The "Good Home Cooking" neon sign catches your eye immediately when you enter Blue Plate Kitchen for the first time – particularly because the Bishops Corner eatery is surrounded by fast-casual chain restaurants.
The new "modern comfort food" establishment, which opened in January, offers just that – an enormous selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare from simple to stylish, with a full bar. Owner Jay DuMond, a longtime restaurateur who owns City Steam Brewery Café in Hartford, saw the necessity for a non-chain that could "meet a lot of different needs" in the West Hartford neighborhood.
As an area resident, he'd seen the development and transformation of Bishops Corner and began looking for specific sites. Affordability and variety were two key factors: "You can have a cocktail at night, or come here on a beautiful Sunday at 7 a.m. and have breakfast. …There was a lot of demand for the things we're doing."
DuMond and his team got to work on the 90-seat restaurant, transforming it into an airy space with exposed brick columns, a zinc bar and tabletops, and an open, bustling kitchen. Another 60 seats will be available on the patio in warm weather.
Two City Steam alums are running the day-to-day operation: Anthony Sousa, who's now general manager and partner in West Hartford; and executive chef Ben Dubow, who later honed his fine-dining experience at Burtons Grill restaurants in South Windsor and then Peabody, Mass. A return to Connecticut to help launch Blue Plate was a "no-brainer," Dubow said. "I knew the team and the concept."
In fact, Dubow's culinary role is his second career; he turned his passion for food into a paying job after years as a full-time pastor. He describes the vast, eclectic menu as a collaborative effort between the Blue Plate staff members. "I think this menu represents a team vision of what this place can be, which as a chef is really exciting."
Breakfast is a significant focus of Blue Plate's menu, served weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m.; and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The morning lineup features eggs in every form: poached, scrambled, fried, omelets, sandwiches, home fry skillet mix-ins. Signature egg combinations are themed: New Mexico with chorizo, avocado and roasted poblanos; Parisian with fresh herb and goat cheese; New York, with pastrami and Swiss. The Art of Hollandaise Benedict section makes use of grilled cornbread instead of an English muffin in a Tex-Mex preparation with green chiles, and potato pancakes in a Manhattan version with smoked salmon and red onion.
Eggs are also served over various hashes (roasted veggie, rotisserie chicken, freshly made corned beef), and as part of Blue Plate specials, with biscuits and gravy or cocoa-coffee rubbed steak, peppers and onions. A South of the Border menu section features huevos rancheros; eggs served with chorizo, bacon and queso fresco over a griddled whole wheat tortilla; and a vegetarian burrito with scrambled eggs, poblanos, refried beans and pico de gallo.
The "syrupy tales" breakfast options include challah French toast (plain, bruleed or crusted with Captain Crunch cereal,) malted Belgian waffles and buttermilk pancakes; and French toast, unadorned or dressed up with berries, bananas, Nutella and whipped cream. "Healthy starts" include steel-cut oatmeal, fruit with vanilla Greek yogurt and egg white omelets served with fresh fruit cups. Breakfast dishes range from $6 to 11; meats, breads, home fries and other sides are priced a la carte.
Lunch and dinner bring a variety of salads with local produce, sandwiches and burgers and hearty entrée plates. Salads are priced at $6 to $12, with half- and full-size portions available. The "Israeli" is a big seller, with chickpeas, tomatoes and assorted vegetables tossed in lemon parsley vinaigrette with feta cheese.
Fresh "smashed beef" burgers ($8 to $14), made with 6 ounces of antibiotic and hormone-free Niman Ranch meat, are griddled and seared on a flattop, then served on housemade English muffins. "We've gotten a lot of great feedback" on these, Dubow said.
Rotisserie turkey breast is piled onto challah for a classic club sandwich and joins stuffing, cranberry chutney and gravy for a "Sunday supper" dinner feature. Sliced corned beef and pastrami also star on sandwiches, including the best-selling Reubens and in "The Bishop" entrée with potato latkes, applesauce and sour cream. Other substantial plates ($14 to $19) include Mom's meatloaf (bacon-wrapped beef, pork and veal mix with ketchup demiglace); skillet macaroni and four cheeses, baked scrod and steak frites with smoked bleu cheese.
Blue Plate diners have come to expect nightly special offerings on the restaurant's blackboard: daily soups, pastas, house-smoked brisket, roasted vegetable lasagna and fresh fish, depending on availability from seafood purveyor Red's Best.
Dubow works closely with the Boston-based business, which sells only sustainable fish from a network of reputable fishermen. The company's technology alerts Dubow to that day's catch before the fishermen even reach the dock, he said; recent dishes at Blue Plate have included prosciutto-wrapped monkfish and golden tilefish.
In-house pastry chefs handle breads, breakfast pastries and daily desserts, like the signature Blue Velvet cake (cupcakes or seven-layer cake); bruleed rice pudding; and a giant Toll House chocolate chip cookie baked to order in a skillet. "Lisa's Pie" with coconut ice cream, macaroons and chocolate wafer crust, is a nod to DuMond's wife Lisa Cole, of Lisa Cole Inspired Catering in Hartford.
The kitchen's emphasis on quality ingredients extends to the bar, which highlights a series of elegant specialty cocktails. "Classic coupes" include a Daiquiri 44 made with Tanduay silver rum and dried candied ginger; a Aviation gin cocktail, a dirty martini with Connecticut-made Rime Organic Vodka; and a New England sidecar with Westford Hills apple brandy, New England-spiced cranberry bitters and cranberry juice. Other popular drinks are the Corner Rum Swizzle, a Ruby Red Rickey with grapefruit vodka and the BPK Perfect Rye Manhattan.
Four to five City Steam brews are featured on draft, and several wines are available on "tap," in six, nine and 22-ounce servings. During weekday happy hour, 20-ounce brews are $3, certain wines are $4 and select small plates are $5 apiece.
Despite the emphasis on comfort foods, Dubow said he wouldn't call Blue Plate a diner. "It's a farm-to-table, foodie place, diner-esque," he said. "The menu will evolve, it's upscale with a twist."
As the head chef, he says he loves the open kitchen. "I can actually see people enjoying the food and getting a sense of the energy and the vibe."