hat’s the best way to take on the big restaurant chains? Learn, succeed and then beat ’em at their own game!
That’s what they’re doing at the new Copper Blue (A Grub Shack) in Milford. Copper Blue goes up against all the casual chain restaurants in the area and comes out a winner.
Co-owners Margo Schwarberg and Tim Bettinson met over a dozen years ago while both worked for the same large restaurant chain. They took the knowledge they gained and moved to Cincinnati in the fall of 2009 with the hopes of opening their own restaurant. The result is Copper Blue (opened late last year), where the food is almost all homemade, the staff is exuberant and knowledgeable and the menu isn’t so hefty that it feels like a novel.
We arrived at Copper Blue on a Sunday evening and didn’t have to wait for a table. The dining room was bustling and busy but the noise never reached maximum levels. We were greeted by the most impossibly enthusiastic server I’ve met in a long time, Courtney, who began to help us navigate our way through the menu. True, it’s smallish, but we wanted to know what the most popular dishes were and what we absolutely had to try. I like small menus because it generally means the kitchen isn’t trying to do too many things and barely succeeding; it means the kitchen is working within its means to produce a few things very well.
Courtney advised us to try the Black Bean Dip ($5.49) and one of the Flatbread appetizers (veggie $5.99) to start. The flatbread was like a super-thin crust pizza and the caprese topping (mozzarella, basil and tomato) was fresh and bright. The bean dip turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the meal. It’s chunky like a relish, with corn, black beans, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno and a sour cream sauce all mixed together and served with freshly made deep-fried tortilla chips. It was absolutely delicious.
Our main courses arrived quickly, but I’ll take too fast over too slow most any day. My almost-teenaged daughter chose a Slider ($3.39 plus $1 for cheese) from the Kids Menu, and added the optional garlic and herbs to her French fries for 50 cents. The burger was served on the same rolls given to us in a basket in-between the appetizers and main courses. According to our server, the owners taste-tested about 70 different kinds of rolls before settling on Sister Schubert’s Dinner Yeast Rolls. They’re very good on their own and even better as a burger bun. Copper Blue even turns them into salad croutons! The slider is made from Angus beef and grilled to medium-rare perfection. Some kids might be put off by a pink-middled burger, so be sure to specify if you want it cooked longer.
I opted for the Fish Cakes (two sizes, $12.99 and $17.29), made with salmon and mahi-mahi. Served with a Sirracha sour cream sauce, they’re made from scratch and are light and tasty, not heavy with fillers. The Cranberry Chopped Salad that came with them was excellent — a real highlight of the meal. Mixed greens are tossed with cucumber, hard-boiled egg, bacon and walnuts, and the whole thing is dressed with cranberry vinaigrette. We were practically fighting over it and I almost wished I had ordered a dinner-sized portion with chicken ($9.71). I definitely will next time.
My husband was tempted by several dishes, including Pork Tenderloin ($12.79) with an orange glaze and the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger ($8.99) with peppered bacon and jalapeno ketchup, but he ultimately decided on the Blackened Meatloaf ($11.29), with me twisting his arm a bit to order the Sweet Potato Tater Tots as his side. He decided on a cup of the Spicy Sausage Soup as his other side and declared it one of the best soups he’s ever had. It had quite a kick, but the spice didn’t overwhelm the soup’s otherwise delicate broth. Those tater tots were really something special, especially when you bite into the sweet potato and get a little salt, too.
We wanted to try two of the desserts — the Brownie of Love ($5.99) and the Drunken Carrot Cake Volcano ($5.99) — but we were completely stuffed, so our server helped us narrow it down to just the carrot cake. The ridiculously moist cake topped with a bourbon cr