Food flock

There’s the rosemary-spiced beef and truffle oil
shepherd’s pie and lots of other comforting British culinary delights
to sample while you bend your arm with your favorite suds or a classic
cocktail.

Norman
restaurateurs Jack Hooper and John Howell, managing partners of The Good
Life Hospitality Group, have a long string of hit eateries and bars in
Norman, including Blu Fine Wine and Food, The Library and Coach’s
Brewhouse. And now, they’ve added a new one with Blackbird Gastropub on
Campus Corner, the two-story building where the former Harold’s Outlet
and Iron Starr Urban Barbeque were housed, just south of Boyd Street.

The
growing gastropub phenomenon pairs upscale pub grub with whiskey, beer,
wine and other spirits. Inspiration for Blackbird came from another
gastropub in Chicago the owners visited while attending the National
Restaurant Association Show recently.

“I
thought the atmosphere was awesome. I thought the drinks were awesome. I
thought the food was awesome,” Howell said. “It took root in my head.”

But
that idea didn’t have too long to nest in there. When the opportunity
came to snatch up the prime location on Campus Corner, Howell and Hooper
didn’t have to think long about it.

“We know we like the bar scene,” Howell said. “And we wanted to have a bar that’s returned to producing really good food.”

The
result is Blackbird. The gastropub quickly took shape and spread over
both floors of the building, plus a patio. It opened its doors in
mid-April.

The menu
is eclectic, but focused on comfort (with a twist). For example, check
out the loaded pub fries on the appetizer menu. They’re made with
Gorgonzola cream, shaved Parmesan and applewood-smoked bacon — not
exactly a standard plate of fries. That Gorgonzola cream pops up in a
couple of other places in the menu, even making a side of Brussels sprouts quite palatable. In my book, that’s a pretty good trick.

Some
of the items on the menu I’m eager to try are the porterhouse pork chop
with a fig and port reduction or the tenderloin filet with that
Gorgonzola cream.

For
the diet-conscious, Blackbird’s menu also includes side salads and one
main dish salad, the honey-smoked salmon salad. For the
not-so-dietconscious, the menu holds just two desserts: chocolate cake
and apple pie à la mode with cubed Cheddar, a classic dessert flavor
pairing.

Blackbird’s
list of whiskeys — including bourbons and single-malt scotches —
currently sits at 106, with plans to grow it to 150, Howell said. The
gastropub also features about 50 each of wines and beers, including beer
from its sister bar Coach’s Brewhouse in downtown Norman.

Inside,
the interior of Blackbird is eclectic. The color palette is taupe,
black and white, with punches of spring green. Long fabric panels hang
from the vaulted ceiling, softening the cavernous feel the space
previously had. The Good Hospitality Group purchased the dark wood bar
used by previous tenant, Iron Starr.

Most
importantly, the new gastropub needed to be a distinct change from Blu
and The Library, both only about a mile away from Blackbird. So far,
restaurantgoers are lining up to sample Blackbird’s new takes on old
classics.

“We didn’t invent meatloaf. We didn’t invent pot pies,” Howell said. “It’s a contemporary way to reach back.”

Who doesn’t need a little comfort now and then? —Carol Cole-Frowe

PUBOLOGY
So what exactly is a gastropub? It’s part bar and part
restaurant, but all casual. The concept for the gastropub hails from
Britain.

According to a 2009 Washington Post
article, the gastropub was born in the early 1990s as a response to
London finally becoming a dining destination — but one that featured
only other nations. The resulting British food overhaul gave birth to
the gastropub, a restaurant that serves elevated British fare, but in
the casual, traditional pub atmosphere. It’s a spot where you can find
good beer, fine spirits and delicious food without needing to dress up
for the occasion.

In the U.S., according to the
Post article, the gastropub made the move to our shores around 2004.
That’s when The Spotted Pig opened in New York City’s West Village. It’s
been a growing trend ever since.

Today in the
metro, diners can check out a range of high-end pubs, some with the
“gastropub” name, some without. Two new favorites are Blackbird and
Republic, 5830 N. Classen Blvd. —Jenny Coon Peterson

Carol Cole-Frowe

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