Blue Star Cafeteria
How has instant success affected Eddie Bernal's latest venture?
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Sept. 15, 2006
Blue Star Cafeteria
4800 Burnet Rd. Ste. C-300, 454-7827
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11am-5pm
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5-10pm
Brunch: Saturday-Sunday, 10am-3pmwww.bluestarcafeteria.com Restaurateur Eddie Bernal has dreamed of opening a restaurant in his own neighborhood for several years now. In fact, he gave serious thought to a Burnet Road space for his Tex-Mex eatery, Santa Rita, before finally settling on a bigger spot in the 26 Doors Shopping Center. When the short-lived Parallel Modern Market exited the attractive new Rosedale Village Center, Bernal snapped up the space for his newest creation: Blue Star Cafeteria.
The pre-opening buzz about Blue Star was that folks in the Rosedale area were eagerly awaiting the new place, having lost both a Luby's (on North Loop) and a Marriott (38th & Guadalupe) cafeteria within the last two years. However, the legion of hungry neighbors who showed up at Blue Star looking for a Lu Ann platter were in for a surprise. Bernal's inspiration for the new business was a chic New York eatery with an upscale comfort-food menu that simply called itself a cafeteria. The neighbors forgave Bernal's nonliteral interpretation of the term cafeteria quickly, however, and have embraced Blue Star since the opening in late June. Blue Star Cafeteria is busy just about any time you go, and that is the root of the problem.
The Blue Star menu is affordable and filled with inviting choices. My experience at Blue Star has been that not all elements of the well-conceived menu are executed as well as they could be, however. Unfortunately, my experience on both visits was that results can be very uneven, even on the same plate. Everyone's brunch begins with a little plate of fruit, which is a lovely touch. We enjoyed cool, crisp watermelon slices while figuring out our entrée choices. My companion, an often homesick-for-New York Texan, really enjoyed the Rosedale Reuben ($8.95), a hearty sandwich of pastrami, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut piled on New World Bakery marbled rye with the Russian dressing on the side. Sandwiches here are served with the house coleslaw unless diners request another side choice, such as the spicy Star Fries ($1.95 for substitution). I chose Eggs Benedict ($8.75) with sides of Vanilla Battered French Toast ($5.25) and hashed browns ($1.75). Garnished with more seasonal fresh fruit, the egg dish looked perfect: two lightly poached eggs quivering atop tender English muffins and tasty sliced ham were napped with pools of hollandaise sauce. The beauty of the hollandaise was deceptive, though, in that it had a very foamy mouthfeel and no discernible lemon flavor whatsoever. The elegant French toast was delightful, paired with fresh berries and good maple syrup, but the bountiful serving of hashed browns sat in an unappetizing puddle of glistening grease. We got plenty to eat, though, and couldn't help but notice that the total of our bill for two diners would only have bought food for one at a few of the more popular brunches around Austin.
We ventured back for dinner on a recent week night and found the restaurant packed with a real cross section of the neighborhood population: young couples with toddlers, families with teenagers, and groups of elderly friends. When the restaurant is full, the noise bouncing off all of those swanky hard surfaces can be pretty overwhelming, but the crowds don't seem to mind. During the early part of our dinner, I found myself bobbing my head and smiling (appropriately?) in response to conversations at our table that I really couldn't hear. Our group of seven managed to sample most of the appetizers and salads and found some things we really liked. The universal favorite was a platter of marvelous Roasted Garlic Hummus and Baba Ghanoush ($7.50) served with briny Mediterranean olives and pita toasts. Another stellar choice is the three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich ($6.95): imported cheeses on New World Pullman white or wheat complemented by the assertive tang of Dijon mustard and a truly wonderful dried fruit chutney. Battered artichoke hearts and chicken tenders both arrived encased in tough coatings but were matched with very tasty sauces. The unfortunate Caesar salad ($4.75) was tossed with a dressing that evidenced no bite of garlic or anchovies and topped with stale croutons.
The entrées delivered to our table revealed that two stations in the very busy kitchen were completely out of sync. Toothsome meatloaf ($9.95) napped with good mushroom gravy was paired with mashed potatoes and cold broccoli so lightly steamed it couldn't be pierced with a fork. Chicken Fried Quail ($18 for two), which was more breading than bird, came with cool-ish, almost raw carrots. The big Honey Glazed Pork Chop ($13.95) was served with a perfectly sized ramekin of homemade macaroni and cheese that was bubbly hot on top and stone cold in the center. Luckily for me, everything on my plate was done in unison: The dinner special of a grilled rib eye ($22.95) on Boursin Cheese Grits topped with crispy onion strings was cooked perfectly and delicious. My dessert was wonderful in the bargain. Despite what the menu says, cobbler ($5.95) is the only dessert actually made in-house at Blue Star, and it is truly worthy of indulgence. Tart mixed berries oozed from under a lightly sweet, crunchy crust beneath a melting orb of Amy's Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream ($1.95, extra). Tèo's gelato flavor of the week ($5.95) was a delicious, if somewhat pricey, strawberry delight. And while the Devil's Chocolate Cake ($5.95) certainly looked decadent, it lacked the depth of chocolate flavor worth spending diet points (or a soul) to sample.Ê
Service at Blue Star is pleasant, though the staff does seem somewhat overwhelmed by the crowds and noise at times. Some diners enjoy sitting at the long bar that offers a full view of the kitchen, and others fill up the silver leatherette booths and banquettes. When the weather suits, I'm sure the outdoor patio will fill up, as well. There is no true waiting area, so you're likely to encounter a crowd standing in the doorway at peak hours. Looking back over my Blue Star experience, I think almost all of the problems can be traced to instant popularity. Success is certainly the goal of each and every new restaurant venture, but it's also true that all new places need some time to work out the kinks, standardize systems, and learn to work efficiently as a team. Blue Star Cafeteria has a great location with a well-conceived menu presented by hard-working professionals. Perhaps once the enthusiastic embrace of the neighborhood loosens just a little, the staff members will be able to get their collective feet on the ground all at the same time, as well.