First Impressions: Blue Smoke

“This is its first night?” asked Adam, incredulously, midway through our dinner at Blue Smoke. He was incredulous because I’ve previously promised not to make him go to restaurants the same day they open, and also because the staff was on it. The restaurant was packed, but slip-ups were few and far between, and the general graciousness more than made up for them. The server was sweet as can be. The hostess, while passing by, noticed that we were done eating our appetizers and asked if she could remove the plates. A manager (?) admired my camera; another manager/host (?) chatted us up as we left. Restaurateur Danny Meyer, smooth as butter, table-hopped, stopping to say hello and answer our many questions. I don’t think he knew that I do this blog, but he may have, because I had spotted one of his PR emissaries earlier. The amazing thing about Danny Meyer is that he always seems to be talking to you because he genuinely likes you.

Which makes this next part a little painful. I’ve never much cared for the food at Blue Smoke. I’ve never been a fan of it in the original location—where I’ve only had it at the downstairs jazz club, Jazz Standard—and I wasn’t all that into it the other night. It’s mostly me, not Blue Smoke. I’m not that excited about barbecue anymore (and yes, I’ve had it all over—Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas…), and I don’t get off on huge portions. But Blue Smoke is for people not like me; it’s for people who want a plate full of traditional food, who don’t mind sweet-sauced meat, who like a lot of dressing on a salad (with blue cheese and bacon, no less), who aren’t turned off by the idea of Toll House Pie. Everyone else—it was mostly corporatefolk (we were actually seated next to a business acquaintance of Adam’s) and the occasional family—seemed to be relishing the food. And yes, I ordered meat. I rarely walk away from food, but I left a sizable amount of pulled pork on my plate because I was stuffed.

Would I have liked the food more if I’d been in a ramshackle restaurant in Alabama, or Kansas City, or somewhere besides Battery Park City? Possibly. On the other hand, while it’s the antithesis of a barbecue joint, I give Blue Smoke some credit for not acting as if it had been hauled up north on a flatbed truck; the only nod to barbecue atmosphere is a series of photographs on the walls. The trade-off, however, is that it felt kind of like an airport restaurant, what with the TVs over the bar, the lack of tablecloths, the condiments in caddies on every table, the crowd.

“A really nice airport restaurant,” said Adam, who worries I’m too hard on new restaurants. “And it’s much more attractive than the one uptown.”

This meal came at a particularly awkward time, in that I’ve had one amazing West Village meal after another. Have you been to Redfarm? Tertulia? Tremont? Have you been to the Dutch in Soho? They’re all new, but they all have character to burn and food that makes you crave more. Then again, is it even fair to hope that a restaurant in Battery Park City might have character? I’m not trying to be a pill about BPC, but it will be a long time before anything there has the patina you find in Tribeca, or the West Village, or uptown. (And that doesn’t mean living there doesn’t have great advantages! Or that Blue Smoke isn’t a great boon for the neighborhood! As Adam said, “I think that was the first time I’ve crossed the highway for dinner.”) But a sense of place is one of the main things I love about restaurants. I want to be somewhere, not anywhere.

Maybe I’m thinking about all this too much, and Blue Smoke is what it is—a welcome addition to the neighborhood, serving classic American food with excellent service. (Or maybe I’m just a North End Grill kind of guy? I guess we’ll see….)

A few miscellaneous notes: Blue Smoke will serve lunch starting the week of January 23, with takeout and delivery to come in mid-February. The in-house bakery—a couple of shelves and a diner-style dessert case—will be open for real next month. The private room appears to be rather big. And our server said that in a month or so the menu will have more vegetarian options, including a veggie burger that he said is delicious.

Blue Smoke is at 255 Vesey (between West and North End), 212-889-2005;

NOTE: To share an opinion about Blue Smoke, post it on Blue Smoke’s page in the Tribeca Citizen Restaurant Guide.

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  1. I’d been to the original Blue Smoke on Park Ave. a few times but I honestly can’t recall if I liked it or not so I may just have to check this out.

  2. I am not much for BBQ either — and even if I were, I think there are far better options in the city than Blue Smoke. With that said, let’s see what North End Grill has to offer. Hopefully, we will all be pleasantly surprised.

  3. I love Blue Smoke’s 27th Street location and, as a BPC resident, am thrilled to have them in Battery Park City. I have been looking forward to bringing my family there since the announcement of Blue Smoke’s arrival was made over a year ago. Unfortunately, when we tried going last night, there was a 45-minute wait for a table at 5:45 pm (which such a wait wouldn’t have worked for our 3 year old and 10 month old). We did, however, make reservations for Sunday. I have no doubt that it will do well. As a resident, I am very happy with the changes being made by Goldman and WFC.

  4. I understand your quibbles with the place, and I agree for the most part, but I’m happy for the new addition. I’ve lived in southern BPC for a very long time, so any new amenities are gratefully welcomed. I was very pleased by the service, and the quality of the food, and I think it fills a family/neighborhood restaurant hole on this side of West St. I will be checking out North End Grill on Monday, and I have very high hopes for it. BPC is never going to be one of the great old neighborhoods of New York, but we are slowly becoming a place that you don’t have to leave anytime you want to do something fun(especially at night).

  5. Waited for 1/2 hour last night about 7:30 to get a table for two. Then we were seated at a table that had been open the whole time we were waiting. Is this some kind of discrimination to discourage couples? There were at least 6 empty tables for 2 when we went in and they said they don’t take reservations for fewer than 5, so they weren’t holding them for people with reservations. The place was jammed and there was nowhere to wait comfortably. Very curious.

    Oh, the food: I’m not a carnivore so there wasn’t a lot of choice but the SO liked the ribs, the roasted vegetables (more like a slaw) were delicious. Mac and cheese was ordinary; the fries are good.

  6. I wish they would bring back the potato salad they used to have uptown.

  7. After reading your preview, I decided to try Tertulia at your suggestion. It was really good (best brussell sprouts ever) and enjoyed eating at a high table in the bar area as the kitchen was incredibly loud. Looking forward to checking out Red Farm. What else is on your radar these days?

  8. @Jamie: Yeah, Tertulia is loud. Where else am I excited to go? Hmm… I love I Sodi on Christopher, and I’m a fan of an all-small-plates meal at Balaboosta (a sister restaurant to the takeout place Taïm that’s a favorite summer spot). And if you haven’t been to Franny’s in Brooklyn, you should.