Psycho Suzi's, Blackbird, and Rice Paper return better than ever

Remodeled, relocated, and ready to serve

On Tuesday, November 2, Chris Stevens tested the fire extinguisher at his reincarnated Blackbird restaurant at 38th and Nicollet in south Minneapolis. It was a poignant moment, because the original Blackbird, which Stevens ran with his wife, Gail Mollner, at 50th and Bryant, was destroyed by fire last February. So when Mollner posted a photograph of the extinguisher test on the restaurant's blog, she added the following caption:

Dear Powers that Be: Please, for the love of all things happy and smiling and fun in the world, can we never EVER EVER have to use this?!?!?! That would be really, really awesome. Thanks, Powers that Be.

If any of you want to repeat that prayer on Mollner's behalf, it probably wouldn't hurt.

At Rice Paper, you'll find the same menu in bigger, Edina digs
Sasha Landskov
At Rice Paper, you'll find the same menu in bigger, Edina digs

Location Info


Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge

1900 Marshall St. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Northeast Minneapolis


3800 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55409

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Kingfield

Rice Paper

3948 W. 50th St.
Edina, MN 55424

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Edina


Rice Paper
3948 W. 50th St., Edina
appetizers $6-$9; entrées $14-$18

Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge
1900 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis
appetizers $5-$8; entrées $7-$22

3800 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
appetizers $6-$12; entrées $9-$20

Stevens and Mollner, who worked together many years ago at St. Paul's now-defunct Table of Contents (he cooked, she waited tables), have endured a restaurateur's worst nightmare. But by focusing on the tragedy's silver lining, they summoned the wherewithal to rebuild their dream in new digs that are twice as big and even more beautiful. Reopening for business in less than a year left little time for dwelling on, or mourning, the past. "We're the type of people who suck it up and move on," Mollner says.

Blackbird's new home has floor-to-ceiling windows that lend an airiness to the dining room and invite diners to stretch a lunch into the late afternoon by lingering over a cappuccino or a slice of gooey mocha chocolate cake. The decor is spare but eclectic: a display of mismatched mirrors, a decorative door that doesn't open, and the famous antler collection, a few pairs of which were retrieved from the fire's ash. Mollner says she knows the "kooky" antlers aren't for everyone, but she likes the way they represent the restaurant's DNA: Blackbird is not a replicable chain designed to please the masses, but simply to suit the tastes of the owners and their regular guests.

Prices have crept up a few dollars since the first restaurant opened in 2007, but the majority of menu items have stayed the same, and most of the old staff has returned to cook and serve it. Though nearly everything on the menu might be classified as gourmet comfort food, the list avoids the slider trios and panko-crusted mac and cheeses that have made the trend feel clichéd. Blackbird's fare manages to seem familiar while featuring dishes that are rarely if ever seen on local menus. For example, the stellar celery/Brie soup is as pleasant as a classic beer-cheese, yet offers a much more intriguing combination of fresh grassiness and funky tang.

Blackbird's sandwiches are prepared with the same care as entrées, and the walleye po' boy is a fitting tribute to Minnesota's most revered fish. Its flaky fillet comes from the state's only commercial walleye fishery at Red Lake and is fried in a cornmeal batter to be crisp without getting greasy. The accompanying braised, pickled red cabbage and spicy Cajun mayo easily surpass the typical tartar sauce.

By serving an $11 version of the budget-minded banh mi, the restaurant sets itself up for scrutiny: Is Blackbird's sandwich three times as good as the banh mi served at hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joints? In a vacuum, perhaps not. But through a relativist lens, where ambiance counts for something, as do ethically sourced ingredients, the sandwich seems fairly priced—particularly because it's perfectly assembled. A French Meadow organic focaccia bun offers a crusty-soft contrast that isn't as extreme as the usual French/Vietnamese baguette. It's stacked with a thick wedge of shredded, naturally raised Duroc pork and a swipe of paté, then piled with house-pickled carrots and cucumbers, plus a few sprigs of cilantro and kicky jalapeno slices.

In the same vein, the spicy peanut noodles pull the punch they might at an exclusively Asian restaurant. Chewy udon curlicues and bok choy stalks are smothered with a nutty, fiery sauce that can be made even richer by blending in the runny yolk of the fried egg perched on top.

Blackbird is an equally good spot for breakfast in a cozy booth or a late-night nosh at the bar. The huevos rancheros are good—eggs, cream cheese, salsa, hash browns—and even better when prepared Colleen O'Brien style, with crumbles of house-made chorizo sausage and hunks of avocado. But you could do just as well with a beer and an order of the duck-filled egg rolls or a plate of nachos topped with ground lamb.

Dinner is the restaurant's weakest area, and that section of the menu contains a few items to avoid. The tuna hot dish, for one, doesn't quite hit its upscale ambitions. Though the garlic cream sauce goes nicely with pasta spirals and spinach, it just doesn't seem the right application for ahi tuna, and the sun-dried tomatoes impart an off-putting bitterness. And while the appeal of a $20 steak is undeniable, Blackbird's London broil is a dish that doesn't seem worth bothering with—the meat is too plain and chewy. A side of gnocchi improves the plate, but frankly, the braised beef Longhorn sandwich is a better choice.

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