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November, 2011, Page 159
Photos by Richard Maack
Chicken, ham and brie sandwich
Creative, hearty comfort food takes top billing at this charming Chandler spot, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are equally prized.
As the trend has shifted away from fine dining to casual eating, led by customers who increasingly favor comfort food over complex cuisine, we’ve seen plenty of Valley chefs make radical changes. But few have adapted quite like chef Brian Peterson and his partners, Robert and Danielle Morris, the talented trio who made south Chandler a dining destination when they opened their ambitious Cork in 2008.
In tune with the new theme of low-fuss dining is the Cork braintrust’s second eatery, BLD, which debuted this March in a strip mall four miles northwest of their original restaurant. Rather than Cork’s foie gras-topped foie gras ice cream (wrap your mind around that one) or duck fat-poached elk strip loin in almond pesto jus, BLD’s menu showcases the likes of “The Pig” omelet of bacon, ham, sausage and cheddar ($11) and spaghetti and meatballs ($12).
Instead of white tablecloth suppers, guests gather for breakfast, lunch and dinner (hence BLD) in a bright, airy, urban industrial space set with sleek wood tables, bistro-style chairs and booths, and menus scrawled on chalkboards hung as art on track-lit walls. There’s an eat-in counter and a partially exposed kitchen, and waitresses wear casual t-shirts, cheerfully asking as they drop off the food, “Who gets what?”
“The Pig” omelet
Most notably, BLD has a drive-thru, aimed squarely at today’s eat-and-run culture. Customers can call in any item from the menu, add a barista-crafted “dirty chai” (spicy chai tea spiked with a shot of espresso, $4.50), and get it all without turning off their car.
Happily, Peterson and crew haven’t relaxed their craft too much, but it can be difficult to escape a coffee shop feel. Portions tend toward the hefty, some of the diner-style dishes can be greasy, seasoning is often timid (except for salt), and the inevitable noisy-kid clientele can disrupt an otherwise pleasant meal. But ultimately, the inventive menu and reliable skills in the kitchen make BLD an enjoyable, different dining choice for Chandler.
In July, Peterson hired head chef Ehren Litzenberger, whose résumé includes such fine dining restaurants as Lon’s at the Hermosa, Sassi, Taggia and Kuleto’s in San Francisco. Ingredients generally are high quality – an open-faced breakfast sandwich ($11) piles focaccia with eggs, tangy Dijonaise, peppery arugula, fontina and salty curls of house-made prosciutto plucked from BLD’s own salumi curing case. Small touches show attention to detail, such as lovely fresh melon as a side dish or, earlier this summer, perfect, ripe strawberries in a salad of arugula, mixed greens, fried goat cheese and cashews with a citrus-poppy vinaigrette ($11).
Fried chicken and waffles
Even at breakfast it’s clear the chefs enjoy a change of pace, putting twists on classics, such as eggs Benedict mounded with tooth-tender braised short rib and drizzled with a delightful red wine hollandaise ($13). In fact, breakfast (served daily until 2 p.m.) quickly evolves into my favorite BLD meal. As I dig into the fried chicken and waffles ($13) – already delicious on its own with a good, buttery bird – I pleasantly discover bits of bacon studded in the maple syrup-drenched waffles. Very creative.
My server warns that the breakfast tostada ($11) is filling, and it arrives as a mountain of slow-braised pork shoulder that’s moist (but bland) under mild green chile sauce, two fried eggs, a crumble of cotija and pico de gallo. A Monte Cristo ($11) – French toast stuffed with ham and gooey Swiss, griddled and slathered in raspberry jam and maple syrup – isn’t for the faint-of-appetite either. French toast also is offered Hawaiian style ($8), sweet with molasses batter and topped with bananas.
For taste-value ratio, it’s hard to beat hearty sandwiches such as the chicken, ham and Brie ($11), crunchy with apples, lettuce and a swath of honey mustard on griddled sourdough. Each sammie comes with a side – the crispy-edged sweet potato fries are a standout – and reward with ample leftovers. I salute the hot pastrami ($10), since the meat is lean and soaked in tangy flavors of sauerkraut and Russian dressing and swathed with Swiss on still-crisp grilled rye.
A few of the signature dishes, such as meatloaf, show up in various versions throughout the day. For its morning debut, Chef Litzenberger drapes the loaf in mozzarella, tops it with two fried eggs and adds a side of skin-on, griddled potato chunks ($10). The meat is nicely dense, though the grease factor is too substantial for my first meal of the day, unless I’m crawling straight back into bed for a nap. It’s better at lunch as an open-face patty melt piled with caramelized onions, Swiss and Russian dressing on rye ($12). At dinner, the meatloaf is a straightforward, homey presentation, smothered in gravy that floods into the garlic-cheddar mashed potatoes and crisp green beans ($16).
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: seared ahi tuna with almond-pesto hummus • eggs Benedict with short rib • cast-iron roasted top sirloin with open-faced BLT • inside BLD
Here and there the chefs give a nod to fancier fare. They sear ahi for an appetizer, serving the ruby slabs with almond-pesto hummus, flatbread and cucumber salad ($10), and an entrée of cast-iron roasted top sirloin ($16) is teamed with a mini, open-faced BLT alongside sautéed spinach. Creative bartenders belie the casual setting, too, mixing up a well-crafted hibiscus Cosmo ($9) of Tru organic vodka, Crism organic hibiscus liqueur and lemon juice. Someone put thought into the wine list as well, which includes a $5 glass of Montpellier California viognier but also a $100 bottle of 2006 Silver Oak Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon displayed in a centerpiece glass-encased wine cellar.
The culinary composition includes a few off notes. I have to gnaw through my dinner of barbecue baby back ribs ($15) – tough and chewy in a sticky bourbon sauce and paired with a mound of potato salad and sweet pineapple coleslaw. I finish with Rocky Road bread pudding, a super-sugary mix of marshmallows, chocolate chunks, walnuts, vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce ($6). Fortunately, my companion is driving, since I’ll be in a food coma before we’ve hit the freeway.
BLD is no Cork. But as the Cork team’s next act, it gives today’s dining public exactly what it wants – fast, fun and filling – and with some admirably tasty twists.
: 1920 W. Germann Road, Chandler
: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; drive-thru, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
: “The Pig” omelet ($11), eggs Benedict with short rib ($13), fried chicken and waffles ($13), chicken, ham and brie sandwich ($11), hot pastrami sandwich ($10), meatloaf with garlic-cheddar mashed potatoes ($16), seared ahi ($10), cast-iron roasted top sirloin ($16)
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