Review: Blue Dust

Last week, I went back to Blue Dust for a chance to order dinner and give them a proper review. I was absolutely floored. If you haven’t been to this place, you need to go. It’s the best meal you’ll get for the money anywhere in the city.

…and, no, I don’t care that they’re next door to a Tattoo parlor.

Jerry and his roasted salsa

Blue Dust ($$)

601 Amity Street
Homestead PA 15120
(412) 461-6220

Blue Dust on Urbanspoon

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I stopped by once for drinks based entirely on their signs advertising “26 beers on tap.” It was started just a few months ago by Jerry Miller, who Munch reports as a “restaurant business veteran” and Scott from East End Brewing points out was previously involved with Roland’s in the Strip. Miller relies heavily on his family for both artistic input and operational help, but I’m told he has also hired a professional Chef to manage the kitchen.

Completely gutted interior. Despite the promise of vast selection, the actual location and exterior signage is a little misleading. You might think it’s a dump based on the exterior. Located on Amity Street in Homestead right before you cross the railroad tracks over to the waterfront, you wouldn’t expect to find more than just a dive bar.

If you actually mount the courage to continue through the door, you’ll be pleasantly surprised: clean, smartly decorated, with a full row of beer fridges containing about 75% American microbrew with the rest dedicated to big industry light lagers. Tables are pretty evenly spaced throughout but they are sufficiently distributed to avoid any sort of cramped impression. It’s easy to move around, and that’s not always true. On the far left side, you’ll notice a fairly large bar with 26 tap handles and two big jars of homemade spiced vodka behind it. I even noticed a small lounge area with comfortable seating in the far corner. Who would have expected all that in Homestead?

Laid back staff (and that’s good). There’s really no full-time host table like you would see in a big chain. Jerry mans the bar, and he’s been my initial point of contact for both visits. I was up for dinner, so he pointed me toward a table while I waited for a server to come around.

I had pulled out my laptop at the table, so I think the waitstaff intentionally left me alone without too much interaction to start with. The whole picture taking thing probably changed their behavior as well, so it was a little hard to set up the rapport I normally aim for. That said, my server opened up a little with some conversation mid-dinner, which was more than welcome while I waited for the
“drinking buddies” to arrive. A later stop up at the bar once my friends arrived offered a chance for lively conversation with lots of background information from Jerry while we enjoyed some exciting beverages.

The menu: short, sweet and always changing. The menu is a simple printout on an 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Think of it like the specials list at Silky’s, except there is no normal menu for it to augment. Jerry says they plan to mix it up a little every month, so the printout format probably makes sense over a fully produced menu.

A quick glance over the page’s contents will highlight an eclectic selection of recipes Jerry pulled from everyone in his family. At some point in the evening, Jerry even walked through the whole thing and pointed out the source of each one. I’m not sure if that just means “artistic foundation,” and the chef takes it from there or if a specific recipe is coming from family members.

Regarding menu content. You’ll find everything on the menu from traditional pub appetizers like wings and nachos to a vegetarian stir-fry with bok choy and portabella mushrooms (which was my order). Somewhere in the middle are a few wraps and sandwiches—including a somewhat familiar Crab Roll that sounds quite a bit like something Jerry carried with him out of Roland’s. Several of the wraps are vegetarian friendly, so it’s a great place to take your beer-drinking vegetarian friends.

Did I mention the Falafel platter thrown in just to keep us on our toes?

I’ve already told you about the beer. I had a nice, light-bodied (but dark-colored) East End Fat Gary with dinner and moved on to something a little crazy for dinner: a Maredsous Dubbel that Jerry threw on tap…well, because he liked it. There aren’t many places where I can see something on the draft list that I’ve never even heard of, much less tasted.

In the face of others with a much better ability to describe these beers, I’ll leave the analysis to the pros. With 26 different styles on tap, there’s little chance you won’t find something that calls to you.

Someone’s paying attention to food. I ordered a vegetarian stir fry, which falls totally outside my typical salad order, but I had a feeling Blue Dust would offer up something good. The stir-fry was prefaced by a side salad, which means that I even got to see an example of salad execution (on which I consider myself an expert). Both were outstanding.

Salad time. The side salad was small and tasteful with a heafty amount of fresh leaf lettuce topped with a tasteful amount of cranberries and slivered almonds plus a sprinkling of thinly sliced red onion. I had requested the balsamic vinaigrette, which was very clearly made in house. Actually, it was one of the best examples of what I consider the perfect balsamic: deep color showing off a large balsamic as compared with red wine vinegar, and a nice vinegar tartness that comes from limiting the amount of oil. Add in some herbs (and probably garlic), and you’ve won my heart.

