From the Ashes
Minneapolis café Blackbird is back—and better than ever
A year ago, Blackbird, the café in south Minneapolis, burned to the ground. It recently reopened in a spiffy new spot at Nicollet and 38th. But this is more than just another restaurant reconstruction. It’s the culmination of a spiritual journey. ¶ “I’ll never forget looking into the dumpster after the fire,” says Gail Mollner, who owns and runs the restaurant with her husband, Chris Stevens. “There were the things that were burnt of course, but also rotting food and scented candles. It was surreal.” (The scented candles were from the gift shop next door, which was destroyed, along with the neighboring restaurant Heidi’s, where the fire originated.) “It felt especially crazy because things had just calmed down for the first time in the three years of business,” Mollner remembers. “We had just taken our first vacation the week before.” ¶ The only things that Mollner and Stevens could salvage from the fire were some pieces of the gothic décor that gave the family café its edge: deer antlers. Several pairs of those antlers are now on the wall in the new space and—as impossibly romantic as it may be to say this—I’m happy to report that Blackbird in its new locale is twice the restaurant it was in the old digs. The new space is big and airy, and the vast windows to the street and open kitchen make it seem even more so. Gone is the jostling and bumping that accompanied dinner at the last spot. ¶ The cooking is tighter and more accomplished than ever. I loved the crisp-skinned roast chicken, served with a bit of fried chicken liver and a tangy mustard sauce to cut the homey richness. I thought the vast portion of pork shoulder—served as pork confit and carnitas and accompanied by roast grapes—was as craveable as a cupcake. I positively swooned over the lush bread pudding with a thick dulce de leche caramel sauce. Sure, the restaurant still has some of its hodgepodge, everything-we-ever-liked-from-everywhere-on-earth-on-one-menu elements, but I’ve come around to appreciate some of it (the house-made banh mi is a nice light dinner option). The wine list is altogether better than its prior incarnation: more delicious and stocked with everyday wines that you’re delighted to encounter. I like nothing better than to start off an evening with friends with a bottle of Frisk Prickly, a $26 spritzy Muscat, and a Riesling blend on the table.
Mollner attributes Blackbird’s new strength both to cosmic forces and longtime sous chefs Dan Manosack and Adam To. “People were so nice after the fire, beyond what you could believe,” she told me. “Restaurants took in our staff, knowing they would leave. Then there were fundraisers—and the support. I actually try not to think about it all too much. It’s like a miracle and if you look too hard it might disappear.”
Miracles or not, Blackbird hasn’t disappeared. In fact, its return is news worth crowing about. Or should I say cawing?
Now that this quirky Minneapolis favorite is back after the fire, plan on waiting (and waiting happily) for a table.
Ideal Meal: Comfort foods like roast chicken or pork confit are the restaurant’s strength. Tip: Pick a cuisine (Asian? Southwestern?) to maximize the harmony of your meal. Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday–Thursday; Saturday 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday 8 a.m–2 p.m. Prices: Main dishes run $10–$20 at dinner; $6 –$12 at lunch and breakfast. Address: Blackbird, 3800 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-4790, blackbirdmpls.com