Ribs, buffalo hot wing and pecan pie.
These are my drawcards to lure a group of food bloggers and friend trekking all the way to Lower North Shore for some good American food, the Southern flavours in particular, at the recently opened Blue Plate Bar and Grill at Neutral Bay.
Who can run an American restaurant better than the yanks themselves? Co-owned by Frank Nicholas and Leo Brereton, Blue Plate is the new venture conceived from its sister restaurant, South, which was founded by Leo himself few years ago. Whilst South attracts a constant flow of customers with its charming casual, down to earth, pokey diner-style restaurant, Blue Plate on the other hand, has totally gone the opposite direction, it is a flashy restaurant equipped with bar area, lounge, and even an Oyster bar.
We quickly dodge the miserable chilly evening, push through the heavy wooden door and step into a warm, casual yet elegant dining area. The bar at the back is busy with patrons having a quick round of alcohol before being ushered to their tables. Four mismatched retro lounge chairs occupied the utterly small area, draped with heavy luxurious velvet curtains while a massive crystals chandelier shimmering above head. Black wooden tables and chairs filled the dining area whereas the circular booths along one wall are more suitable for the intimate couples having a romantic dinner night out and one of them is Passionate Mae, who arrives not long after us to celebrate her boyfriend's birthday.
The menu is extensive, hence sharing is the key.
All of us agree to share a round of entrees, before having our mains individually. It doesn't take long before our table of seven is covered with food served on blue plates. The gumbo is just as delicious as I remembered. The hearty stew packs quite a heat punch, spicy chicken pieces a plenty in a thick hot gravy with Andouille sausage chunks and okra, traditionally served with a mound of rice that is plump and fluffy which happily soaking up the gravy. It is a classic staple from the New Orleans.
The thick pattie of crab cake is a little disappointing, a golden brown puck is heavily packed with corn kernels and green beans with very little crab meat, and the flavour is very subtle, served with a side of salad and a tub of thousand island dressing. The potato skin is not as crispy as I'd hoped for and still have quite a bite of soft potato flesh inside filled with bacon chips laminated in a layer of melted cheese.
Helen had her eyes on the chilli dog and with her expertise in portioning, it is evenly cut into seven portions right in front of us within seconds. True US-style Hot Dog as it says on the menu, a bouncy pink frankfurter is sandwiched in soft bun roll, topped with spicy kidney beans and beef mince, coated in molten cheese with no mercy. I won't say no to the side of golden fries but I absolutely adore the little gherkins that offer temporary relief from the richness.
The buffalo wings are deep fried to a nice golden crisp on the outside, coated in a New York style chilli sauce that is mild just enough to give you a tingling sensation on the lips. But I find myself loving the blue cheese dressing even more, generous chunks of blue cheese inside bring a whole new layer of pungent nuttiness to the chicken wings. Lex in particular is exceptionally drawn to the buffalo wings and even orders a second round after his main, all to himself.
One of the dish I am very looking forward to try is the deep dish pizza, made famous in Chicago. The pizza is an almost 2 inches deep of thick bread crust, filled with a reverse order of ingredients start by underlaying a layer of mozzarella at the base, topped with Italian sausage, mince and mushroom, in fact, lots of mushrooms, then all doused in a rich tomato sauce over the top.
It is a heavy dish and perhaps a little too much mushrooms for my liking, I am glad we only order half of the pizza of to share.
With four cameras in action simultaneously at our table, it doesn't take long for the owner, Frank to notice and come over to say hi. Frank is originally from Philadelphia, hence the famous Philly cheesesteak sandwich is a must on the menu. The cheesesteak sandwich looks massive in Suze's hands, a soft hoagie roll is filled with thinly sliced roasted scotch fillet steak, then flash grilled with onions, mushrooms and melted cheese, served with a side of fries and again, the gherkins.
Simon is intrigued and orders the maple-glazed salmon. A thick fillet of fresh salmon is char-grilled to perfection with golden caramelised edges while still soft and pinkish on the inside, glazed with a sweet and sticky Maple Bourbon syrup, resting on a bed of garlic mashed potato that is soft yet creamy, and a side of blackened corn that is sweet and crunchy.
Karen's pan-seared duck breast is possibly the most colourful dish at the table. The duck unfortunately is a little overcooked to a medium-well and the skin is also not as crispy as promised on the menu. The game flavour of the bird is toned down with a sweet tangy orange sauce, sour red cabbage to cut through the fat and a side of garlic mashed potatoes adds richness.
I am very intrigued with the drunken pork chop but unfortunately I already have my mind set on the ribs, so I am glad Lex orders it on my behalf. The thick slice of pork chop is soaked in house made beer brine then finished off with the perfect grilled marks, paired with classic canberry-apple sauce and two vege of steamed vegetables and garlic mash on the side. It looks a little bit dry but Lex guarantees us that he definitely can taste the beer flavour in the chop.
"Oh yeah, baby! Come to daddy!"
Tim, Helen and I have the same idea and order the BBQ ribs. The full rack of ribs arrives already cut into four smaller parts and comes with a side of your choice including salads, corn bread, vegetables, wedges or fries. The slow cooked pork ribs that are falls-off-the-bone tender and juicy, smothered in a hot BBQ sauce that is absolutely smokin'!
I settle with a side of shoe string fries with my ribs which is surprisingly crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Unfortunately, Helen's cornbread is unacceptably dry and crumbles away like a cake rather than a cornbread. Not until towards the end of our meal, we only then realised that Tim's side of black beans and corn actually never shows up at our table. But it doesn't bother him at all as there are ribs a plenty on his plate to gnaw on.
Did I mention the full rack is huge? Tim and I managed to finish it at one go whilst Helen decides to eat only half of it and doggy-bags the rest so that she can save space for desserts. Smart move.
After much discussions at the table and the waiter also informs us that a few options are already ran out makes our decision making a lot easier and settle on three desserts. Gina's pumpkin pie arrives on a rectangular plate, playfully presented with a silhouette of a fork in nutmeg powder on the side. Despite its inviting golden colour, the pie is rather bland and heavily spiced with nutmeg powder which is way too overpowering and pumpkin flavour is sadly undetectable.
The pecan pie, on the other hand, is definitely more rewarding. The sweet shortcrust pastry is thin and crispy and hidden underneath the crunchy pecans is a layer of heavenly rich toffee bourbon filling. It is just as delicious as the one we had at South, but I noticed the filling is not as thick as it used to be. Nevertheless, I will definitely come back just for another slice of this amazing pecan pie.
Tim's favourite is the strawberry verrine, a classic dessert stacked with layers of sponge cake, fresh strawberries, white chocolate mousse, strawberrt gelee then finished it off with chopped pistachios and crispy tuille. The dessert is light but a little too sweet for my palate.
Upon finishing our meal, we only then realised that we are the last group left in the restaurant. The bartender is drying the glasses in the lonesome bar after a long day, the kitchen lights are already off, chefs and kitchenhands are already long gone home.
The ambient music in the background slowly getting louder in a steady drum beats, and the first line of lyrics it goes,
"A church house, gin house; a school house, outhouse...."
As we look back, a waiter is already dancing along to the rhythm of Nutbush city limits at the counter...
Blue Plate Bar & Grill
24 Young Street (Entrance on Grosvenor St)
Phone: 02 9953 2942
Dinner - 7 days from 6pm
Happy hour and lounge menu from 5pm