How easy it is to take your favorite local places for granted. The Bluebird Café is my regular weekly lunch spot and a shortlist contender for taking out-of-town guests to breakfast, but I've shamefully neglected its once-a-week dinners. As I reminded myself on a recent Friday night rectification, that was a sad mistake.
With counter stools, oil-cloth tablecloths, and paper napkins, it's more of a diner than what you'd usually call a restaurant. It's an unassuming little place, tucked into a mini-mall. But it hardly needs a big neon sign on top. Word has gotten out. Summers, when a nearby breakfast eatery has plenty of empty seats, the weekend influx of vacationers swells the brunch line outside.
The original place opened in New Orleans in 1987, and owner Bart Shumaker, who heads the kitchen, and wife Sally branched out to Wakefield a dozen years ago. Friends from New Jersey who summer here became dedicated patrons when we introduced them. Their daughter enjoys coming across the menu she crayoned on as a tyke. Her mother doesn't bother looking at the menu anymore, being a devoted huevos rancheros orderer. (Another friend, who used to work in Tex-Mex land, orders them even when he comes for dinner.)
Bluebird Café | 401.792.8940 | 554 Kingstown Rd, Narragansett | Mon+ Wed-Fri, 7 am-2 pm; FRI, 5-8:30 PM; Sat-Sun, 8 am-2 pm | Major Credit Cards | BYOB | Sidewalk-Level Accessible
That's a good choice, coming in one- and two-egg sizes ($4.95/$5.95) and dolloped with salsa. But I usually have the pollo rancheros ($5.95/$6.95), and the less carnally minded may choose the verduras veggie version ($5.25/$6.25). Other egg dishes are accom-panied by your choice of grits or black beans, as well as Yankee style, with home fries. Instead of toast, you can have a biscuit — which Johnnie praises; no faint accomplishment. She's especially fond of their muffins, which change daily, and is still waxing enthusiastic about the blueberry-cranberry corn muffin she had the other day.
At lunchtime, like my huevos rancheros-addicted friend, I always have the same thing, their juicy chicken Dijon sandwich ($6.95). The default preparation is simply with lettuce and tomato, but you can also have it topped with cheese or fried peppers and onions ($7.50). I usually indulge in both, and the included side of well-browned home fries. You can get a burger or even a sausage patty sandwich, but for my money the chicken Dijon is the real treat.
Oh yes, dinner. You can rely on being offered an authentically prepared Cajun or Creole dish or dishes, which is why it's hard to get in on Labor Day weekend when bayou émigrés from the nearby Rhythm and Roots Festival fill the place. When I showed up on a recent Friday, there was jambalaya with chicken, shrimp, and smoked sausage, as well as crab soup and fried catfish. In addition there were kitchen-made Mexican blue crab cakes with a chipotle Hollandaise sauce, and roast pork.
Johnny fulfilled the obligation to have something Southern. The fried catfish ($9.95) was described as "New Orleans style," and it pleased her no end. Not just because the fish was fresh and tasty — flavorful without being fishy, why isn't catfish served more often? — it was prepared just the way she likes it. A steadfast opponent of too-thick, greasy batter on fish, she loved that the two big pieces of fillet were simply soaked in buttermilk and covered with a thin layer of season-ed cornmeal. Greaseless and delicious, it came with lightly seasoned fries and Cajun tartar sauce.