Over the last several years, Rochester has welcomed several gastropubs to its dining and imbibing scene. Included in that burgeoning group — and offering fine company to such notables as Tap and Mallet, Lovin' Cup, Victoire, and ButaPub — is Blu Wolf Bistro, which opened in 2013 on the corner of Park Avenue and Berkeley Street, at the site of the former Colie's Café.
Fittingly, Blu Wolf offers a diverse and extensive selection of draft and bottled beers, a solid sampling of both red and white wines (many of which are available by the glass), and a well-composed cocktail menu, which is modified seasonally. On the warm July evening of my first visit, my sister, cousin, and I took advantage of Blu Wolf's outdoor seating — which offers the added benefit of being prime people-watching real estate — and enjoyed Melon Mules ($9): Grey Goose Le Melon vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime, and Domaine De Canton (a ginger liqueur) in dimpled hammered copper cups. Tart, refreshing, and crisp, the drink proved the perfect preface to our meals.
We opted to share three different "First Bites" appetizers. Pork rinds ($6), a rarity on Rochester menus, seemed a must. Although fresh, light, and airy, they were somewhat ordinary in terms of flavor, but the Southwest ranch dipping sauce heightened my interest. The Frito Misto ($9), a mix of light, crispy fried zucchini, green beans, and red bell pepper came accompanied with the same dipping sauce, and a coconut-basil aioli, both of which enhanced the individual vegetables' flavor, admirably retained through the frying process. The next day, the cold leftovers still tasted like the pre-fried veggies, and still had a bit of crunch and enough crispy breading to satisfy as a cold snack.
The Buffalo calamari ($11) sounded like too good a combination to be true, and in fact it was — it was the only true disappointment of the meal. While the wing sauce was tangy and biting (I'd imagine Blu Wolf does a fine job with chicken wings), the calamari pieces ("cut from 'steaks,'" according to our server) were thick, dense, and chewy with an unappetizing consistency.
On a subsequent solo lunch visit, I started with the stout-infused French onion soup ($6). More often than not, I find a restaurant's French onion soups either too salty or too sweet, — the latter being preferable, since it can be modified with a deft hand and a saltshaker. Blu Wolf's did err on the side of sweet, but other than that, it had a rich depth of flavor, topped with homemade croutons (which made for easier consumption as compared to a thick slice of bread), and impeccably broiled Swiss cheese.
While Blu Wolf offers many things for many people, the burgers (always 8-ounce patties) — of which there are at least 16 varieties — are its bedrock. The Reuben Special burger ($15), topped with real, honest-to-goodness carved corned beef, Swiss cheese, coleslaw (using house-made pickled red cabbage), and Thousand Island dressing is as delicious as it is messy (extra napkins are a de rigueur accompaniment to burgers here). Similarly, the Banh Mi burger ($16) combines cultures and components effectively, using pulled pork, cucumber, jalapeños, cilantro, pickled carrot, daikon radish, and garlic aioli to provide a spicy Vietnamese essence to an expertly cooked medium-rare burger.
On my lunch visit, I tried the Baked Potato Grilled Cheese sandwich ($11), which shows off more of Blu Wolf's unique play-with-your-food personality. The sandwich's Texas toast (from Baker Street) envelops melted cheddar cheese, Applewood-smoked maple bacon, and Blu Wolf's Bent Arm fries. It was a pleasing panoply of textures and tastes. I was skeptical about how the side of sour cream would work as a condiment, but it succeeded.
Between the two visits, we sampled three milkshakes (Blu Wolf sources its milk from Byrne Dairy and ice cream from Bruster's). Quintessential in its thickness and nuanced flavors, the vanilla ($6) took the dessert prize. The strawberry milkshake ($6) was also first-rate, but a bit thinner than the vanilla, perhaps because it incorporated real strawberries. The least successful was the caramel pretzel milkshake ($7), whose flavor was too heavily weighted with pretzel and was subsequently grainy in composition.
Both meals for this review took place outside, and that is where Blu Wolf Bistro notably shone. Too often, outdoor patrons are seemingly forgotten and left to twist in the wind while waiting on servers. At Blu Wolf, we were attended to attentively, efficiently, and courteously, our server offered to split our bill, and my glass of iced tea never reached bottom. Additionally, our servers answered every question thoughtfully and patiently. With its whimsical yet serious approach to good food, drink, and service, I get the feeling that Blu Wolf Bistro will be holding down this corner for a while.