Highland Park’s Bluegrass: Down Home Cooking in the Suburbs

Saturday night and the joint is jumpin’ at Bluegrass! Owner Jim Lederer, a restaurant veteran, leaves nothing to chance.

Bluegrass’ mood is friendly, the décor inviting, and the large menu (Cajun and Italian) aims to please. And this time of year, outdoor seating on the lovely patio helps ease the crush.

I liked the flavor of my Krome Bloody Tini garnished with blue cheese-stuffed olives (yum!), but the metal martini glass imparted a weird metallic flavor in combination with the acid of the tomato juice. I asked for a real martini glass, which they quickly brought to the table. Problem solved.

Overall, the food is enjoyable, although there were a few near misses along the way. Fried appetizers were a hit. Szechwan Spicy Calamari ($6.95/$13.95) tossed with flash-fried shaved onions and a creamy wasabi-mustard for dipping, and the Artichoke Fritters ($9.95) with lemon dipping sauce score in the win column.

The Ahi Tuna Tartar ($16.95) fell short. The presentation was startling: a conical glass held the tartar, but rather than resting in a glass of ice, it was set in a small fishbowl, filled with tepid water and a confused-looking goldfish swimming around the bottom. The chunks of tuna were tossed with a sesame oil and a spicy green onion mayonnaise. The fish was unseasoned and warmed quickly given its presentation. A pricey and disappointing dish.

No one will go hungry at Bluegrass; the portions are impressive. The House Chop Salad ($10.95), a crisp blend of mixed greens, tomatoes, Gorgonzola, bacon, avocado and sunflower seeds, tossed with light herb vinaigrette, could have fed our whole table. I added grilled skirt steak for $3.50 and the portion was generous.

The Wild Salmon ($24.95), served with buttered Orzo Asiago, was fresh and well prepared, though unremarkable. The orzo, however, was dee-licious.

The Real Pit Half Slab BBQ Baby Back Ribs with Jambalaya ($22.95) came with Peanut Brittle Baked Beans (an intriguing concept, but far too sweet) and Tater 6’ers. The Jambalaya, a Cajun standard, was nicely spiced, with pleasing chunks of chicken and smoked Andouille sausage. The slow-cooked ribs were pleasantly smoky and tender.

The BBQ Corned Beef Brisket Platter ($16.95), with a substantial helping of dry-rubbed, hickory-smoked corned beef slathered with BBQ sauce, was served open face on fragrant garlic bread—a stroke of brilliance. Our only complaint with this dish was temperature; we would have preferred it piping hot rather than lukewarm.

Desserts are massive. Our table of four split the so-called “Taster Size” ($9.95) of the Chocolate 3-Way, a 3-scoop serving of chocolate ice cream, chocolate Brownies, hot fudge, mini marshmallows, glazed pecans and Chantilly cream. Imagine, if you will, the $16.95 portion. The Ice Box Pie ($6.95), fresh homemade caramel, pecans, caramel cream and shaved chocolate in a graham cracker crust, was equally decadent.

Chef Warren Jones has been at Bluegrass since they first opened 6 years ago. He was born and raised in Baton Rouge—hence the Cajun specialties—and is dedicated to providing ample portions of his specialties to the clientele. “It keeps them coming back,” he says. Judging from the crowds, his strategy seems to be working.