BLUE CACTUS GRILL: 51 STEVENS STREET, NORWALK
LBC NOTE: This post is one of my ongoing contributions to The Hamblogger. Please, please check out the site, it’s awesome.
You could tell by the look on my face I had no idea where Stevens Street was when my buddy Tim was trying to tell me how to get to Blue Cactus Grill. While not exactly hidden, the newish deli and grill in Norwalk is definitely tucked away — nestled in a residential neighborhood adjacent the city’s hospital and not far off of Interstate-95.
Icy mounds of dirty snow from last week’s massive Nor’easter linger and in the fading afternoon light of winter, the small strip of mom-and-pop stores look slightly depressing.
But Blue Cactus, with its hand-lettered chalkboard out front and shiny new signage, is at once a beacon of hamburger-righteousness and of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
It’s as if to say: vicious snow storms, economic downturn and candy-ass gourmet burgers be damned, we persevere in the name of ground beef and twice-fried potatoes.
Surveying the scene inside, it’s clear this place means business. Sparsely decorated with a vaguely Southwestern theme, Blue Cactus doesn’t exactly lack character, but the ambience is not the main draw. With one table and a long counter, it’s not meant for a leisurely lunch, but it’s also not just another neighborhood deli serving limp burgers from frozen patties on cheap, bready rolls.
From the beef, which is a custom blend of chuck and sirloin (83/17) from Danbury’s Omaha Beef Company, to the house-blended seasoning and remarkably chewy and light local buns, the burgers here are obviously not your ordinary deli fare.
In fact, they’d give most sit-down burger joints a run for their money.
Owner Vic Amereno, who has a long history in the restaurant and catering business, is a native of Connecticut, but twelve years in Tucson, Arizona left a mark on his culinary style; much of the menu features Southwestern-style dressings, salsas and condiments. (The sandwiches are served with an appropriately-themed cilantro lime coleslaw)
But Vic and I are of the same mind (we’d both prefer a basic burger) and I order an archetypically American creation — a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles and Thousand Island dressing.
Oh yeah, and french fries.
The french fries are what drew me in first; they are light and perfectly seasoned. Cut on the premises from Kennebec potatoes (the same as In-N-Out), soaked to remove much of the starch and double-fried, they border on exceptional examples of thin-cut fries.
But the burger itself is also impressive. A full eight ounces of fresh beef is seared on the hot top and then transferred to the grill, awaiting a couple slices of American cheese, condiments and plating.
It’s a double-fisted affair, but not overwhelming. The bun holds up well under the circumstances and as strange as it sounds, it was one of my favorite things about this burger. Its plainness in no way distracts from the meat and condiments and the chewy texture provides for light, yet substantial conveyance for the meaty goodness contained within.
In a world of trending toward gourmet brioche buns, slathered in butter or otherwise adorned or adulterated, there is something to be said for a basic, high-quality bun.
What Blue Cactus offers is not the best hamburger I have ever had, but a prime example of what can be done with good ingredients and a little care. The result is a product that far exceeded my expectations from what a first blush appeared to be a simple neighborhood deli.
Vic acknowledges his location may be less-than-prime but he adds, “I just hope the food speaks for itself and that people seek us out.”
It does and they will.