I really like Blue 44. It’s a friendly neighborhood place, only a short walk from our house. The food is dependably good and fresh. The menu changes fairly often, but it always contains some standout dishes, including the Bistro Chicken, a half chicken with mushrooms and lardons in a cream sauce with some carrots and potatoes. Wonderful. A while back, I organized a monthly lunch there for a group of what we in Washington call Wise Men. People in the rest of the country call us Old Guys. Or worse. Among the many local lunch options, Blue 44 has always been the clear favorite. (We tried a Zoom lunch, but the group, being Wise Men, immediately decided on a bi-weekly Zoom cocktail hour instead.)
Nancy and I have ordered delivery from Blue 44 several times during the lockdown. The food arrives quickly and hot, fresh from the stove top. Nancy has twice had the chicken and sausage gumbo, the gumbo that famously prompted a diner to leave a $2,000 tip. I had a shrimp and pasta Provencal that was bursting with flavor on our first try. On our second I had a bolognese that was very good, but it reconfirmed my personal prejudice in favor of Italian sausage over ground beef in pasta dishes.
On a recent Wednesday, when I decided, after a 90-minute Zoom cocktail hour, that it would be best to order in. We again chose Blue 44, in part because someone on our neighborhood listserve had complained about delivery from another local restaurant: their pizza had arrived cold. I, too, would chafe at the delay in delivery implicit in a pizza arriving cold. On the other hand, I can’t say I really mind cold pizza. Many is the college morning when I started the day with leftover pizza — after carefully checking for pop tops and cigarette butts. But I wanted to give always-dependable Blue 44 another test.
Our previous orders — pastas and soups — are very forgiving of late deliveries. They can be easily re-heated without any loss of flavor. Not so with meats or fish. So this time I chose a real test: the chicken breast piccata.
Again, Blue 44, this time in the person of Chris Nardelli, the owner-manager himself, delivered our food. It arrived quickly, and it was piping hot. Well, Nancy’s salad was cool and refreshing, but you know what I mean. As you can see, the chicken arrived lightly breaded and covered with plenty of sauce. It was accompanied by green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes. Everything was very good and, as you can see for yourself, the portions were generous.
Regular readers know that I am not a fan of chicken breasts. Far, far too often they arrive dry and tasteless. Not so here. My chicken was about as juicy as chicken breasts get, and the flavor was enhanced by the delicious buttery, lemony piccata sauce. The sauce did double duty, as I drafted the potatoes as vehicles to scoop up very bit. The green beans also were very good, fresh and not at all overcooked.
All in all, it was a very good meal, the sort of meal you always get at (or, for now, from) Blue 44. It’s a real gem of a neighborhood restaurant. The rents in the area are going through the roof: even a liquor store — which is pretty much a license to print money — recently closed to make way for a bank that will be considered Too Big to Fail. Just what we needed: a fifth bank in a three-block strip.
And now the coronavirus arrives like a bull in a china shop. Think of your neighborhood as an ecosystem. As in many other neighborhoods across the country, it’s the small businesses, the locally owned and run restaurants and shops here that are in many ways the heart of the ecosystem. They help define a community and to unify it. They help make it either a great or a not-so-great place to live. Right now, a lot of people have their savings on the line. A lot of people depend on them for jobs. So many are struggling. So many desperately need our help, our business.
You really should give Blue 44 a try.
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