It was a frigid Friday night and an inch of ice turned the sidewalks into a skating rink, even where well-intentioned shovelers gave their best attempt. We were hoping to find some heat on Hope Street under the fiery sign of Blaze, a neighborhood fixture since it opened almost ten years ago.
Blaze occupies a desirable corner spot on the busy upper Hope Street strip. Shortly after five on a Friday night, the restaurant was already busy. We started with cocktails. I had a Caramel Apple Mojito ($8), made with white and spiced rums, amaretto, caramel, apples, cinnamon, clove and mint. I liked the flavors but the caramel hardened in the cold drink. Still, the flavor was pleasant and I always appreciate a seasonal experiment. My husband warmed up with a Rhode Island Local Coffee Cream ($8), a warm drink with coffee, Uprising whiskey, Dave’s Coffee Syrup and chantilly cream. This was a delicious, though potent, combination, and a great showcase of local products. Our friendly server brought over some garlicky hummus and bread with our drinks.
Blaze’s menu is extensive and can seem a bit overwhelming, but everyone, regardless of food preference or allergy, is bound to find something. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten- free options are plentiful and well marked. If this menu was a band it would be loud classic rock, carrying a boisterous tune with favorite multicultural tastes like creole, jerk and curry, as well as classic flavorful American comfort food like burgers and short ribs.
Two appetizers tempted us. The Kickin’ Lobster Mac & Cheese ($10.95) was large, almost enough to pass as an entrée for smaller appetites. A lidded cast iron baking dish ensured that the dish kept warm and the cheese stayed smooth. Recognizable pieces of lobster were visible in the pasta, and the flavor was rich and pleasant, though the lobster flavor may have been slightly overshadowed by the sharpness of the cheddar. The New England Crab Cakes ($8.95) had plenty of crab and not much filler. A spicy creole remoulade, served on the side, was a nice addition to the three cakes. Even better, our crab cakes happened to be part of the night’s 5@5 menu, special $5 appetizers and martinis offered from 5-7pm and later at 10pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
After our appetizers, we were ready for the challenge of the Hot as a Mutha pizza ($10.95), a spicy combination of andouille sausage and pickled and fresh peppers. Like a few other menu options, diners are encouraged to choose a heat level, and we ordered ours “extra hot.” The pizza was rectangular and served on a board, cut into eight equal pieces. The toppings went right up to the edge of the pizza, leaving little crust, a nice touch when you are sharing the pizza as an appetizer and everyone wants plenty of toppings. The “extra hot” version was pleasantly spicy but didn’t leave us in tears. With our pizza we ordered the special salad of the night ($9.95) a fetching combination of bitter mustard greens, shaved parmesan, apples and candied lemon zest with a lemony dressing.
The night was so cold, more spice was difficult to resist. We decided to share the Jerk Eggplant ($14.95). This eggplant dish is one of many vegan selections on the menu. Several large slices of eggplant were coated with jerk spices, grilled and accompanied by black beans, jasmine rice and plantains. We ordered this one extra hot as well, and it was definitely a notch hotter than the pizza - but we asked for it! The beans and rice provided a helpful cool down and the plantains, a sweet foil to the heat. The spice- averse should not be scared off by this description, as there are plenty of choices with less of a kick. I drank the Zin91 Paso Robles Old Vine Zinfandel ($9) with this dish and my husband tempered the heat with a Grand Gold Margarita ($8).
We finished the night with a slice of Pecan Pie ($5.95). Unlike most pecan pies, this one was made with finely chopped nuts and a graham cracker crust. Since we were still feeling the heat, we added a scoop of ice cream ($1).
Blaze’s spices certainly added warmth to our night, and so did the welcoming staff and cheerful clientele in the deceptively large dining space. With this kind of comfort, it’s easy to see why Blaze has plenty of fans and regulars.