Story by Susan Swagler and photos by Brit Huckabay
For restaurateur Dean Robb, a decades-long career, much of it in Birmingham, was the working blueprint for one day having his own place. That said, his polished-casual restaurant, Blueprint on 3rd, actually is named for the building it’s in, which once housed the Birmingham Blueprint Company.
Robb began his career in the 1980s at The Victoria, a Country Inn in Anniston, where he eventually managed both the inn and the restaurant. He worked for 17 years with Frank Stitt as the general manager of Bottega Restaurant and Bottega Café before opening Watermark and Miro District in Nashville, TN, and then DoDiYo’s back here in Birmingham.
Robb then took a corporate career path and spent five years growing Taziki’s Mediterranean Café from 11 locations to 72 in 13 different states. He left his position as Vice President of Operations after Jim Keet stepped down as Taziki’s CEO, and the two partnered to create Blueprint on 3rd.
James “Huck” Huckaby (formerly with Bottega and Chez Fonfon) is the restaurant’s executive chef. Co-owner and operator Jenny Walls Robb, who also worked at Bottega, focuses on social media (those are her stunning Instagram photos of dishes straight out of the kitchen; nothing is staged), and Robb’s son, Brandon, formerly at OvenBird, is the headwaiter who helps handle the front of the house along with restaurant manager and wine expert Sean Wattson.
B3 showcases regional American fare, and Robb says the polished-casual description means “it’s between fine dining and casual dining. I want it to be fun, and I want it to be approachable.”
There’s an Art Deco-industrial vibe here with exposed ductwork; vibrant paintings; original glass block windows; and garage doors that open onto a cozy patio and give the restaurant a fresh, outside-in feeling.
Robb believes B3 has found its own place in the Birmingham food community by offering quality and value in a space that is comfortable and versatile. “It’s not fussy,” Robb says. “It’s very good food at this price point (generally nothing over $29). And we serve it correctly without you feeling like you have to put on a fancy dress or a suit. I think there’s a need for that.”
The menu at B3 changes often, depending upon what’s absolutely fresh from our local farmers, but crab cakes on Mondays and diver scallops with brown butter on Thursdays are popular enough to remain in place every week.
A year in, the long, curved zinc-topped bar has developed a lovely patina. And Blueprint on 3rd has gathered a loyal following, with customers often requesting specific, favorite servers when they make reservations.
“The reception that Birmingham has given us has just been very humbling,” Robb says. “I feel like we’re very blessed that we’ve had an opportunity to do something that’s been a dream for a long time.”
BLT Tortelloni from Blueprint on 3rd
(serves 4 people)
-2 cups roasted tomatoes, skin removed and crushed (canned whole tomatoes may be substituted)
-3 ounces smoked bacon cut into lardons
-2 Tbsp chopped garlic
-fresh spinach, arugula or other greens, to taste
-16 ounces tortelloni pasta (pre-cooked in salt-seasoned water for 8 minutes)
-2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
-4 ounces feta cheese
-1.5 ounces chopped fresh basil
-salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place bacon in a sauté pan over medium heat, and cook until bacon is crispy. Add chopped garlic, and cook until it starts to brown. Add spinach, and cook until wilted.
Add crushed tomatoes and pre-cooked tortelloni, and cook until sauce is thick and coats the pasta.
Spoon finished pasta onto a plate, and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with optional ingredients as indicated below.
Note: Blueprint on 3rd uses pasta—made especially for the restaurant—that is filled with ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and mint. You may add some freshly grated lemon zest and a bit of chopped fresh mint to your finished dish to more closely replicate the flavors of the original dish.
Susan Swagler has written about food and restaurants for more than three decades, much of that time as a trusted restaurant critic. She shares food, books, travel and more at savor.blog. Susan is a founding member and current president of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality whose members are among Birmingham’s top women in food.