BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | At the front desk of Battery Park City’s Blue Smoke, maitre d’ Patrick Duffy looked at a monitor showing each of the restaurant’s 29 tables and at the crowd of people in front of him. “It will be about 45 minutes,” he said to a woman, “unless you want to sit at the bar.” The customer said she would wait for a table.
Blue Smoke, a Danny Meyer restaurant, opened at 255 Vesey St. on Jan. 9 and has been packed at dinner time ever since. “It has exceeded our expectations,” said Mark Maynard-Parisi, managing partner. The restaurant takes dinner reservations for parties of five or more, but not for smaller groups. Wednesdays through Saturdays are particularly busy. Reservations are accepted for parties of all sizes at lunch.
The Battery Park City Blue Smoke is similar to its counterpart at 116 East 27th St. — the original Blue Smoke — in some respects but not in all. The blue-topped tables are similar and the dark wooden chairs and banquettes, upholstered in red. Barbecue is in the spotlight on both menus. But the Battery Park City Blue Smoke serves many items that are not available uptown.
Jeffrey Held, 33, who was on the opening team at the uptown Blue Smoke, is chef de cuisine. He has worked with Blue Smoke executive chef Kenny Callaghan since 2001.
Held has brought a number of his own recipes to Battery Park City, and they are not available uptown. Among the Held appetizers, grilled oysters with spinach and bread crumbs flavored with Pecorino Romano cheese, garlic and shallots are excellent. Held also introduced pickled ruby red shrimp with fennel, sweet onions and coriander to the appetizer menu and chicken gumbo with okra, tomatoes and crispy tortilla.
Making use of seasonal ingredients, Held created a crisp salad of roasted root vegetables for the winter menu. Carrots, parsnips, celery root, Brussels sprouts, chives and radicchio are dressed with a sweet apple cider vinaigrette.
The main courses in Blue Smoke Battery Park City (but not uptown) include a Texas black pepper pork chop with parsnip and celery root gratin and charred chilies. “We use a heritage breed of pork — Berkshire — that was one of the original breeds of pig,” Held explained. “It’s always on our minds to get the best quality meat. The animals that had the best lives tend to taste better. Our meat comes to us from Heritage Farms U.S.A. They have many farms that they approve and work with. Every invoice has to tell us exactly where our meat came from.”
The staple on the Blue Smoke menus are ribs slowly smoked over hickory and apple woods. Twenty hours out of 24, someone’s cooking in the Blue Smoke kitchen. The ribs are in the smoker for six to nine hours. Memphis baby back ribs are the most popular. Spices are rubbed on the meat and it is smoked dry. The ribs are sauced for the first time when they’re finished. Baby backs are cooked for six hours over apple wood, which imparts a more delicate flavor than hickory. “Hickory has a darker, heavier smoke,” said Held. “Baby backs can’t take that.”
On the Blue Smoke rib sampler, diners can taste all of the kinds of ribs that Blue Smoke offers: Memphis baby backs, Kansas City spareribs, which are meaty, dark, sweet and spicy, and Texas salt and pepper beef ribs, which are rubbed with salt, pepper and spices but not sauced.
After a spicy main course, a creamy dessert is a refreshing contrast and pastry chef Jennifer Giblin has come up with several. She is in charge of desserts at both the Battery Park City and Flatiron restaurants. Her banana cream pie is very popular with a crust of walnut and vanilla cookie crumbs filled with fresh bananas tossed with a pastry cream, banana liqueur and lemon juice and topped with freshly whipped cream and toasted walnuts. Slices of key lime pie, served slightly frozen, are also well loved. Giblin got the recipe from an aunt — “a native Floridian” — named Yvonne Davis. “We make our own graham crackers for the crust,” Giblin said.
Blue Smoke also makes its own ice cream — vanilla and chocolate. The vanilla appears as an accompaniment to a Toll House pie that Giblin first encountered at Disney World in Florida. “I loved it,” she said, “and developed my own version.”
Blue Smoke diners seem to have hefty appetites. “We put sorbets on the menu,” Giblin remarked, “but they didn’t go over so well.”
Maybe sorbet seemed tame next to a Bourbon pecan pie with crème fraiche or a hot fudge brownie sundae. Diners who resist those temptations still have to make it out the door, which is right next to Blue Smoke’s bake shop where cupcakes in flavors such as Red Velvet, double chocolate (Devil’s food with chocolate frosting) and Very Vanilla (sour cream cupcake with vanilla butter cream) whisper that they might be needed for a midnight snack.
Blue Smoke is at 255 Vesey St., phone (212) 889-2005. It is open for lunch and dinner daily.