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Da Blue takes Blue Lantern Lounge to the masses - INTERVIEW, PHOTOS

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Little about the Blue Lantern Lounge’s new food truck falls in synch with Buffalo’s established food truck culture, which largely prides itself (with exceptions!) on serving familiar comfort food with a “we’ll come to you” attitude.

And, frankly, the departure from the norm isn’t a bad thing.

As The Buffalo News food editor Andrew Galarneau detailed in his restaurant column last week, the brick-n-mortar to food truck route is still mostly alien to Buffalo—Amy’s Truck, which opened in October 2012, was the first example, yet few have followed.

The Place on Lexington actually owns a food truck, open occasionally during the summer in the restaurant’s parking lot, and now-defunct O’Connell’s American Bistro toyed with the idea of Fork in the Road.

Although Amy’s proved that the method could work for a small niche restaurant, starting a food truck as an extension of a casual fine-dining brick-and-mortar restaurant isn’t exactly a tried-and-true means of expanding a Buffalo metro business’ blueprint.

Still, Blue Lantern Lounge owners Tom (left in header photo) and Donna Pease (middle in photo) are hopeful that their venture will carry Da Blue’s brand far beyond Seneca Street.

“A lot of people come into the restaurant and say, ‘I wish you were closer to downtown,’” Pease admitted.

Instead of searching for space for a second physical location—or expanding the bounds of the essentially street-locked current restaurant at 6120 Seneca St., Elma,—the Blue Lantern Lounge owners, who purchased and renovated the Seneca Street location in 2005, called upon their roots for an alternative.

“We come from California and Las Vegas—we’re not just trying to do the Buffalo thing,” said Donna Pease. “We’re really inspired by [the food truck culture] where we’ve been.”

Moreover, Donna took heart from the success of Michelle’s Takeout, Catering and Bakery in Batavia, which has grown since its debut in 2011.

“Seeing a brick-and-mortar bakery with four food trucks out on the streets of Batavia started me thinking how Da Blue could benefit from a similar venture,” Donna Pease added in a press release.

The Peases and executive chef Tom Nocera (pictured right in header) officially launched da Blue on Jan. 31 at Larkin Square, the Blue Lantern Lounge’s first lunch service on the road.

Let’s explore a little deeper into the Pease’s project:

The Name: Though Da Blue may sound to some like an overly-aggressive attempt at trendiness, it’s actually a tribute to Donna’s Polish grandmother from Chicago, who used to refer to meals as “da eats.”

If you’re familiar with “Da Bears” Saturday Night Live skit featuring Chris Farley, then this should make plenty of sense.

The Truck: Da Blue is officially the biggest food truck in Western New York, measuring 26 feet in length and boasting an 18-foot kitchen replete with an oven, fryer and a grill.

Although the truck was rehabbed from a 1999 Stroehmann bread truck, the vehicle was chosen specifically by food truck design expert Ian McDonald of Rochester’s M Design, and its diesel engine was rebuilt recently to extend the truck’s life.

The Catering Package: Donna Pease is eager to cater parties with Da Blue, as her package offers a perk that no Buffalo truck has yet to offer (to my knowledge, at least).

Local musicians Zak Ward (Son of the Sun) and Chris Maloney (acoustic solo) play weekly sets at the Blue Lantern Lounge, and if the catered party’s host is intrigued by music in addition to the food truck, Pease can reach out to Ward and Maloney for another form of entertainment.

The Food: You can check out Da Blue’s menu here—it’s a distillation of the restaurant’s most popular items. If you look at the items listed to the right, they were the specialties that Donna Pease highlighted when we sat down for an interview.

She gushed about the versatility of the da strips ($6) and their respective sauces, lauded the spring roll ($7) (pictured right) and noted the popularity of the salmon salad wrap ($8), which she explained was the restaurant’s fourth-biggest seller.

For me, the most exciting part of the truck’s fare is the abundance of pretzel rolls to house the sandwiches. Who can’t appreciate a good pretzel roll, aside from the gluten-free folks among us?

Where does the truck go?: For now, Da Blue is limited to lunch stops around the city—in addition to Larkin, the truck has stopped at Uniland Business Park (Cheektowaga) and Ambulatory Surgery Center (Amherst)—three or four times per week.

Although night service is not yet in the cards, Donna Pease showed interest in vending at Larkin’s Food Truck Tuesdays and Live at Larkin concerts.

Who’s on the truck?: As seen in the header photo of this blog post, Tom Pease, Donna Pease and Tom Nocera (right) will get the truck off the ground themselves—which is manageable from a schedule standpoint, as the mother restaurant is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

You can find Da Blue on:
The Web

(All photos courtesy of Ben Tsujimoto except for the spring roll at the bottom, which is from Da Blue’s Facebook page).

TAGGED: blue lantern lounge, da blue food truck, elma, food trucks, interviews, photos, restaurants

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