In a small strip center on Second Street Pike, just before the intersection with Street Road, sits the Blue Sage Grille. If you are lucky enough to make the traffic light (which I never am), you would probably miss it. That would be a shame. You’d be missing out on some great meals.
Southampton may seem like an unlikely place for an excellent vegetarian restaurant, but it is what it is. When Mike Jackson first saw the spot, it had been a pizza place and it was turn-key. No need to buy pots and pans, or cutlery. Just change the décor, and get started.
That was thirteen years ago and Blue Sage Grille has become one of the most popular restaurants in Southampton and the “granddaddy” of vegetarian restaurants in Bucks County. Not only has it survived, but it is mobbed for both lunch and dinner, five days a week, and starting this past May, for Sunday brunch.
Jackson is the executive chef and his wife, Lisa, wears a variety of hats – business manager, kitchen helper and mother. They live nearby and continue to love the location both for the loyalty of their customers, and the closeness to home and family.
Peruse the menu and you will start to experience some difficulty. What to choose? The Blue Corn Asparagus Taco is a good example, and a big customer favorite. It’s griddled with Monterey Jack cheese, grilled asparagus and a tomato-almond romesco sauce, with black bean salsa, ancho crema and field greens.
Another lunch favorite is the Blue LT made of whole grain bread from Metropolitan Bakery in Philadelphia, yellow tomato and avocado, “bacon” made from crispy Asiago cheese, pea leaves, crumbled Maytag cheese, and a green Tabasco aioli. Do you see what I mean? This is hard.
“The quality of the food that comes into the kitchen is great,” explains Jackson. In fact, 98% of what comes into the restaurant is whole food, be it grains, vegetables, fruits or beans.
But you won’t find a lot of meat substitutes like tofu or seitan here. There is balance between vegetable, grain, beans and dairy, and Jackson and his kitchen staff bring out the best in each.
“The challenge is that we need lots of different vegetables,” says Jackson, “in fact, some of our entrees take four sauté pans to prepare.”
Jackson calls the menu “New American” and I guess he is referring to the influence of different cultures and culinary tastes of America today. Be it Southwestern, Italian, Middle Eastern or Asian, you will find something to interest you on the menu.
Blue Sage has built up a loyal following over the years, so much so that it’s hard for Jackson to take a dish off the menu without causing a riot among his customers. That’s a double-edged sword for him, because he is itching to make some changes to the cuisine of the thirteen-year old restaurant. Recently, Blue Sage started Sunday brunch and it’s giving Jackson a chance to explore and use more local products.
“Our brunch is the best thing we’ve ever done,” says Jackson. “It’s been like starting a new restaurant because it is a totally new product for us.” One look at the brunch menu and you can see what he means.
Chorizo Empanadas is a big favorite, with potato corn masa empanadas filled with chorizo spiced lentils, laid on top of pickled white lima beans (kind of crunchy and nutty) with a salad of avocado and cherry tomatoes on the side.
The Benedict has also been a hit. Imagine poached fresh farm eggs on toasted sourdough with grilled asparagus, smoked chili hollandaise and Asiago frico. My husband, Mark, said the hollandaise was near perfect. Actually, he added, it had more flavor than a regular hollandaise.
The Vanilla Custard French Toast was my choice. Ever since the interview with the Jacksons, I’ve been yearning for it.
Bread dipped in crème anglaise, then brulee’d to make it crispy, and served with strawberries and crushed pistachios. I was very happy. [I actually considered taking half of it home, to have for breakfast the next day, but who was I kidding?]
My first course was the Greek Yoghurt Parfait – creamy yogurt, layered over cherry compote with a generous dab of salted caramel and crushed Marcona almonds on top. A very nice mixture of sweet, tart and crunchy.
Mark started with the Dried Blueberry Blue Corn Johnnycakes. Four crisp blue pancakes, with a dollop of maple mascarpone in the middle, sprinkled with blackberries. And our cousin, Joseph, enjoyed the Mojito Inspired Fruit cup, with watermelon, pineapple, papaya and mango, with a touch of agave dark rum syrup.
As popular and successful as Blue Sage has been, you might see some changes in the future as Jackson continues to grow and develop. “We’re going to change a lot in the next few years,” he says. He has been doing research, watching some of the young new talents on the Philly restaurant scene. It’s helping him come up with his own ideas. “I’d like to focus the menu on fewer things, and pour a lot of love into those things.”
Note: I apologize for the quality of the food photos. They do not do the food justice. You’ll just have to go to Blue Sage and see for yourself!
Update: Blue Sage Grille moved across the street to a larger space in 2016.