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At Blackbird Cafe in Canton, ambition and ambiance

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CANTON — The little café on Main Street that started out specializing in paninis seven years ago has come a long way.

They expanded upstairs to offer a coffeehouse-like atmosphere with a separate beer and wine bar and live music on the weekends. They opened their own brewery across town and have introduced St. Lawrence Brewery beer to restaurants around the north country. And along the way, they began serving upscale dinners, maintaining a commitment to purchasing meat, produce and dairy products from local farmers.

One of the Blackbird’s strengths is the wonderful ambiance that it has retained. It’s a historically restored space with stained glass over the entryway, dual-colored plank floors, high ceilings and lots of bookshelves left from the previous occupants, a law firm.

Creating a modern restaurant in an old building certainly comes with challenges and compromises. In the case of the Blackbird, there are a few compromises. Walking in feels like walking back in time … with the exception of some of the staff, who are thoroughly modern right down to things like nose rings.

The restaurant serves dinner seven nights a week. We stopped by on a quiet Monday evening. A table of college-aged people were having a lively time. A professor-looking type had his mobile office set up at a table in the front window.

Our server got us started with a round of beverages. In addition to their own beer, they have a half-dozen popular craft brews available by the bottle along with a dozen wines by the glass or bottle, equally divided between reds and whites.

With our drinks in hand, another young server came to our table and asked if anyone had taken care of us yet. Strange. Then our original server returned every few minutes asking if we were ready to order.

We got off to a pretty good start with our starters. The Brie quesadilla ($7.25) and the Persian flatbread ($5.95) were both excellent.

The warm quesadilla, made with whole-wheat tortillas, was a bright blend of flavors and textures with creamy Brie, crisp apple and leafy green spinach. It was a hearty appetizer. Sweet raspberry coulis on the side was a nice dipper.

The Persian flatbread, smeared with garlicky hummus, was cut into small triangles, topped with spicy-hot tomato chutney and drizzled with a fig glaze — a mix of strong flavors that worked well together.

The soup of the day, roasted red pepper Gouda bisque ($3.50), offered a light cream base and chunky puree with the flavor of both the peppers and Gouda cheese apparent. It was very good.

At this juncture, server No. 2 stopped by. I purposely tested his wine knowledge by asking where two of the wines on their short list came from, Auspicion Chardonnay and McManis Zinfandel. He began to offer a guess, but I suggested it might be easier if he just went and checked the bottle. The answer on both: California.

We also tried a glass of their recently released beer, still in its infancy, which we found to be good-tasting but a little flat.

We did our best to self-pace the meal by ordering our starters before ordering our entrees. Despite that, house salads, which come with all entrees, were delivered while we were still working on our first course. They were fine, a nice mixture of greens dressed with a slightly sweet vinaigrette.

There are 10 entrees offered, all priced in the teens. Several are vegetarian; many can be made gluten free.

We were halfway through our salad and the main course arrived.

A chicken dish called the New Englander ($16) was billed as a roulade, but of the three pieces on the plate, only one had all the ingredients listed (goat cheese, local cranberries and bacon) rolled up in it.

It was served over rice, surrounded by diced root vegetables, finished with a cranberry/cider demi-glace. Overall, it was not quite as special as it sounded on paper.

Beef bourguignon ($18) was nicely done. Locally sourced short ribs were braised in stock and wine till the meat was falling off the bone. It was served with sautéed mushrooms, fricasseed potatoes and root vegetables (although the potatoes didn’t look any different from the potatoes served with the chicken roulade’s root veggies).

Often, short ribs can be a little short on meat and long on bones. That was not the case here. There was a sufficient amount of meat, combining with the veggies and sauce to make a very hearty and tasty seasonal dish.

Braised pork ($16), again, utilizing local pork, was a very nice dish.

It looked terrific, a large bowl with five good-sized chunks of pork surrounded by gnocchi, smothered in mushrooms and swimming in a sherry cream sauce. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The mushrooms were good. The gnocchi was good. And the cream sauce would have been good if it hadn’t been so salty.

An over-salted dish has a tendency to become unpalatable, and that’s what happened to this one. However, taking home the uneaten portion, sans sauce, resulted in a lovely lunch the following day.

Desserts were a bit of a letdown.

Lemon pound cake, made with olive oil, had nice lemon taste but a terrible spongy texture. A plain, thin shortbread topped with almond slices and glazed with raspberry sauce was dry and hard (it couldn’t be cut with the fork provided). The blondie brownie was very average and perhaps a bit stale.

The three desserts cost $6.25 altogether. Portions were perfect for those just wanting a taste of sweet stuff following a satisfying meal. Locally sourced peppermint tea was served in a large mug and was delicious.

Dinner for three cost $99.61 before tip and beverages. Wines were reasonably priced at $6 and $7.

Fine dining is more than just about the food. It’s the total package — the meal, the service and the ambiance.

They got the ambiance right. And the food was definitely above average.

But the service at the Blackbird was sketchy at best. The bumbling servers were a definite distraction. By the end of the night, our small table was a jumble of half-eaten plates of food.

And it’s not totally their fault. Kids brought up on Happy Meals don’t necessarily understanding fine dining. Someone has to train them, and that’s where the problem lies.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.





Blackbird Café

107 Main St.

Canton, N.Y.

386-8104

www.theblackbirdcafe.com

A comfortable, historic setting with creative, above average food. The restaurant is committed to buying locally, sourcing as much of their ingredients as possible from local farmers.

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday

8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday

9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

OUR PICKS: Brie quesadilla, Persian flatbread, red pepper Gouda bisque, beef bourguignon, braised pork

RATING: 3 forks

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