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Changing habitat: The Blackbird is becoming a barbecue joint

The Blackbird is changing its habitat.

The Southern-inspired restaurant closed Sunday after Easter brunch for two weeks of renovation, including a complete overhaul of its service model and menu.

The Blackbird is becoming a barbecue joint with a hybrid service system: part fast-casual, part traditional restaurant service. The plan is to reopen April 16 with a focus on elevated smokehouse barbecue items and the option for guests to self-order and self-pay.

The Blackbird announced the closure on Facebook shortly before Easter with the note, “Cheers to new beginnings!” and the hashtags #NewIdeas and #ChangeIsGood.

Throughout the next two weeks, the front door of the restaurant will be relocated from the east side of the building to what is now the south patio entrance. Two digital menus along with two self-pay kiosks will be installed just inside the new main entrance. A cashier station will also be added.

Guests will have the choice to order and pay at one of the kiosks or at the cashier station. Entrees will still be brought to tables. Orders for alcoholic beverages as well as dessert will still be taken at the table, too.

“Once you get to the table, it’ll be full service,” owner Patrick McPherson said.

Old-fashioned, color-coded cow tags – which diners will hang from shepherds’ crooks installed at each booth or table – will help staff match entrees to diners and make table-service more efficient, he said. Booth-backs will be lowered “by 10 or 12 inches” to give the place more of an open feel. And staff members will have a new, casual uniform: jeans and T-shirts.

The bar will remain full-service. But the drink menu will be retooled to emphasize specialty cocktails that pair well with barbecue. (Think whiskey and bourbon.)

The new food menu will be “hardcore barbecue with some fun spins,” McPherson said.

Barbecued meat – brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, hot links, beef ribs – will be available by the pound or half-pound. Or, order a plate dinner with your choice of meat, two sides and house-made bread.

The bread, executive chef Molly Patrick said, “is going to be like if Wonder Bread and corn bread had a baby.”

Beef, McPherson said, will be prime grade.

Barbecue sandwiches, served with one side dish, will also be available. So will barbecue tacos. Even the salads – burnt-ends wedge and smoked salmon, which was on the last menu – are meaty.

But there will be options for vegetarians, too. Look for a tomato garden salad, also on the last menu, as well as barbecued jackfruit.

Appetizers include corn dogs, chips and pimento cheese, and bacon-fat popcorn, all throwbacks to the original menu. Other starters include deviled eggs with burnt ends, smoked and fried wings, malted-waffle-corn cakes, and filthy fries with roasted garlic, smoked cheddar and pulled pork.

Sides include potato salad, vinegar coleslaw, barbecue baked beans and black-eye pea salad. The Blackbird will still offer mac and cheese, but it will be more traditional – with yellow cheddar and elbow macaroni.

Desserts include a seasonal cobbler, chocolate doughnuts with caramel, and house-made ice cream. The no-bake butterscotch haystack cookies, a staple in the South, are made by folding shoestring potato chips into a mixture of butterscotch and white chocolate.

The lemon-curd buttermilk pie “is like a custard, but with buttermilk,” Patrick said. “It’s like a creme brulee.”

Another new dessert item is the apple pie ice cream cone. “The cone is a pie crust,” said Patrick, who’s also experimenting with scratch-made Frito pie – but not for the dessert menu.

“Our philosophy of food isn’t changing,” she said, noting the restaurant remains dedicated to fresh, scratch-made fare.

“It’s not like we’re smoking for the next day. We’re smoking for the day of,” Patrick said.

To that end, the Blackbird is adding a graveyard shift for two staffers to do prep and baste the barbecue.

“It takes 10 to 16 hours every day” to barbecue, McPherson said, noting the new Blackbird will be first-come, first-served. That is: “When we’re sold out, we’re sold out.” And, “The goal is to be sold out every day.”

McPherson, who also owns Manito Tap House on Spokane’s South Hill, opened the Blackbird three years ago in June in the old Broadview Dairy building.

The initial menu featured items that reminded Patrick, who grew up in Georgia, of what she “ate as a child” – plenty of burnt ends, brisket, buckwheat pancakes, grits and sweet tea. For lunch and dinner, there were “pig wings,” or deep-fried pig tails with smoked hot sauce and bleu cheese; tater tots stuffed with bone marrow and topped with rooster sauce, fennel pollen and lime; and malted waffle hush puppies with maple-cayenne syrup.

She called it “smokehouse fusion.” A wood-fired smoker and wood-fired grill were at the center of the operation. And they remain there.

“I’d rather cook outside than inside, especially in summer,” Patrick said. “When I build my dream house, I’ll have a smoker in my house.”

Meantime, “my smoker gets used year round,” she said. “My neighbors think I’m crazy. ‘It’s snowing. What are you doing?’ I want to eat some ribs. That’s what I’m doing.”

The Blackbird will continue to offer its popular weekend brunch. But look for some updates there, too, along with staples such as the Dutch baby and toad in the hole.

The roasted roasted spaghetti squash with brown butter, spicy tomato and Parmesan, which was popular at the Blackbird, will migrate to Manito Tap House.

But the popular Mi Mi burger – with smoked shoulder bacon, candied bacon, Oregon White Cheddar and pea shoots – is off both menus, at least for now. It could be offered as a special at Manito sometime, McPherson said.

“There will be blow-back” about the changes, he said. “But we’ve also heard from a lot of people who are excited.”


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