The Blue Dust Side Salad

Later on, I even found that the greens come directly from Jerry’s brother-in-law, who grows them all in his garden. If you’re a local food fanatic, it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m not such a devout locavore, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

On to stir-fry. The stir-fry was equally impressive. I normally don’t even like stir-fry because too many restaurants serve up a huge greasy mess without nearly enough vegetable content. Clearly, the insufficient vegetable pitfall was impossible for Blue Dust’s vegetarian version, so I went for it. That was a good decision: their stir fry implementation was light and filled with both vegetables and flavor. This implementation was able to avoid any hint of the oily-salty after-taste I typically associate with Americanized Asian cuisine. Yet another win for Blue Dust.

Vegetarian Stir Fry a la Blue Dust

My favorite part: the portion was really just right. I detected bok choy, portabella, sugar snap peas, red pepper, scallions and a lightly sweet but salty glaze that gave the impression of about half teriyaki sauce and half soy sauce. The whole thing was piled on top of a thin layer of white rice distributed across the whole plate. Blue Dust’s balance of rice to stir-fry actually seemed just about right. If you look at the picture above, just imagine the rice being thinly spread across the plate in a manageable layer below the stir-fry. The portions were manageable enough, that I even ate the majority of it—something I never do for typical rice portions.

With homemade roasted salsa to cap it off. While we were at the bar, Jerry mentioned his roasted salsa in passing while discussing the menu and smoker in the back. Intrigued we ordered a platter of the stuff and were definitely impressed (see my introductory picture). Jerry says he char-grills the veggies before smoking the whole mix for several hours before lightly blending the whole thing with garlic, lime, and “all the other stuff necessary to actually make the mix salsa” (Jerry’s words).

So will I go back? Most definitely. I’m going to pull my friends out there for dinner as often as they’ll let me and already discussed adding the destination to a “Thursday Night Drinks” tradition I maintain with a group of my friends my friends. If you have any interest in quality food in the ‘Burgh (or just like a good selection of craft beer), then there is no reason not to hit up Blue Dust. Just get over the tattoo parlor (and don’t do anything stupid).

Correction: I have nothing against tattoo parlors. Read the comments for details regarding the Tattoo 2 shop next store to Blue Dust.

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21 Responses to “Review: Blue Dust”

  1. Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook Says:
    July 21st, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for the review. I live out in the northern ‘burbs, but this sounds like it’s worth the trip. The stir-fry was definitely a strange choice. Glad it worked out.

  2. mike Says:
    July 23rd, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    True: a very strange choice. Sometimes I go crazy and head way out on a limb. For some reason, it felt right, and I felt compelled to review them for something other than a salad.

    Thanks for reading, Fillippelli the (probably-pretty-good) Cook.

  3. Tattoo You II Says:
    August 13th, 2009 at 11:12 am

    So what exactly is your particular prejudice against tattoo shops? I note that twice in your review you made comment about my place of business as if it were an undesirable establishment and while I am accustomed to dealing with narrow minded people, I would have expected more from someone who is entrusted to make unbiased reviews of others. Are you aware of the fact that 3 out 4 Americans have a tattoo and these same americans are your readers? Before you passed judgement on my shop did you happen to come in and look around and see what the business was actually about? Are you aware of the fact that Jerry is actually happy that my business is located on the corner with his? And the nail salon is happy we are there also? I was offended to read your article and I am offended by your attitude and the fact that you use your forum to express your prejudice….

  4. mike Says:
    August 13th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Tattoo You: I am sorry to have offended. I did not realize that 75% of Americans has a tattoo, and I am always surprised by how careful I need to be in my commentary. I will thank you for calmly explaining your frustration. I am always thankful that my readers are among the more considerate in the blogosphere.

    First off, I have nothing against tattoos or tattoo parlors. I mention your shop in my review twice—each time for a different reason. The first mention was intended to persuade my audience not to worry that Blue Dust is next to a tattoo shop (as opposed to a candy store). I would venture to say that a portion of the Americans without a tattoo do carry a certain uneasiness over the practice and aren’t quite comfortable with shops offering the service. For example, I have praised Blue Dust repeatedly in discussions with my friends, and have found that half of those friends respond negatively to my description of the location as “next to the tattoo parlor.” I make my first tattoo comment because I want to make sure those types don’t skip a visit to Blue Dust in response to their (unfounded) fear.

    Sadly, we tend to naturally fear what we don’t understand, and exposure is often the best medicine for that kind of fear. In that sense, I hope that the people who grow to love Blue Dust become just a little bit more comfortable with your shop as time goes by.

    The second reference to your shop was intended as a joke. I don’t know about you, but, in my circles, teasing someone about a crazy night on the town that ends in waking with a tattoo is a common jab. However uncommon it may be for such “crazy nights” to result in a tattoo, it’s still a common punchline that I hoped my readers would at least smirk over. You very much didn’t, and I’m sorry that you found it upsetting.

