local, organic, sustainable food being cooked and seasoned properly, and understand that quality ingredients cost money, then you really ought to check out Blue Door as soon as you can. Do note that while the outside door is now blue, the old sign for The Golden Goose is still standing out in front of the restaurant. That will change at some point, according to Michael, but it is worth remembering in case you are trying to locate the restaurant for the first time.

I've included lots of gorgeous pictures in this write-up from my past five visits (which open up extra large when you click on them), however, I have many, MANY more starting from the day they opened in on my Flickr account. If you'd like to see more pictures, click here. You can even start a slideshow to view them from beginning to end.

There is so much I didn't get to cover during these five visits. Gee, I guess I'll just have to pick another week in the future and repeat the experiment. And that will be fun for both of us!


Mahala said...

The Blue Door has become my restaurant of choice for either breakfast or lunch. There really is no other in the area that is doing what they are. The ever changing menu of amazing dishes from the best ingredients is eating nirvana. I just returned from my first ever trip to Paris and I didn't find a croissant there as luscious as those at The Blue Door. How cool is that? Everything I have had at The Blue Door has been delicious, even when I wasn't enthused about the ethnic bent of the week's menu. They are always busy now and though i can have a short wait for a table, I am so happy for their success. Their focus on bringing an exceptional dining experience to their customers has reaped well deserved rewards.

RyanWilliams said...

I freaking love the Blue Door Cafe, I have never been dissatisfied with anything there. ALWAYS go for the specials, the Facebook menu posts tempt me nearly every day.

Teresa, said...

I would like to have that wonderful burger, not to mention all of the other yummy dishes. I wish the Blue Door was right down the block from my house here in Nashville.

Jan Patetta said...

We love it too. And we def feel it's worth the extra $ to have such wonderful food, locally grown & lovingly prepared. You're right: there's almost nothing better than a perfect tomato. Can you imagine a BLT there? Good lord.

alovelylittleblog said...

i have heard SO MUCH about this!! i really need to check it out!! thanks for the review!! always turn to your blog when looking for anew akron eatery :)

Tino said...

@Jan Patetta: I finally did have a BLT there (on Wednesday), except that it also had delicious avocado on it as well. It was ... breathtaking.

alovelylittleblog said...

I've heard so much about this little place and i just have to go soon!!! i always like to read your reviews :) thanks!!

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