Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday B L TTTT, Happy Birthday to You. Guess who’s been on the block for a year already?
Ok, close your eyes. When I say Willy Wonka, what do you see? I see Gene Wilder’s crazy hair and wild eyes, amidst the bright colors of the funky psychedelic clothes of the 60s and 70s. Well, beyond that, Willy Wonka represents a fantasy where all your favorite things appear right before your eyes and everything flavorful is heightened to the nth degree. Am I right? Well, this is a little of what is in store for you at Chef Jim Casey’s haven, BLT (Bridgestreet, Libations & Temptations). It’s a mouthful of a name, but this place is worth your time, money, and palate. The casual brick exterior and extra low key vibe inside is a facade for the eating extravaganza you encounter on your plate.
Underneath Chef Casey’s very chill exterior lies the inner workings of part magician, part scientist, but all parts delicious goodness.
Those of you who follow my ditties know I tend to first be drawn to some element of decor, usually something sparkly or shiny. In this case, after stepping into what feels like a cozy pub, is the quirky chandelier made from a pots and pans crate and adorned with whisks. It is DIY in the best way. Who needs to spend a grand (or two or three) on a light fixture when you can assemble one yourself, save money, and create the perfect chef-y conversation piece? Another fun detail is an homage to the Victory Blue paint that was originally used after the American Revolution to celebrate the victory over the British. You’ll see a similar-but-not-exact- color blue on beams, panes, and random spots atop each table throughout the restaurant, which Chef Casey and his father, president of the local historical society, renovated themselves.
Yaaawn, Don’t Bore Me
Chef Casey is young, shockingly inventive, and gets bored very easily. He does not have cultural allegiances, and wants your experience at BLT to be like a delicious surprise EVERY TIME. He says, “...My mouth gets bored easily. Even if I'm not hungry I will taste or eat a snack just because I want to taste something...I absolutely hate when you get a dish and it is completely one note.” Well, you will not get one note when you come to BLT. Remember the Willy Wonka reference? If you can dream it, it will happen. Salty, sweet, smooth, crunchy, tangy, sour, and more; they will be found on a Casey plate, for sure. After two separate visits and a total of twenty-two different plates, I can tell you, not only will your taste buds be awakened, but bowled over by the sheer creativity exploding inside and out.
Casey works closely with his staff to invent and create, or “…..to throw things against the wall to see what sticks,” amidst a playground of flavors and styles. That said, they are careful with clientele who may not have the most adventurous of palates, and therefore keep some recognizable, traditional dishes on the menu, in hopes that each time they dine there, they may inch toward trying something new.
Let’s Sample Some of that Creativity Shall We
Within moments you’ll be shoving a warm popover in your mouth and be hard-pressed not to smother it in BLT’s aromatic French honeyed butter. Then a green of sorts will greet you, perhaps a braised Caesar which sets you up for the tang of marinated mussels and a perfectly cooked thinly sliced steak with mojo and lemon. But, wait, LARDO TOAST?! I may have needed to brace myself for such whimsy and luxury in one bite. Unctuously delicious lardo butter on focaccia with pickled vegetables and shaved parmesan made all of my woes (like paying for my son’s college tuition and my NYC commuting costs) evaporate, at least for the three minutes I savored each bite. The whimsy continued with an Everything Bagel inspired Salmon with goat cheese, pickled onion, and roasted tomato. Casey admits, not everyone “gets” this one yet, but I just say….they will, Chef, they will. One of the most pleasant surprises, had to be….are you ready for this one? A Big Mac riff on steak tartare. This? This was jig-inducing. I’m a sucker for anything tar-tared, and this impressed me. Served in fast food fashion, with shoestring fries as an accoutrement, and complete with “special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun” (remember the jingle?); it was good ol’ fun on a plate, but tiny and light without that familiar unhealthy fast food funk.
A Serious Side
At the end of the day, Chef Casey is a trained chef and can pull out the fancy stops as well. On March 12, BLT held the first of many monthly tastings and pairing dinners to come. This one featured the French wines of former rugby player, Gertrand Bertrand. In contrast to the above series of play and fantasy, Chef Casey impressed with a classically inspired, five-course meal, each paired with a different French wine, from light and sweet to dry and bubbly. In addition to a melt-in-your-mouth popover, we were delighted by an Oysters Flambé, a first course that was light, delicious, and served as a great opener with its celeriac remoulade. We moved to the second course, a Coquille St. Jacques: a perfectly cooked scallop with crispy leeks that sung on the tongue with the right amount of smooth and tang. From the scallop we dove into a Coq Au Vin Blanc for the third course, with a white wine braised hen leg, confit potato, and bacon mushroom gravy. IVs were passed around freely for the gravy.
Surely, I jest.
The biggest surprise of the night was the uber rich, deconstructed french onion soup. Braised beef with shallots, cippolinis, chive, asparagus, and cheesy crouton, for course nombre four. Kapow, it was deep, rich, earthy! Two bites in and your ears tingled. Finally, as the boozish from each wine crept in and toes went numb, we ended the evening with a cheese board fondue, another tasty moment of deconstructed classics. Along with the gruyere cheese puff and sweet jolt from the peach compote, Chef Casey had me at Sweet Pickled Mustard seed, which, with its appearance of jeweled caviar, I’ve since told him he should bottle!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dan Garza, Chef Casey’s relaxed albeit superhuman front-of-house manager. He oozes kindness, offers a wealth of info, and genuinely cares about service. He’s the type of fella who remembers your name after one meeting. And, to top it off he has is own arsenal of flair whipping up side table Caesars on the right and flambé-ing everything on the left. Restaurants: please find folks like Dan, they raise the bar!
There are too many too list, with something fun and different every night, weekly, or monthly; but here’s a taste:
They host two happy hours a night; have a Wednesday burger deal; a Thursday half-off- bottle of wine thang; and are planning a Mother's Day Brunch. Follow them on social media @bltnewhartford for nonstop fun.
BLT is like a perfect party in your pjs: it’s delicious, fun, and memorable, but can be enjoyed in comfort, without snooty airs.
BLT Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations
New Hartford, CT 06057