Friday, April 4, 2008

Way to Blue (Blue Restaurant, 40-09 30th Avenue)

Since we started this project, we had been reluctant to try the Blue Restaurant (aka Blue Coffee Shop, if you go by its arrow-laden billboard on the corner of 30th Avenue and Steinway). The color blue isn't something we associate with food -- at least food that's not rotting. And most times when we've walked past, it seemed dismal inside, like the proprietors had lost hope in the notion that sprucing things up would make any difference. And we didn't believe for a second the sign in the window that claimed Blue Restaurant had "Largest selection of food in area."

But one morning, we ventured over to the Mini Star on Steinway for breakfast and it was packed. The elderly couple waiting for a table in front of us were looking at each other with dread and resignation. We knew what they were thinking, because we were thinking it too. Sure enough, we found ourselves trailing them over to Blue.

As you'd expect, much of the décor of Blue Restaurant is blue: blue walls, blue seat padding in the booths, blue plastic cups, blue-patterned plates. And it was pretty dismal: like a sad bachelor apartment that had been inhabited by the same lonely guy too long. The paint job was faded, there were splotches of spackle here and there, and the drop-ceiling tiles were still nicotine stained from the time you could smoke in restaurants. The decorations were also slightly off -- prominent were the posters of 1950s icons collaged together clumsily in generic scenes: Elvis, Marilyn, and Bogie carousing at the pool hall, for example. (What gives? Can someone's nostalgia really become so indiscriminate that they're content to lump all their memories together in one incoherent tableau?)

Most bizarre, though, was the flat-screen TV displaying a loop of digital photos of some of Blue Restaurant's offerings, randomly chosen and indifferently styled -- just plates of food photographed in bad, yellowy light: There's a gyro sandwich. There's a cheeseburger. There's some scrambled eggs. And there's a Cobb salad (Cabb Salad on the menu). The photos are weirdly mesmerizing though, and once the entire group had been cycled through, each image would then be tiled across the screen, as if to overwhelm you with their allure through sheer multiplication. You thought that tuna melt looked good? What about 32 tuna melts?

The menu, which was set entirely in Comic Sans, had some quirks; the Wraps sections featured nine options: Blue 1, Blue 2, Blue 3, etc. (Sadly, Blue 7 was not conceived as a tribute to Sonny Rollins.) But as we suspected, it was not the largest selection of food in the area. In fact, it was a lot like the selection available at any diner, but scaled back. Rumor has it that there is a secret "taco menu" available on request, and Blue's takeout menu suggests that the place also masquerades on certain occasions as a restaurant called Taqueria Mango. Why the secrecy? We can't even hazard a guess, nor have we decided if we will need to revisit Blue Restaurant in its Mexican guise.

But no matter how odd Blue Restaurant is -- and it is decidedly odd -- it remains an altogether suitable place to get breakfast. Service was prompt and friendly, and our (blue) coffee cups and (blue) water glasses were kept filled. The broccoli-bacon omelet was overcooked, but that's par for the course at any diner, barring ones that are more "eatery" than "diner." The over-easy eggs were prepared competently, the bacon crisp but not overdone, and the chunky, orangey home fries were adequate, cooked with onions, paprika, and maybe a hint of green pepper.

So there was nothing really to be afraid of, after all, which makes us wonder why Mini Star is always so crowded and Blue is consigned to its spillover. Maybe it really is all about location.

Price: Diner prices. Not as cheap as Mini Star.
Will we go again? It's not that we wouldn't. It's more, Why would we?

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