Be grateful for Blackthorne

by Charles Jenkin

The venue offers a number of seating options. Just make sure to call in a reservation. Photos courtesy of Blackthorne

It’s not easy these days to open a new restaurant in south Charlotte. A new, successful eatery offering unique dishes along with a different and pleasing atmosphere. A place that gives you a positive feeling and a desire to return and bring your friends as opposed to another favorite dining destination around town.

I’m grateful Blackthorne took on the challenge.  Tim Duffy, managing partner, and his brother, Jay Duffy, own the establishment and have started on several right tracks.

An early smart decision was the location. Blackthorne Restaurant & Bar opened just after the first of the year in the Ballantyne Corners shopping center, at North Community House Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway. In addition to being in a vibrant area, a 10-story office building is being built across the street. Another wise choice was working with Hendrick Construction for the build-out. The place looks great!

Of course, it’s always all about the food; a delicious decision was bringing in Chef Mark Hibbs as executive chef. I’ve been delighting in Mark’s creations at restaurants and benefit events around Charlotte for many years. He brought with him signature favorites like the Fried Quail Bucket – eight pieces of chicken-fried quail served with buttermilk biscuits and Linwood Gardens rosemary gravy. A delectable appetizer great for sharing.

Blackthorne Restaurant & Bar is open at 11318 North Community House Road. Chef Mark Hibbs has brought a number of local favorites with him to the restaurant. Photo courtesy of Blackthorne

We may not go to a dining establishment for the atmosphere, though it helps when we take notice of how esthetically pleasing the place looks. Blackthorne has a very attractive interior. The restaurant’s downstairs features a bar and lounge with flat screens, tall tables and very comfortable chairs for drinks or dining. Rich dark-wood tables, appropriately spaced, and comfortably padded chairs share the main dining room with three booths, plus a large horseshoe booth. To one side is a private room for 20 guests that can be closed off with rolling barn doors. In the dining room, light earth tones comprise the tall banquette padding and glass-tile accent wall. It all comes together very well, including the large wrought-iron globe lighting.

The restaurant can boast a distinctive 1,800 square-foot rooftop patio that accommodates 100 people. You can sit at the bar with its concrete countertop and watch the game on the flat screens. There’s couches and cushy chairs so you can relax, take a sip, sit back and look up at the stars. If you would rather stay on ground level, there is a downstairs outdoor patio for dining.

On a recent Saturday evening my guest and I decided to see if we could get a table for a quick bite. The dining room was booked.

Fortunately, we were able to sit at one of the very comfortable bar tables. From the moment we were seated, our server was there to greet us. She was personable, caring, knowledgeable and professional. We couldn’t decide on a wine, so she pleasantly brought us each fresh glasses twice with two sets of wines to sample. That’s exceptional service!

Photo courtesy of Blackthorne

We started with the calamari, and it was a knock-out! Light and crispy calamari fingers tossed with an Asian five spice, cilantro, and scallions, finished with a Korean barbecue sauce. Some of the most tender and scrumptious squid I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying.

The next dish was the Cobb salad – Blackthorne’s updated classic, with crisp romaine and mesclun greens drizzled with ranch dressing, topped with applewood smoked bacon, tomato, smoked ham, grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg and avocado. It was fresh and delicious. We finished with shrimp and crab linguine – jumbo shrimp and crab sautéed with onions, garlic and peppers, deglazed with sherry and tossed with fresh linguine; another winner. The pasta was a perfect al dente.

So impressed with my initial experience at Blackthorne, I looked forward to a return visit. Being a weekend night, I had someone in the party make a reservation. Good thing as they were just about booked up. Here are some highlights: we loved the classic onion soup – caramelized sweet onions deglazed with sherry and slowly cooked in veal stock, topped with a French bread crouton and melted Gruyere cheese. It was very good with a rich deep broth and plenty of yummy cheese. One appetizer was somewhat disappointing. The seared duck breast crostini – sliced duck with caramelized onions and cranberry compote. The duck had a wonderful taste, the onions and berries went perfectly; the problem was the toast – it was very, very hard.  We left the bread and enjoyed the duck.

A delectable entrée was the braised lamb sha nk – fresh lamb slow cooked in red wine served with a mushroom and barley “risotto” and wilted spinach. The lamb was flavorful and tender. I wasn’t sure if I would like the barley, though I did as it was very good and a great texture to marry with the lamb. Also delectable was the Bone-in Pork Chop – nicely grilled and served over a sweet potato hash and wilted spinach, finished with a maple drizzle; very tender with a wonderful taste. The only problem with the dish is the sweet potatoes were not warm, and they should have been hot, of course.

Photo courtesy of Blackthorne

The eclectic menu offers venison meatloaf and grilled trout, as well as more traditional fare such as roasted chicken, pastas, soups and salads. Blackthorne has an extensive wine list and a diverse selection of bottled beers, as well as a roster of 10 beers on tap – eight of which are from North Carolina. That is a wonderful theme. The lunch menu offers additional sandwiches and burgers. Sunday brunch begins soon and will offer another menu I look forward to exploring.

The upstairs is set to open this week. It’s a European-style rooftop patio with a full-service bar, including six beers on tap, food service and live entertainment. It coincides with the introduction of the new spring and summer menu. Several favorites from the current menu will still be available (please keep the calamari), and Chef Hibbs will introduce some lighter options utilizing fresh, local produce. Seasonal menus are very smart. It affords us the opportunity to return more often for varying culinary experiences.

A couple of miss-steps in the kitchen are easily corrected. Some of the staff in the front of the house would benefit by learning proper verbiage and best practices when communicating with guests. The only words we heard from the hostess after giving a name for a reservation was after seating our party, she said “I’ll get rid of these” referring to extra settings. What happened to “Welcome to Blackthorne’s” or “Is this your first time joining us?” or “(Someone’s name) will be taking care of you this evening and will be right with you.” Dinner service was fine, timing was good. Please don’t ask “Are you done or working on this?”

You may think I’m being picky, yet often times it is my guests, folks like yourself, who are with me and make the comments even before I can say them. What’s important is that my overall opinion of Blackthorne is very high, and I expect them to only get consistently better over time. When I think of a nice bar area and lounge to sit in for a while, be it for a glass of wine or more, I think of Blackthorne. I look forward to enjoying the rooftop, the new seasonal menu and the brunch. You should, too.

3 of  four  stars
11318  North  Community  House  Road
Phone: 704- 817-5554
Hours: Monday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to close  and Sunday: 10 a.m. to close; Brunch: Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Details: Reservations accepted, roof-top dining

Visit: www.blackthornerestaurant.comQuestions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email ­culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

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