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Blue Violet, which debuted in May in Edwardsville, is the latest venture from the prolific restaurateur Michael Del Pietro. A full account of Del Pietro’s career would risk delaying further mention of his new establishment until the final paragraphs of its own review, but his current lineup includes two locations of Sugo’s Spaghetteria, the Sugo’s clone Babbo’s Spaghetteria, Il Palato and his reinvention of his parents’ iconic Del Pietro’s. If you don’t already know his restaurants, you can still guess the common thread among them.
Here is where an easy description of Blue Violet ends. Its menu features no pizza or pasta or chicken Parm. There is crudo, but it resembles no version of that familiar dish I’ve seen before. The kitchen divides the raw tuna among little rice-cracker cups and nudges the supple fish toward creaminess with a touch of an herb aioli and a generous grating of cured egg yolk. The crudo’s spice is also subtle — surprisingly so. Rather than the serrated bite of serrano, jalapeño or another fresh chile, the kitchen pairs the clean, sweet tuna with the smoky, mild heat of ancho chile.
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It works brilliantly, sort of in the same way a spicy mezcal margarita works. This isn’t a comparison I thought I’d make at a Michael Del Pietro restaurant.
The step away from Italian or even Italian-adjacent cuisine is Blue Violet’s most significant change from Del Pietro’s other restaurants, but it isn’t the only difference. Del Pietro opened the restaurant in partnership with four of his group’s essential employees: Ryan French, Micah Hopkins, the chef Pat Baltes, and Jordan Knight, Il Palato’s executive chef and the managing chef at Blue Violet.
French and Hopkins lead Blue Violet’s front of the house, though that undersells their day-to-day responsibilities. On my visits, I saw French greeting guests at the entrance, helping behind the bar and running dishes from the kitchen. Once, he jumped behind the line himself.
Behind Blue Violet’s unremarkable shopping-plaza storefront is a lovely modern dining room, with dark blue upholstery set against white walls. Unsurprisingly, the decor features a floral theme. (The restaurant’s name is the state flower of Illinois.)
The space suits a Night Out, and I’d make reservations for a prime weekend table, but the ambience is open and welcoming enough that you might stop by on a whim for dinner. Or maybe you want to sit at the bar with the Double O cocktail, perfect for this summer with its crisp notes of lime and cucumber, and the plump house bacon cheeseburger with both tangy aioli and a fruity, teasingly hot poblano jam.
So how to describe Blue Violet’s menu when it isn’t Italian or even Italian-adjacent? Well, some dishes nod to the U.S. South, like an appetizer piece of sweet, moist cornbread served in a small skillet and topped with that same poblano jam and a corn salsa.
The Rocket Pork, a main course, braises pork belly in a combination of cola and coffee, the latter from the restaurant’s Edwardsville neighbor Goshen Coffee Roasters. The belly sits on a bed of creamy grits in a pool of that braising liquid, with pickled jalapeño and a poached egg. It’s a rich dish — downright dizzying once the egg’s yolk has glazed the succulent pork — but every few bites a pop of jalapeño or a whisper of the coffee’s bitterness jolts you to attention.
But Blue Violet can also look to Southeast Asia, sending out a whopping cut of beef short ribs in a green curry sauce. By design, this curry is thin, not creamy, with a bracing herbaceous character that cuts through the beef as easily as the side of your fork does. When the beef and its accompanying rice were gone, I wanted something else to sop up the remaining sauce.
The risk of this approach — in an interview when Blue Violet opened, Del Pietro called it contemporary American cuisine with a twist — is that the individual dishes and influences won’t cohere into a whole vision. Here, though, I don’t think a convenient description, even something as broad as contemporary American with a twist, captures the restaurant’s appeal.
Blue Violet is, forgive me, a vibe. These are dishes the kitchen team is clearly excited to cook, and it shows on the plate. Salmon croquettes are the dish too many other restaurants want crab cakes to be: crunchy fritters that yield a tender, creamy filling that still tastes like salmon and packs an unexpected, invigorating heat. These, with a side of cooling tartar sauce, would be enough, but a smart garnish of salmon roe delivers an additional (literal) pop of the fish’s sweetness.
I rarely rave about cucumbers. Here they aren’t simply notable; they are a standout. The kitchen marinates them in a pickling-like solution, chars them on the grill and then dunks them back in the solution before serving them chilled. The cucumbers share the plate with a lime crema and a piquant hot sauce. It’s a snappy, refreshing appetizer, and I want to steal the recipe to pair with steaks grilled in my backyard.
Even the one dish that doesn’t quite work yet begins with a tremendous piece of perfectly fried cod, the fish very tender and not at all greasy inside its crisp jacket. This is the BVFC, further described as Nashville hot fried cod. The hot sauce, pooled to the sides of the fish, doesn’t approach the face-melting intensity of the original Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, but it buzzes you with a cayenne-esque heat. A vinegar slaw makes for one sensible side, but poached fingerling potatoes intentionally served around room temperature gradually sink the rest of the dish into their insipid lukewarmness.
What to expect for dessert? You probably weren’t thinking a stunningly perfect piece of tres leches cake as one possible answer. Blue Violet might not be the typical restaurant from Michael Del Pietro and his team, but it’s the most exciting — and maybe, already, the best yet.
Where Blue Violet, 6108 Shoger Drive, Edwardsville • More info 618-650-9003; bluevioletedwardsville.com • Menu Eclectic contemporary cuisine with global influences • Hours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)