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Friday, May 11, 2012

Blue Collar: Comfort Food for the Masses

     Blue Collar is that gratifying combination of classic American and quality cuisine.  The location alongside Biscayne, might seem a bit questionable.  It is after all, located in the Motel-district, and the restaurant itself is part of a compound where you expect people pay by the hour.  Overlooking the dodgy area though you'll find yourself in for a treat.  The cozy restaurant boasts several wooden tables packed together, and the walls are decorated with punch out cards, old-school style lunch pails, and a chalkboard laden with the daily specials.  When the weather is nice they will also set up tables outside, offering additional seating for those times when the main room is too crowded for comfort (which happens frequently since the space is small and the food is in high demand).
   While the menu boasts multiple sections, I always seem to end up sharing a couple of "nosh/apps"and then splitting the veggie plate.  Not that the entrees don't sounds delicious as well, I just can never resist the tantalizing choices in the upper left of the menu!
     The "mac" is a scrumptios mix of cavatappi pasta, trugole, cheddar, and parm cheese.  A far cry from the lurid orange you'll find out of a box of Kraft, the sauce is thick, gooey, and really coats the al dente pasta spirals.  Typically restaurants striving to make "unique" versions of this dish fail, and in my experience it is a rare commodity to find a restaurant that really does manage to stand out.  Blue Collar actually hits the nail on the head so to speak, paying homage to the quintessential childhood staple while managing to imbue their own style.  The portion comes topped with a sprinkling of buttery bread crumbs to give the dish some crunch.  The appetizer portion is large enough to share, but if you're really a mac and cheese fan I'd suggest getting your own so you don't have to.
     Another choice that apparently was a childhood staple for many, is the pork and beans. The smoky meat is combined with a heaping serving of saucy beans and the entire concoction is topped off with a fried egg.  Alongside the bulk of the dish are two hearty slabs of crusty bread (perfectly soft inside and crisp at the edges), so you can soak up the spicy sauce, really enjoying the dish that is a classic part of American culinary history (how many other dishes can you recall being served to soldiers in the Civil War).
     One of my personal favorites here is the vaca frita topped tostones.  Ok this isn't an American classic, but being in Miami I'm sure this dish is traditional fare for many.  Crispy flattened plantains serve as the base for a pile of tender, shredded flank steak, and then the dish is topped with fresh chives and a tangy and creamy orange mojo.  While you can't exactly down an entire serving in one bite (unless you're able to dislocate your jaw like a snake, in which case I'm impressed), each one provides a couple of satisfying nibbles in which you get the full gamut of textures in one savory little snack. 
     Even the pot of mussels here has some pizzazz.  Obviously subscribing to the theory that "everything is better with bacon" they tame the spicy broth with thick-cut slabs of pork and lots of onions and peppers.
     Let's be honest, unless you're a vegetarian or you know you're going to get something extraordinary, vegetables are rarely the source of unmitigated enthusiasm.  That being said, I've yet to meet someone that doesn't rave about these healthful sides at Blue Collar.  The menu rotates with what is seasonally available, and while you can choose any singular veggie for $4, you can also get a mixed veggie plate with four choices for $14. I've definitely found some are better than others, but with four choices you should be able to find some things you really enjoy.  Among my favorites, I'd say the curried cauliflower puree really packs some interesting garlic and spiced flavor, and you can't go wrong with the basic tomato and mozzarella.  A caprese salad might not be the most inventive but the juicy tomatoes burst in your mouth and the acidic flavor is quelled quite nicely with the creamy, round balls of mozzarella and aromatic basil.  I also really liked the spaghetti squash with parm and butter, which I found to be a decadent pile of mushy vegetarian bliss.  It not only looks like a heaping pile of spaghetti, but drenched in cheese and butter it literally melts in the mouth.  The cheese grits can be hit or miss but either way are a cut above most.  At the other end of the spectrum, the biggest disappointments for me were the brussel sprouts and maple carrots.  I do adore a good brussel, but the time I tried them they were kind of dry and devoid of flavor (except the pungent bitterness of unblanched sprouts).  I was also really let down with the maple carrots, which sounded so promising, but I ended up tremendously disliking.  Rather than being tender and soaked with flavor, the carrots were pretty solid, and then just placed in a pool of maple.  I also found something to be off in the seasoning.  Like I said though, while you might not like everything, half the fun is getting to try and with so many options you're bound to find at least a couple of ways to make getting your vegetables a desirable choice!
Clockwise: Sweet maduros,  roasted artichoke hearts with lemon aioli,
caramelized brussel sprouts, and spaghetti squash
Clockwise: Cheese grits, cool tomato and mozarella salad,
curried cauliflower puree,  and roasted carrots with maple syrup
   The dessert menu isn't exactly lengthy but sometimes all it takes is one great choice...the one to go with here is the infamous butterscotch heath bar bread pudding.  It errs on cloying at times, but the chili-laced whip cream adds an interesting kick and the dense "pudding" is moist and utterly unforgettable.  Also, when you need a pick me up, be sure to grab some coffee (Panther coffee of course), which comes aptly served in a kitschy thermos. 
     For as long as I can remember, I've been called "opinionated."  Being completely honest, this is pretty accurate, and I'll admit that apart from being very picky, I do tend to prefer restaurants with long lists of hard to pronounce ingredients where I can have dishes that aren't served at every other restaurant in town.  Depending on who I'm with this can make dining out tricky as my first choices aren't necessarily the kinds of things enjoyed by other family members and friends.  Some dining companions don't like seafood, others who will only eat seafood, and there is a handful who are straight vegetarians.  Trying to find places to eat that will satisfy everyone is by no means an easy feat.  However, when looking for somewhere that can offer the simple, well-made dishes with something for your entire party, I'd highly recommend Blue Collar.  The perfect compromise, they've got options for every taste and the prices are very reasonable.  The food is every bit the traditional favorites you'll remember from your youth, only they manage to modernize the classics and upgrade the dishes to optimize the flavors.
     Blue Collar is open for lunch and weekend brunch too, so come in when you can and get your fix:

  Blue Collar
  6730 Biscayne Boulevard  Miami, FL 33138
  (305) 756-0366
Blue Collar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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