  5. Josh Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Hi, I’m the body piercer and body modification specialist at Tattoo You 2. I realize that when some individuals unfamiliar with a tattoo shop here “tattoo studio” they automatically picture a crude environment similar to a back alley porn store. I assure you that we here at Tattoo You 2 are nothing like that. We have been at this location a little over two months and have become a welcome addition to the neighborhood by several of the local businesses (not just the ones on are block). We strive to maintain a professional image and a classy environment. We realize that not every tattoo studio takes this degree of pride in their work and respect in their art, but this is exactly what we do, we create beautiful works of art for our clients. It is for these reasons we took your words so harshly and after the negative connotations derived from your first comment a joke about a drunken night that ends with some funky body art was taken in the same manor (it is against shop policy, besides being unethical, to serve a potential client that is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, we posses the integrity to refuse service to a client that is not in their right state of mind). We are open till 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. I feel that you owe it to yourself and to your readers to stop in and see what we are about the next time you are visiting the Blue Dust.

  6. mike Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for the clarifications, Josh. I have updated the post to strike my tattoo comments. Anyone following this thread should feel free to stop in at Tattoo 2 to say hi if they’re interested.

  7. Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 9:50 am

    I’m puzzled. You start off saying that Blue Dust is the “best meal you’ll get for the money anywhere in the city”; yet you never say what it actually cost. Also, that’s a pretty big statement based on only one visit. It may very well be the best meal for the money, but you offer flimsy evidence of that. It would have been helpful to print a copy of the Blue Dust menu, too: with prices.

  8. mike Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Good point, Jon. I intended to link to the menu up on their web site but apparently never did. That menu lists all the prices. For reference, the stir fry I ordered was $10.95 (vegetarian version). That price included the side salad.

    Just for reference, I make a point to leave out details like hours and pricing and provide a restaurant-specific link to Urbanspoon, where you can find up-to-date information and often times a menu as well.

  9. Mitchel Says:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I love this place! I have been there twice recently and have had excellent meals and beer.Beer selection is unique. I had the sierra nevada summer ale(outstanding and hoffbrauhaus oktoberfest. The happy hour can’t be beat with half price brews.(5-7) Brisket sandwich was delicious. Jerry is awesome. I was there when it was slow and he gave me a tour of the kitchen highlighting the smokers where brisket and turkey were simmering.Try it .You won’t find a better place.

  10. JenD Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the info! I have passed by the Blue Dust several times during construction but never stopped since it opened. I will now! I am always looking for local places for dinner and was just not sure what type of place it was but I am excited to give it a try.

  11. mike Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I’m glad to hear that people are starting to notice (and appreciate) Blue Dust. It’s a great place that deserves to succeed.

    Thanks for your comments!

  12. Matthew Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    We ate there tonight. The food was incredible. Great little place – spread the word

  13. mike Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it, Matthew. Spreading the word is exactly what I’m trying to do!

  14. Anonymous Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I went here about a month ago and I can’t wait to go back. We enjoyed some delicious half priced appetizers (red bean dip and artichoke dip). Soo GOOD! I ended up getting the smoked brisket sandwich which had a delicious horseradish sauce on it. My fellow diners enjoyed their meals as well. Place wasn’t busy at all, I don’t understand it. The food was amazing, the food was priced right, and they even have vegetarian options.

  15. david Says:
    January 6th, 2010 at 9:40 am

    This guy is a jerk. Your lame apolgy to tatoo you justifies it. People who review others should not be closed minded.

  16. Anonymous Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    We just had a very nice meal at Blue Dust. I had an Asian chicken salad – without the chicken – and they were kind enough to take $3 off my bill. And the salad was great, very fresh.

  17. mike Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Anonymous: Glad to hear it!

    I’m a huge fan of Blue Dust, so it’s great to hear when others have great experiences of their own.

  18. Heidi Says:
    March 18th, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I don’t know if “Mike” is a jerk, or not, but I feel that his apology was polite, though unnecessary. I see a simple misunderstanding, as Mike was defending the tattoo parlor against those who feel weird about eating in close proximity to a shop that draws blood; I think similar culinary prejudices exist against doctor’s offices and are not meant to offend the profession itself. The sensitivity of the body modification community here is amusing, especially the refusal to acknowledge the joke about getting drunk and thinking a tattoo or prince albert is a good idea. Again, Mike was in agreement with the policies mentioned by Josh, only he expressed it from a different angle.

    Yet another misconception surrounds the role of the reviewer. Reviews would not have much meaning from an “unbiased” perspective. The purpose of a review is precisely to form and share an opinion.

    As a proponent of alternative lifestyles, I respect body art much more than the craft of restaurant critiques. Tattoo You II, my hopes are that you will lighten up and positively promote yourselves in ways that demonstrate open-mindedness rather than attempting to judge the scope of mind of non-customers.

  19. mike Says:
    March 18th, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Thanks for the kind defense, Heidi. I appreciate it.

  20. zach Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 2:39 am

    fyi the tatoo place next door closed at the beginning of march. It’s supposed to become a fancy candy store

  21. zach Says:
    May 19th, 2010 at 2:42 am

    strike that last, it’ll be a candy store, not a fancy one

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