Writing about a restaurant that serves just breakfast and lunch can present some challenges. Menus are often limited and there are only so many ways to describe a typical Western omelet or Reuben sandwich. To my absolute delight, what my dining companion, Cathy, and I discovered at Blú Island Bistro was anything but common, and the challenge had nothing to do with a limited menu.
The roadside view of the Island Sun Inn gives almost no hint of the culinary and visual treasure it holds inside, unless you count the cars parked in front. Chef/owner Alan Laskowski has created something very special, which is no surprise given his experience. Originally from Philadelphia and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Laskowski has garnered “Best of Philly” awards and has been featured on The Food Network. If you’ve lived in Venice for a while, you might remember his Kingfish Café.
The entry to the restaurant is through a covered patio scattered with tables for outdoor dining. Once through the doors, charming, colorful, quirky and “How did I end up in Key West?” were things that came into my mind. There are two distinct, smallish dining spaces inside. The back room has the feeling of a covered porch, with a dark fake-wood floor, a pale blue tongue-and-groove beamed ceiling, and big windows all around. It’s bright, cheery, and overlooks the hotel’s sparkling pool which is surrounded by tables with daffodil-yellow umbrellas.
The front room is a bit moodier with dark brown acoustic ceiling tiles, dark wood booths upholstered in custom fabric, and waves painted in relief on the walls. Both spaces are very comfortable and hold mix-and-match tables in assorted sizes, finishes and colors. Fresh flowers in eclectic bottles and vases were on every table. We noticed small things like do-it-yourself fabric-covered lamp shades and placemats made from the upholstery fabric. The bistro has a quiet, appealing artistic vibe. It feels really good to be there—it feels like home.
After looking over the menu, many intriguing options jumped out at us, so we asked server Anne Marie for her recommendations, which she provided without hesitation. When she finished, she laughed and said, “I’ve pointed out just about everything!” There are omelets for vegetarians and carnivores ($7.50); “Best of Philly” banana french toast ($6.50); grilled fish, chicken and roasted vegetable tacos ($8.75); turkey, corned beef and fish Reubens; and other classics with clever twists.
I chose the BLT with Fried Egg Sandwich ($7.50) because it is so creative: pecan-smoked bacon, arugula, fried green tomato, and fried egg topped with a basil-garlic aioli, served on sourdough bread with a side of seasonal fruit. This sandwich is my dream come true. It contained a ton of bacon that was a little sweet and terrifically delicious. The fried green tomato was superb; the savory breading stuck to the flavorful tomato rather than crumbling off. The arugula, with its trademark peppery mustard taste, is an excellent replacement of the usual “L.” Add one nicely fried egg and you’ve got one heck of an incredible sandwich. The side of fresh fruit contained a wider variety than normal, too: sliced strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple chunks, cantaloupe, muskmelon and green grapes.
Cathy opted for the Crab with Asparagus Eggs Benedict ($8.50). The grilled english muffin halves were covered with a generous amount of flaked real crab, crisp-tender asparagus, and wonderfully poached eggs topped with just the right amount of the bistro’s house hollandaise sauce. The crab was sweet and succulent. We gently poked the egg yolks and enjoyed watching them flow ever-so-slowly onto the dish.
From the lunch section of the menu, we selected the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8) based on Anne Marie’s statement that “it’s like right off the Food Network.” I’ve seen enough of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” to know this was a recommendation to heed. The barbecued pulled pork is topped with housemade coleslaw which is topped with french fries, all between ciabatta bread topped with a green olive on a pick. If this stack of food isn’t enough, it comes with your choice of Blú Island Bistro’s housemade potato chips or seasonal fruit and a pickle spear.
The pork was tender, smoky and sweet, and there was plenty of it. The slaw seemed to be dressed in a light vinegar and black pepper combination, which I much prefer over a mayonnaise-based dressing, especially when used like this. The fries, which were cut like planks, were crunchy and not too salted. It’s a big sandwich that we opened up and ate with forks rather than trying to manage it with our hands. The housemade chips were impossibly thin crisscross-cut potatoes fried crisp and salty. If these were sold in a store, I would buy them. The flavor reminded me of the shoestring potatoes I snacked on when I was a kid.
The prices for these and all menu items are very reasonable for the portion sizes and quality of the food. I was paying attention to what was being taken to nearby tables (it looked great) and the reactions of diners (pleasure).
We hadn’t planned to order dessert, but a serving of key lime pie ($5) ended up on our table anyway. I know what you’re picturing in your head, and this is not at all like that. This key lime pie isn’t really pie, but an interesting concoction that seems to have dropped from heaven. It’s made with layers of yellow cake and Key lime custard, accented with fresh strawberries and blackberries. Other interesting-sounding “sweet endings” include Mom’s Chocolate Mousse Dream Cake ($5) and Assorted House Mini Desserts which the menu says is a “3-for”—probably the only time it’s acceptable for one person to eat three desserts at one time.
No details were overlooked in the creation of the Blú Island Bistro menu. Choices for children ages 10 and under include the always popular burger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, fish bites and PB & J, each served with fruit or chips and a drink for just $5.
Chef is a charming man who was genuinely happy that we not only enjoyed our food but had a good time while in his establishment. His mom was seating people and visiting tables as well, sweet lady. Dad was in the kitchen washing dishes. It’s a lovely family affair. It’s a “real” place.
If you’d like to experience dinner at Blú Island Bistro, the only way you can do that right now is by making a special arrangement. Chef Laskowski will open the restaurant for dinner parties of 20 or more. Breakfast, lunch and dinner catering is available for every type of party or event, and they’ll even cater at the beach or on your private jet!
As one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, “Chef has it going on.”
Blú Island Bistro
625 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice
Open 7 days, 7:30 am–3:30 pm
Dinner: Friday and Saturday only