[Sidebar] May 28 - June 4, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Bluebird Café

Hatching a success from the heart of New Orleans

by Bill Rodriguez

554 Kingstown Rd. (Rt. 108), Wakefield, 792-8940
Open Mon, Wed,Thur., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Fri, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.;
Sat, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
No credit cards
Personal checks accepted
Sidewalk access

We discovered a neat new café recently, and it reminded me of the numerous godawful restaurants that had come and gone in its vicinity. The genesis of many of them had been a lot like the young Mickey Rooney jumping up to pipe, "Hey, why don't we put on a show?" Only none of the chefs' friends had the courage to pipe back, "Uh, because you can't cook very well?"

How many breakfast places have never earned a third visit from you because the bacon was incinerated or because the poached eggs were runny? One now-defunct diner I visited sent me off shaking my head because of a tuna fish sandwich whose featured ingredient was spread nearly as thin as the mayo.

Well, the Bluebird Café is the third eating establishment within about a year in its location in Wakefield's Quo Vadis Shopping Center. But believe me, it's bound to stick around.

Bart Shumaker is the cook and owner with his wife, Rhonda. Before returning to his home state last year, Bart ran his first Bluebird Café in New Orleans for nine years. Its popularity hatched a second one, and Bluebird huevos rancheros helped garner a "Best Breakfast in New Orleans" award.

The refurbished café in Wakefield is bright and spiffy. Friendly. Local artists have landscapes and floral paintings on the walls. The tables are widely spaced, so conversations can be held in conversational tones. Counter service makes the place a diner-type café, attracting clientele who don't feel dressed up enough, or psychologically prepared, for table service.

And those huevos rancheros ($3.95) -- they deserve their reputation. Black beans, not refried, are layered with two corn tortillas and topped with two fried eggs. Lots of melted Co-Jack cheese is on top, along with a zippy fresh-tomato salsa. Quite a tangy concoction.

My wife, Johnnie, declared the biscuit she had on the side as having the best consistency she'd encountered north of her Shreveport grandmother's kitchen. And other breakfast possibilities include something as simple as a fried-egg sandwich ($1.75), or as crunchy-granola as "Powerhouse Eggs" ($3.25) scrambled with tamari and nutritional yeast. A breakfast special might be as exotic as spicy codfish hash with eggs ($5.95) or an omelet with mozzarella or feta and sun-dried tomatoes ($5.75).

Breakfasts are served through lunch, but the hand-held fare later in the day is certainly competition -- a charbroiler, their own sausage and peppers sandwich ($3.50), a six-ounce burger of lean ground chuck ($2.95), a grilled chicken sandwich ($3.25) juicy and tasty from its Dijon marinade. Their fish sandwich is fresh (not frozen) ocean perch, and in their dreams McDonald's should do so well by a sesame seed bun.

Recently, Bart started serving dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. However, he offers only two choices, besides the soup of the night, so be sure to call ahead to see what they are. Given the cook's New Orleans background, they are likely to run to jambalayas and etouffées.

Johnnie and I both did well the other evening, with the Creole chicken ($7.95) and grilled chicken breast ($6.95). The former was a small half-chicken falling off the bone under the okra-and-friends medley, although the "pilaf" was simply rice with a few flecks of herbs.

The grilled chicken was moist and lightly infused with garlic and fresh rosemary. It also was accompanied with rice, and crispy string beans with a wonderful smoky tang. (This was after we'd shared a large portion of crayfish corn chowder ($2.95/$3.95), rich with potatoes and chunks of crawdads swimming in a thick, spicy roux!)

Of course, Ms. Louisiana-childhood across from me couldn't not try the pecan pie ($1.75), which is made on the premises along with apple pie. I liked it, because it wasn't overly sweet (a real accomplishment, considering that Karo syrup is the main ingredient). And I know my wife liked it, too, because when I asked for her verdict, she merely beamed and continued eating. No doubt, the bluebird of gustatory delight will twitter over this place for a long while.

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