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Review: Bluetop offers Americana with unexpected style

The story behind Bluetop, a casual but surprisingly clever restaurant that opened last year in Chamblee, sounds a lot like an old American one.

Here, on a stretch of Peachtree Road that now backs up to the Chamblee MARTA station, old-fashioned taxi cabs were dispatched to and fro from this brick building more than 70 years ago. After some period of disrepair, owner Andy Lasky and a crew have breathed new life into it. A 45-foot trailer has been repurposed and attached to the side of the dining room, a ramshackle-seeming but impressively executed improvisational kitchen. The back side of the dining room opens up to a backyard full of picnic tables, cornhole boards, and a bocce ball court.

If all of this Americana — the repurposed truck, the old brick taxi stand, the backyard games — put you in mind of a typical roadside tavern (cheeseburgers, fries, beer), you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. You can get a cheeseburger at Bluetop. You can order a beer. But it isn’t a typical place at all.

On a recent Friday afternoon, a friend and I dropped in for a late lunch and ordered a few things at the counter. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. We settled in for sunny seats near the back of the dining room and sipped our beers, looking out at a bocce ball court too cold to use.

But as each dish arrived, I became much more interested in what was happening in this kitchen. Take the spinach and kale dip, for example. I’d lazily assumed this would be along the lines of a typical (and delicious) goopy mayonnaise-laden, cheese-topped spinach and artichoke dip. What arrived couldn’t have been more different: a cool, dense pesto thickened with almonds and Parmesan cheese, zested with a touch of orange. The flavor was a knockout punch, unexpected and potent. The style was slyly sophisticated.

The dishes that followed continued in this theme. A basket of cubed pork belly and shishito peppers had seemed odd and curious to me on the menu, but as I dug into the combination, I couldn’t have been more pleased. The belly was sweet and salty, caramelized and indulgent on the tongue. The light, vegetal crunch of the peppers, along with a kick of acid from a wedge of lime and a salty garnish of nori, balanced the dish into an addictive, clever combination.

A plate of olive oil poached octopus was as tender as I hoped it would be, sliced into thin medallions and tossed with potent, flavorful ground chorizo and fine, crispy potatoes tossed in a sherry vinegar gastrique. This may have been the point where I looked around and wondered, “Where the heck am I? Barcelona?” I don’t mean to suggest that there was anything fussy about these dishes. On the contrary, Bluetop has a way of making these unexpected tweaks and clever dishes seem casual, nothing special. The quality of execution in the kitchen is what makes them work.

That level of execution is disorienting, in part because the service is casual to the point of being somewhat confused. Those lovely plates had been arriving for minutes at our lunch table before anyone explained that we had to get up and find our own silverware in the corner of the dining room and pour our own glasses of water. Odder still: Though we’d ordered a good deal more dishes than people seated at our table, no one ever offered any extra plates to share with. When the goat sloppy Joe we’d ordered arrived, I cut my half off and ate it off a paper napkin. It was a solid, rich sandwich, though a touch tough. I wish I’d eaten it off a plate.

The credit for the kitchen’s success, I assume, must be given to Paul Sidener, who was not chef when Lasky opened the restaurant but took over that role in October, when Matt Marcus, the opening chef, was let go shortly after the restaurant opened. I’m pleased to say that, aside from some minor quibbles with service, the kitchen here seems to be well oiled and focused.

The kitchen’s eccentricities are more expressed in the small plates, less outlandish with the sandwiches that make up the middle of the menu.

If you do want a cheeseburger, I doubt you’ll be disappointed by the house concoction of two thin patties, cheddar, mayonnaise, a little dab of sweet bacon jam, and some potent pickle slices. A jerked mahi-mahi sandwich, served on a pretzel bun with a generous load of sweetened aioli, is certainly not a bad option.

I’d recommend washing down your meal with one of the clever house cocktails, the Rosco’s Old Fashioned, which tops a nutty-sweet bourbon drink with a miniature waffle cone. It’s a weird little shoutout to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, an old restaurant thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, but it’s also just clever and tasty, like so much of what is served here.

There’s a familiar name for this style of free-associating, sandwich-centric, creative small plate dining, of course, but I almost don’t want to call Bluetop a New American restaurant. Bluetop is more fun than that old label. It might look like an old story, but the kitchen here is cooking new life into it.

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