Blue Corn Cafe
716 Ninth St
Durham, NC 27705
Review Date: June 4, 2010
Reviewers: Lucy Moore, Michael Pocinki, Dick H., Beth Levine, John D., John C., Kristine C., Karen McCollough, Jody H-D.
We were seated at one long table, in front of the street window. The restaurant was formerly two spaces, so it is divided by a long wall. The bar, some tables and a children's area comprise one side, and the other side (where we were seated) is full of tables only. There are also several bistro tables along the sidewalk for outdoor dining. Although we dined at the Blue Corn Cafe on a very warm evening, many of us were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant was not overly air-conditioned. The interior walls were nicely decorated with pieces by local artists. There was American pop music of the 70s playing in the background, which Michael found enjoyable, but a bit loud, not to mention a surprising choice for a Latin American restaurant.
This reviewer (Lucy) noted that the sanitation rating was a 93, which is not as high as desired for her normal restaurant requirements. Although nothing was obviously dirty at the table, it made her wonder about issues in the kitchen area. She hopes Blue Corn's rating will improve in the future.
We told the waitress of our vegetarian and vegan diets. Our group was impressed with her vegetarian and vegan knowledge vis-a-vis the menu. Also, there was a section titled "Vegetarian Dinners" on the menu, where it was stated, "Our vegetarian dishes are not vegan, but with a request they can be made to suit almost anybody's needs." I was told by the owner that this is true for all but the Quesadilla entree, which must be made with cheese. Michael wished "Blue Corn were doing more in the way of local and/or organic ingredients," as he found no mention of such on the menu.
To begin our meal, we ordered the chips with salsa varieties ($3.25) for the table to share. Beth observed that the tri-colored chips had some spices on them. We were served four different salsas: Mild, Red Hot, Salsa Verde and Pico de Gallo. Michael "liked the salsa verde, but the mild salsa had a taste (he) didn't like." John D. also did not think the mild salsa was that good. Beth enjoyed all of the salsas. Lucy thought the serving sizes were quite generous.
Kristine and John C. ordered the Plantanos Fritos ($6.95) as a starter. Michael and Dick ordered them as dessert. This dish is made of deep-fried, sliced plantains, dotted with confectioner's sugar, and comes with a (non-vegan) mango-banana dipping sauce. Everyone agreed they were very good. The presentation was very nice, too.
John D. and Jody ordered a pitcher of the Gold Margarita on the rocks and thought the drink was "very good." Lucy ordered a frozen margarita ($6.73). She thought the flavor was fair, but the texture was more like a regular margarita – not very frozen/icy.
Lucy and Michael ordered the Spinach Empanada ($11.95). Michael's version was vegan (without cheese or sour cream). This entree had a thick, fried cornmeal crust, which was folded over a chopped spinach and cheese filling, topped with sour cream, lettuce, tomato and salsa verde, with a side of rice and beans. Michael liked the dish, but thought it would be better with the addition of mushrooms or something else inside it besides just spinach. Lucy liked hers, as well, but thought it was quite bland. She thought the flavor might have been improved if the cheese were mixed in with the spinach, instead of spread separately, inside the crust. The crust had a very nice flavor. She didn't care for either of her sides. The black beans had a "funny flavor," and the rice had a strong flavor of some seasoning – perhaps cinnamon. She was impressed with the large serving size of her entree.
Kristine, Jody, Beth and Dick ordered the Green Enchiladas ($8.95). These were stuffed with spinach and corn, then topped with salsa verde. Kristine thought the dish was "average – just spinach in a tortilla with nothing else inside." Jody, Beth and Dick added more salsa from our appetizer to make the dish more flavorful. Dick thought the portion size was good.
John C., John D. and Karen ordered the Black Bean Tortas ($12.95). This dish is made of two large black bean cakes (a blend of black beans, eggplant, peppers and plantains), topped with fresh pineapple/mango chutney and served on a bed of micro greens with rice. John D. thought it was a large and "beautiful presentation."
One final thought regarding the prices at Blue Corn comes from reviewer Michael, who found it "shocking and disturbing" that the prices of the vegetarian entrees are in the same range as most of the meat entrees. He thinks "meat dishes should always cost more than vegetarian dishes, especially in light of the environmental impact of meat consumption – not to mention the deleterious impact on the health care system associated with eating meat." For a relaxed atmosphere, good service and plenty of options for vegan foods atypical of ordinary Mexican restaurants, Blue Corn is a good choice.