Since 1996, the beer has been the main pull at Blue Star Brewing — with burgers, fries, and the like offered to soak up the suds. Not bad food, but a definite second to the home-brew. But since last summer, changes in personnel have quietly brought changes to the menu and added a new tone to the First Friday hub, transforming this bar-food stalwart into an ambitious gastro-pub. At the helm now is Charles Clark, the new chef de cuisine. Hailing from NYC, with far-ranging experience (Europe to North Africa), Clark is a traditionalist who came up in the brigade system outlined by Auguste Escoffier a century ago. "I know what my strengths are, and stick to them," Clark told the Current last week, referring to his reliance on classic French-style method. But though his methods are time-honored (and implemented with growing rigor as he teaches the techniques to his crew), the spin is Southern (though not necessarily fried).
The pulled pork sandwich adds aioli, honey, and a variety of house-made pickles to the classic; fronting a mound of golden fries, it's a hefty offering — as is the Blue Star Grass Fed Burger, one of the most ordered plates on the menu. And for good reason; made of thrice-ground veal provided by cows raised for Blue Star, the secret ingredient is home-made bacon. The ground bacon in the thick patty escapes the eyes, but adds the right amount of moisture to the veal. Available with cheese, we prefer the patty solo, garnished with the house béarnaise sauce or tangy jam.
Hanger steak is a staple in SA, but the chef's cut often misses its potential, delivered dry and stringy on the plate. Not so here — at least in the app version — where it was prepped in chunks, borderline-rare, delivering the full complex flavor of the grass-fed beef.
Salad is an unfortunate word; in Texas it conjures images of iceberg lettuce under gobs of sweet sauce. To the dismay of some, Clark has banished ranch dressing from his kitchen, preferring vinaigrettes instead. But the leafy stuff isn't the focus, so no matter. Instead, try the fried green tomatoes (breaded), abetted with huge Gulf shrimp (heads on). Mixed in, lentils take the place of expected capers. It's nicely done, but no match for the watermelon and speck salad. Speck is an Italian ham similar to prosciutto — added as garnish, along with local honey and fresh mint — the dish is an international spectacular, speaking in Alpine and Moroccan accents, but all Texas.
Desserts skew to chocolate and coffee flavors in the French classics pot de crème and crème brulee, but to our tastes, the riff on the All-American bread pudding is a no-miss. The secret is the butter sauce made with Jameson whiskey, heated but with the punch (alcohol) intact.
Why Jameson instead of rum? "I'm Irish," Clark informs us.
Plans for the future include a drying room for charcuterie, and off-site sales of house-made breads and produce. What, a grocery store? Sort of, maybe better. Solar panels topping the building, and a roof garden are rumored to be in place by next year. It seems that after almost 20 years of business, this local hangout has just begun.
Blue Star Brewing
1414 S Alamo, Ste 105,
Best Bets The veal burger with ground bacon and scallop salad are top faves, but look for ever-changing specials and charcuterie offerings.
Hours 11am-11pm (kitchen open to 9:50pm) Mon-Thu; 11am-midnight Fri-Sat (kitchen open to 10:50pm); 11am-3pm Sun