First Look: BlueTop
The long-awaited fast-casual joint brings innovative eats and chill backyard vibes to Chamblee
Just in time for fall, chef Matt Marcus, along with owners Andy and Helaine Lasky, have opened the long-awaited Chamblee fast-casual restaurant BlueTop. The new spot, which takes its name from the taxi stand that called the building home in the 1950s, calls up the feeling of a backyard get-together in every detail, from the open-concept dining room and yard games to the vibrant, easy-drinking cocktails and elevated home-style food. As beverage manager Jonathan Joy explains, "We wanted this to be a place where our guests could just relax."
Along with their stress-free aesthetic, chef Marcus (former executive chef at Buckhead's Portofino) has assembled a menu that almost winks at the diner. With items such as buffalo octopus skewers ($8), lobster corn dogs ($14) and ceviche featuring Georgia shrimp and bycatch from Brunswick-based Native Seafood ($9), the menu feels like a dare reminiscent of the online culinary fad of "Will It?" where chefs pull two items out of a hat and try to see if they can co-exist. For example: octopus will it buffalo? Fortunately for Marcus and his diners, across the menu, the answer is a resounding yes.
The beverage menu mirrors the kitchen's playfulness in its drink selection, which offers a simple division between shaken spirits and stirred cocktails each listed by their primary spirit. I grew up in North Carolina, so the Cheerwine and London dry gin cocktail ($10) caught my eye immediately. As a partisan of the Old North State, I have two strong feelings about Cheerwine: one, it is perfection and two, it is not to be messed with. So to say I was dubious is an understatement. And yet, Joy has created something so refreshing and respectful of its star ingredient that my doubts evaporated by the second sip. The citrus layers perfectly with the clove notes from the barrel-aged tonic and cherry-flavored soda to create a drink both wholly original and firmly classic.
Like any good backyard party, the food menu hopscotches from light fare to filling dishes. The gazpacho ($7), made with green tomatoes and garnished with chili oil, vinegar and heirloom tomatoes, is energized with a precise balance of acidic and mellow notes. The lobster corndog delivers a rich, buttery tail surrounded by perfectly fried batter from house-made local creamed corn and masa, giving the traditional bun of the lobster roll some serious competition.
Sandwiched between the "Small Dishes" and "Rabbit Food" portions of the menu, diners will find the "On the Bun" selections. From sloppy joes ($9 and $12) to a veggie banh mi ($12), BlueTop covers its bases for all backyard guests. The Border Springs lamb sloppy joe ($12) is filled with meat that's tender from a 36-hour slow cook. The garnish of pickles and red onions adds a needed kick, though it could use a little more punch of spice to cut the rich sauce. The BlueTop burger ($12), featuring a double patty of Snake River Farms beef along with a mustard-infused Red Dragon cheddar and sweet onion jam, requires no condiments aside from Duke's (the only acceptable mayonnaise). When so many places have gone out of their way to innovate upon the burger, Marcus keeps his simple: quality-sourced beef served medium with classic garnishes. The rest of the menu may wink, but the burger looks the diner directly in the eyes.
Everything about BlueTop is designed to be easy, and it really does feel as if the Laskys are hosting guests in their own string-light lined backyard. There are even kid-sized picnic tables and a basket of Beanie Babies to entertain the little ones. Though it might not be immediately intuitive for everyone, the ordering system also reflects BlueTop's desire for ease. After ordering food and drinks at the front counter, diners receive a number and find their own table (and it's best practice to wait for one's number before claiming a table). Knowledgeable waitstaff deliver the food and then leave the table number so that any subsequent additions another round of drinks or dessert, for example can be billed to that number. This way, guests don't need to stand in line again or go to the bar, leaving them free to explore the backyard games, entertain their children in the grass, or chat with friends over drinks. The Laskys, themselves self-admitted doting grandparents, have tried to create a space that the whole family can enjoy without sacrificing culinary quality.
As if the fizzy drinks, breezy outdoor atmosphere and superior ingredients weren't enough to make a visit to BlueTop worth it, they're also rather valiantly attempting to be a zero-waste restaurant. Whenever possible, ingredients find more than one purpose. Whether it's the bacon fat rendered for use in the bourbon blend in the K-Pop Old Fashioned ($11) or the elevated bycatch in the ceviche, Marcus and his team prove that minimalism doesn't preclude maximum flavor and wastefulness does not equal wealth.
After all, it's the simple pleasures we remember in fall when the weather cools off and gathering outside becomes once again bearable: a sugary kick of bright cherry soda, a briny fresh oyster, a backyard football game, a warm gooey brownie and a conversation with friends over a cold beer. These things make us rich and will likely render BlueTop a successful addition to the neighborhood.
BlueTop. 5362 Peachtree Road, Chamblee. 678-620-3490. www.bluetopchamblee.com.