Blue Duck Tavern: lunch extraordinaire

Last fall at one of my canning classes, I met a wonderful woman. She and I have stayed in touch since the event, and to my delight, she has become an obsessive canner, once even driving a flat of strawberries eight hours so that she could put them up upon her arrival rather than letting them spoil while she was away. That, my friends, is dedication! And also a serious aversion to waste. I respect both qualities tremendously. Anyway, she took me out to lunch today which was such a lovely, generous treat; she said she wanted to pick my brain, but I'd have done that gratis. However, kind she is and to Blue Duck Tavern we went. I'd not been before and feel I've really been missing out because it was marvelous. It's all light and glass and a style that makes you feel like you're in a well-done cross-section of Scandinavian and American Arts and Crafts. The little details were lovely - large square ice cubes and room temp salted butter (amen!), for example - as were the larger ones: charming serveware for both food and drink as well as a clearly articulated, cleanly presented, exciting in its diversity menu.

To take advantage of as much as possible, I opted for three sides rather than an entree. Glad I am that I chose this route because I was nearly speechless over two and just slightly less nuts for the third.

People, these grits are the best I've had outside of Charleston. Blue Duck uses Anson Mills stone-ground grits, which really are the best (Anson is in SC and also grows Carolina gold rice which is fab), and these are blended with smoked Gouda and red-eye gravy. The grits' perfectly crackily texture (you want this "grittiness" so as to avoid the worst of grits outcomes which is slimy wax) in concert with the Gouda's velvetiness made for a creamy pot of comfort that was off the charts amazing. I got the bring the rest home and am salivating just thinking about my next bite. It'll have to be in the kitchen, alone, in quiet, so that no one interrupts the reverie that will undoubtedly overtake me.

What's red-eye gravy y'all might ask? It's a hell of a sauce, sometimes called poor man's gravy, made from pork drippings, coffee and maybe some water or a bit of a thickening agent like cornstarch. Nothing fancy but it's hella good and really was the crème on these grits.

And these Brussels sprouts! Really, there almost aren't words. I wish I had another dish right now. And then one tomorrow and then the next day. I loved the greaseless, flaky, perfectly crisped sprouts, golden and caramelized but so bright and dripping with Brussels sproutsy flavor. A perfect balance was struck between the briny capers and the tangy lemon, and the coarse-grated pecorino shower tied the dish together, flavor- and texture-wise, magnificently. Had I cooked these at home, I'd have licked the bowl clean.

The last in my lunchtime trinity was a grilled flatbread topped with wild mushrooms, black garlic and goats' milk yogurt. Wouldn't you have ordered it too? Fantastic. It wasn't as memorable as the other dishes but it was certainly tasty; I wished for a slightly more generous hand with both salt and yogurt. But black garlic and goats' yogurt in tandem? We should all be eating that combo whenever possible. Ripple once served a seasonal vegetable salad with such a sauce swirled around the side. I love that too!

Thank you, friend, for such a seriously good meal and lovely company.

Before I knew it, two hours had passed, and I had to scurry to get the children. Jack was in a heck of a funk and finally I had to force him into a lavender-infused bubble bath to take a load off. Thank goodness a babysitter is handling dinner- and bedtime.