Overall impression: While South Beach was once Miami's coolest spot to live and eat, proof that the hipsters have moved to the mainland is on full display at Blue Collar, open since this past January. This is Miami's MiMo (Miami Modern) Historic District, but gentrification is a slow process. Chef and owner Danny Serfer, 33, former chef de cuisine at Chef Allen's in Aventura, is ahead of the curve in this formerly shaky part of Biscayne Boulevard, which is convenient for anyone heading to downtown Miami. His restaurant offers a diner setting with above-average, honest American fare created by a chef who's paid his dues.
Quote: "I just wanted to make a place where I could go eat," Serfer says. "Simple. No pretense. Easy."
Ambience: It's not called Blue Collar for nothing. Metal lunch pails — of the sort workers at theauto plants where I grew up used to carry to work — decorate one gray wall. There are 22 seats (reproduction molded plastic Eames chairs), three stools plus some outdoor seating. The problem with Blue Collar is its setting. It's so small and so poorly ventilated that one busy evening we left smelling like we'd just worked a shift behind the stove making latkes. Sit outside while the weather allows.
Starters: The nosh/apps section of the menu includes excellent, served-year-round Hanukkah latkes ($8), creamy macaroni and cheese with trugole, cheddar and Parmesan ($10) and interesting Cuban sandwich spring rolls ($8) filled with serrano ham, manchego and pickles. They come with yellow-mustard mayo. The Veg Chalkboard ($4 each) is also full of perfect appetizers, including roasted beets and goat cheese; roasted butternut squash; curried cauliflower puree; cheese grits; French fries; sauteed kale; and the pickle of the day — okra was featured last week.
Entree excellence: Crispy skin snapper ($21) could be on the menu of a much-more-sophisticated restaurant and is served with rock-shrimp-vegetable fried rice, which will remind anyone weaned on Cantonesefood of the best of their childhood. The BC Entree Salad ($15) is a combination of crisp chicken, latke pieces, romaine, mesclun, bacon, blue cheese and Thousand Island Dressing. It's like something created in ahome kitchen. At lunchtime, I had the Big Ragout Sandwich ($13), a hollowed-out sesame-seeded, oversize crusty roll filled with pork-and-veal-shoulder brisket, mozzarella and Parmesan. Wow! Again, home cooking made better. While I liked Serfer's version of a shrimp po boy ($13), served on a toasted burger bun, my dining companion wanted a more-traditional roll and said the shrimp was too heavily battered instead of lightly dusted. The chalkboard menu includes three daily specials: ribs (baby backs, short ribs, spare ribs, prime rib) with warm potato salad; Parm (chicken, veal, pork, eggplant) with angel-hair pasta and red sauce; and braise (brisket, pot roast, oxtails, pork shoulder) with mashed potatoes and braising juices. There's also pan-roasted half organic chicken ($18), hanger steak ($19), a cheeseburger ($13) and a veggie burger ($12) made with corn, broccoli, peppers and onion. Most entrees come with something from the Veg Chalkboard.
Sweet! Serfer serves one of the best chocolate cakes ($7) ever. It's made with Valrhona chocolate and comes with a glass bottle of ice-cold whole milk. His butterscotch and Heath bar bread pudding with spicy whipped cream ($7) is also much loved.
Service: Unevenly efficient. The tattooed gals at lunchtime were much better than the slow-moving guys at dinner.
Insider tip: The parking lot in front of the motel is cramped. Look for parking along the north wall of the motel on 67th Street.
Liquid assets: A terrific beer selection, including Narragansett lager ($4), Dale Pale Ale ($6) and Golden Monkey ($8).
Biscayne Inn, 6730 Biscayne Blvd, Miami
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot and street meters
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