The Blue Rooster Food Co.
The first time I heard about the Blue Rooster Food Co. was from my coworkers at Eventide. They told me about bacon wrapped hotdogs, a poutine made with tater tots, and house-cured pastrami sandwiches. When chefs gush about food, when they frequent a place more than twice a week, and when they truly believe in what another chef is doing, I take note.
It’s no surprise that the chefs I know and respect Damian Sansonetti, the chef and one of the owners of Blue Rooster. He’s the former executive chef at Bar Boulud in New York City and his cooking career has taken him to Nantucket, Seattle, Pittsburg, and Boston. He’s opened about ten restaurants and food-related enterprises, but he and his wife, pastry chef Ilma Lopez, decided to settle in Maine where he says the people are friendly and the food scene is thriving.
Sansonetti and his partners Dan McCarthy and Randy Cruse have years of combined experience in butchery, pickling, curing, and baking. They make everything in house; perhaps that’s why the kitchen is three times as big as the dining area. There’s not a lot of seating, just a few high stools and a picnic bench along the window. The menu is written on a chalkboard above the counter, and rooster stencils and artwork decorate the walls.
When I visit the shop, there are so many sandwiches and salads and hotdogs to choose from, I’m overwhelmed. But Sansonetti takes charge and prepares a sampling of items for me and a few hungry friends. We start with the báhn mi style lobster roll, a completely unique and delicious twist on the Vietnamese sandwich, which is traditionally made with pickled vegetables, pork, and pâté on a soft baguette. The Blue Rooster version is made with a lightly toasted hotdog bun filled with loads of fresh lobster meat and topped with pickled carrots and radishes. Each bite is a combination of tart vegetables, crisp cucumbers, and aromatic mint and cilantro. The lobster mayonnaise adds extra lobster flavor, while pork skin gives the sandwich a pop of salt.
Another favorite of mine is the pastrami Cuban Reubena mash-up of the best of both sandwiches. Copious amounts of Angus pastrami and braised pork are layered inside two pieces of marbled rye bread. With melted Swiss cheese, tangy sauerkraut, and garlic dill pickles, this sandwich is genius.
I could describe how impressive the other sandwiches are, namely the godfather, the red eye breakfast, and the farmer Ted, a hearty vegetarian sandwich, but I need to address the hotdogs. All of the dogs are made with beef and pork and have natural casings. Half of them are wrapped in bacon, all are double smoked, and each has its own personality. I sample the Columbiano, a hotdog covered with avocado, root vegetable slaw, queso fresco, shoestring potato fries, and rosada sauce made from homemade ketchup and mayo. It’s a meal in a bun. The other dogs are equally creative. The Seoul dog is made with kimchi, peanuts, and garlic mayo, and the barking dog is wrapped in bacon and smothered with cheese sauce, crispy onions, and garden relish.
Every day they offer a different special, and today I try the olive oil confit fried chicken legs and thighs drizzled with tangy mustard and buttermilk dressing. I bite through the golden brown and crunchy coating to reveal tender, juicy chicken meat. It’s piping hot, so I sample the coleslaw; it’s a balanced combination of creamy mayo and acidic vinegar with strong dill and coriander flavors. Like most of their specials, this fried chicken goes quickly; I get the last order of the day, and it’s only 3 p.m.
While these chefs are serious about their product, it’s evident they like to have fun, too. There’s a section of the menu dedicated to tater tots. I’m immediately reminded of grade school cafeterias, lunch ladies, and plastic trays, but these tots are transformed when drenched in thick gravy and served with homemade cheese curds.
The Blue Rooster is open from lunch through late night and draws a varied group of customers, businessmen and women from the surrounding office buildings, last call drinkers seeking hotdogs or tater tots to sop up the alcohol, and industry people looking for a quality meal after the restaurants close.
Sansonetti and his crew have created an approachable, but different sandwich shop. As someone who works in the restaurant business, I know that the biggest compliment is to have industry people visit regularly and speak highly of an establishment. The Blue Rooster tests my limits of self-control, both in terms of how much I order while I’m there and how often I allow myself to visit. And that’s a good thing.
5 Dana Street | Portland | 207.747.4157 | blueroosterfoodcompany.com