Love's Labor

The New Blackbird Café in Southwest Minneapolis Is as Personal as a Diary, as Likable as a Hand-Knit Sweater

Other dishes I can recommend after multiple visits to Blackbird include a simple presentation of good chèvre ($6.95) topped with an apricot chutney; surprisingly fiery, but tender, curried lamb meatballs; very simple, good flank steak served with fries and béarnaise ($18.95); a whole trout fillet slathered with an herb pesto and cooked on a griddle until it was tender and flavorful, then served with a side of lentils ($14.95); and a tender beef brisket sandwich made with caramelized onions, tomatoes, provolone, and a spicy horseradish mayo ($9.95) all stuffed in Italian focaccia bread.

If you're wondering why a banh mi sandwich and a beef brisket are both being served on focaccia, that's just how they do things here, and if you're prone to noticing such things, Blackbird will probably drive you nuts. Like, I bet Blackbird is the only restaurant in the whole, wide world to offer guests the opportunity to add fried chicken satay ($3.95) to their anchovy-graced Caesar salad ($6.95). (Should we Twitter this info to pregnant ladies across the land?)

Some of the entrees are nearly as peculiar: The "fish fry" of utterly plain, boneless pieces of salmon, panko-breaded and deep-fried until they were mahogany brown ($13.95) and served with half a lime and a dipping dish of a sweetened soy sauce, seemed little more than unseasoned and odd. I thought the thick layer of caraway, mustard, fennel, and sesame seeds on the "seed and mustard crusted" pork loin ($12.95) overpowered the thin slices of meat, though the fresh crescents of plum and the wild-rice pilaf that came with the dish were both nice touches.

The rite of spring rolls: Consultant-free dishes made by people in love with their recipes
Kathy Easthagen
The rite of spring rolls: Consultant-free dishes made by people in love with their recipes

Desserts are the strongest course at Blackbird, and all are, in the budget-minded heart of the place, amply sized to share. The carrot cake ($5.95) is an autumn harvest thick with carrots and nuts, the cream-cheese-like frosting given a nice tang with a bit of goat cheese. The "half pound cake" ($5.95) is a happy dome of good, sturdy pound cake topped with lots of seasonally changing fruit (I had it with wonderful ripe, sweet nectarines and plums) in a bit of syrup with a good, fresh vanilla custard sauce and whipped cream. The jasmine tea crème brûlée ($5.95) is something I forgot crème brûlée could be: surprising. Here a fat teacup is filled with distinctly funky, flowery, almost mushroomy depths of jasmine-tea-infused custard, the whole thing given a burnt-sugar lid and a sidekick of a few orange biscotti, and set before you to dazzle with an aw-shucks sophistication.

The wine and beer lists pull off the same feat, offering a lot of fascinating stuff for cheap. A lively, lemony Gruner Veltliner from Austria's Domaine Wachau, for instance, can be had for the bargain price of $5.95 a glass or $20 a bottle. Andrew Rich Tabula Rasa Red from Oregon's Columbia Valley, a plummy, cedar-edged Rhone blend, made a luxurious meal out of the flank steak and seemed quite a bargain at $27 a bottle or $8.95 a glass.

The tap beer selection on most of my visits was a $4 pint of Rush River Brewing's Bubblejack IPA, a local beer from River Falls, Wisconsin, and while I'd never had the beer before I think I'm a new lifelong fan. The stuff had such a wild, heady, never-ending bouquet of hops, lemon, lime, and spice that it was like sitting in the mists above a wonderful beer waterfall. The bottle list of a dozen beers includes four beers from Japanese brewer Kiuchi's Hitachino line, including a distinctive cedar-wood-scented one, and another made with ginger root. Pair one of these with, say, the spring rolls and the banh mi, and you've got a fascinating meal that you couldn't have anywhere else on earth. And if your toddler is across the table happily putting away a chicken-finger meal while your spouse has a steak and a glass of red, you'll see the magic that happens when it's the customers who are running the show.


815 W. 50th Street, Minneapolis
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