D on't we all have at least one simple dish we could effortlessly make at home but would prefer to dine out and pay someone else to make for us?
I'm reminded of this every time I look through my pantry's canned beans for cooking inspiration. I stumble upon the lone can of black-eyed peas I've had for months, and suddenly, I'm in the mood for redneck stir-fry at Blue Sky Kitchen.
This downtown Augusta restaurant offers fare that represents several types of cuisine, from jerk chicken and Cuban sandwiches to Creole meatloaf and Teriyaki stir-fry. It's a taste of the home cooking you might find from several destinations around the world.
Blue Sky does not keep hours like other restaurants; it is open for the lunch crowd only during the week and for First Friday revelers for dinner once a month. The fact that this place is open for only three hours on most days tends to play a little head game with me, because I know I don't have as many opportunities to eat there.
It's a little absurd but warranted, because I almost missed my chance the other day. I was in a frazzled state from running several errands and losing track of time when my fiance and I arrived at the restaurant at 2:20 -- 10 minutes before closing time.
But happily, the hostess sat us with minutes to spare on the lunchtime clock. Late diners often annoy the entire restaurant staff, but she must have heard my stomach growling, thank goodness. The aromas of garlic, sweet tomato and jasmine rice emanating from the kitchen and filling the dining room only added to my hunger.
But we'll get back to that; first, a little ambiance. Blue Sky is another unique setting in a row of similar establishments on Broad Street. The decorations on the white-plastered walls are as eclectic as the type of food they serve. I was pleased to notice some of the paintings of (what else?) baby blue skies with pillowy white clouds around the room.
The atmosphere, aromas and soft techno beats allowed me to catch my breath after a hectic afternoon. I was cozy in a booth, in from the cold and ready to eat.
My favorite dish here is the redneck stir-fry -- a medley of black-eyed peas, butter beans, corn and tomatoes sauteed in butter. That's pretty much it. Other than a sprinkle of salt, I don't do anything else to it to spice it up.
I'm actually surprised by how much I like it, because there are no big bold flavors coming through here. You have the option to add meat to the dish, but I don't even do that because I prefer the honest and humble flavors of hearty black-eyed peas, sweet corn, creamy butter beans and juicy tomatoes.
The meal is both good and good for you, with its corn and beans combination, which makes up for the sinfully buttery cornbread they've got going on the side. Oh, that hunk of cornbread just melts in your mouth when it hits your tongue. You know it's good when it feels heavy in your hand from all the butter. But on this most recent visit, there was a problem on the cornbread front -- there wasn't any. We showed up late and they had run out; serves us right.
The redneck stir-fry's name could be considered borderline offensive, but there's nothing off-putting about the taste, which brings out the best of simple Southern cooking. From a technical standpoint, there's not much to it. Anyone can gather these ingredients and saute them up in no time.
I think I'll be hanging on to that can of black-eyed peas in my cupboard for a while yet. Why should I make it at home when I can come to Blue Sky, where they can make it better? Dining out for this meal feels like dropping by a friend's house unexpectedly and being served up some edible hospitality.