Mike Madriaga 3 p.m., June 22
Save Room for Dessert at Blueprint Café's Happy Hour
When I met Gayle Covner, I thought she was just another ravenous carnivore taking in the Cooks Confab 2009 "Meat!" event at The Grande Colonial Hotel. It wasn't until after a long conversation about our love of food that I found out she was a chef. At the time, the long-time caterer was in the process of taking over the spot in Barrio Logan that had formerly housed The Guild. Having been a fan of The Guild and seen how it had failed — mostly due to location despite good food and attractive reclamation-mod' decor — I was immediately scared for my new found friend, especially when she told me she'd only be doing breakfast and lunch at her soon-to-be Blueprint Café.
A while back, I headed over for lunch with some fellow food writers and we all enjoyed it. More importantly, everyday patrons seemed enamored. As it turns out, they've amassed quite a few regulars over the last year-plus. This makes me happy. What's made me sad about Blueprint Café since day one is the fact that I'm not much a lunch guy and not having this place open for night time enjoyment seemed a missed opportunity. Recently, Covner and her crew decided to make a go of the evening game Wednesdays through Fridays with a 3 to 7 PM happy hour, and it confirms my assessment. Hidden away on a quiet street and stocked with unpretentious charm, a friendly staff with indoor and outdoor patio seating (hear that, Mr. Bedford?) and the rarest of happy hour amenities — the ability to hear one's self speak — Blueprint Café makes for a nice destination at the end of a workday.
Covner started her cooking career during a four-year stint spent in Greece. As such, Mediterranean ingredients and sensibilities are all over the happy hour menu, which includes items ranging from $5 (for a hand-made pizza with a salad...not bad) to $8. One of the HH stand-outs I enjoyed on a visit yesterday was her lamb keftes, zesty meatballs studded with whole pine nuts that served with a tzatziki sauce that's not overly tart (restraint that works well with this dish), pita triangles and a light salad. They sound simple and they are. Some things don't need to be complicated. There's good flavor and, like many of the dishes at Blueprint Cafe, good caramelization. Brown food is tasty food, and Covner realizes this. Her pizzas and crab cakes (served with a spicy orange Romesco-like condiment) get maximum color and it makes a difference.
Another member of the brown food family that really stuck with me was their carrot cake. My favorite dessert, I'm always on the lookout for a big hunk of this veggie-laced dessert, and this may be the best one I've ever come across. Spackled with a healthy coat of smooth cream cheese frosting and displaying a texture that's even without being the least bit dense, Covner's cake has a classic Better Home & Garden appearance and bursts with cinnamon spice in every bite.
Craft beer, keftes, and carrot cake...who'd have thunk it? Ditto the idea that such an interesting line-up could be had in the land of art and carnitas that is Barrio Logan. Blueprint Café (http://www.blueprint-cafe.com) is located at 1805 Newton Street.