Craft beer is, well, huge now.
I can remember when Lazlo’s with its Empyrean Ales and the old Crane River were the only brew pubs in town.
That really wasn’t that long ago, with Lazlo’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Today, Lincoln’s seen a run of new taprooms open in recent months, including a few who make their own beer.
Some not only specialize in beer, but have tasty food offerings, too. Add Blue Blood Brewing Company to that growing list.
Co-founded by company president Brian Podwinski, Blue Blood has been around since December 2011, but it took a bold step when it moved its entire beer-making operations from West South Street to Robber’s Cave near 10th and Van Dorn streets and incorporated a full-service restaurant into the mix.
Blue Blood opened its new location in May, with the cave -- reputed as a one-time Jesse James hideout -- as part of the draw. The brewery offers tours Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturdays until football season starts when the Saturday tours move to Sundays.
“This is such a new venture for us,” Blue Blood general manager Toby Antonson said. “There was no script. Everything is brand new, and we’re writing the script as we go along. We’ve appreciated everybody’s patience and everybody’s support. It’s been almost three months, and we’re anxious to continue this ride.”
Blue Blood has 20 taps, with 15 dedicated to its own beers and five others featuring other Nebraska brewers. The food menu is pub fare, ranging from unique appetizers -- tuna tacos, brussel sprouts -- to gourmet sandwiches.
“We wanted to keep (the menu) simple, yet have what no one else in town has,” Antonson said.
Food (and beer)
The focus here is beer, so, not surprisingly, Blue Blood has incorporated many of its beers into its menu. The fish and chips ($12.40), for example, features beer-battered cod, and the house favorite Philly cheese steak ($10.90) includes an ale cheese sauce.
This helps, as Antonson said, make Blue Blood’s menu unique to Blue Blood.
My wife and I enjoyed everything we sample that night. We started with Crazy Eggs ($5.90), Blue Blood’s infused deviled eggs topped with bourbon-pickled jalapeno slices and candied bacon.
I ordered the fish and chips, which came with a mix of waffle and regular fries and small Tater tots. My fish was in the fryer a tad too long, with too crisp breading, but the fish inside was perfect -- moist and tasty.
My wife loved her Tropical Chicken Philly ($11.90), which featured grilled chicken marinated in coconut basil sauce and served with, among other ingredients, a pineapple chutney. Tangy is a good word to describe it.
We sampled four beers, with Wicked Snout -- a saison with intense flavor -- being my favorite. My wife was partial to Last Call, an easy-going imperial amber ale. The beers pair well with menu items. Ask your server for recommendations. Grade: A-
In a word -- impressive. My wife and I arrived on a busy Thursday night. The brewery was finishing up a chamber of commerce event just as the dinner rush began. Seeing the crowded parking lot, we figured we were in for a long night.
It proved to be the opposite. The hostess seated us immediately, and our server, Jimi, couldn’t have been any better. She helped us with our beer selection, recommending the night’s cask beer, an imperial stout infused with tangerine. She then checked on us several times to take more beer orders.
Even more impressive was the kitchen. Our appetizer arrived before our beverage order, and our entrees followed about five minutes later. Watching tables around us, the same held true for them as well. Grade: A+
The 12,000-square-foot building includes a dining/bar room that can seat 120 guests. It’s modern-looking, with stone decor, hardwood floors and pine-colored tables. An outdoor patio holds another 40 diners.
Since there’s so many hard surfaces and a high ceiling, it can get noisy -- extremely so. I needed to lean in to hear my wife across from me. This was a Thursday night and not a Friday or Saturday evening.
Although the cave isn’t visible, it still provides some charm, knowing it’s right below you as you dine. I like how the brewery has incorporated the words “outlaw” and soon “robber’s cave” into its marketing. I also love the silo out front with Blue Blood’s logo painted on it. Grade: B.
Blue Blood denotes vegetarian and gluten-free items on the menu.
Vegetarian offerings include falafel naan sliders ($9.40) and a brewers pasta ($11.90), featuring cremini mushrooms and roasted poblano chiles and heirloom tomatoes among its ingredients.
Served without bread, items on the sandwich and burger menu are gluten-free.
Blue Blood doesn’t brew a gluten-free beer. However, the brewery always will have a gluten-free cider on one of its taps from either Glacial Till or James Arthur Vineyards. Grade: B+