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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Beverly Ridge: A Breezy Evening at the Blackbird

Two trains depart different cities and travel toward each other. The first train, which we’ll call “No Reservations,” leaves Minneapolis at 10:30 pm and is moving west at 50 mph. 1600 miles away, the second train leaves Seattle at 9 am, travelling east at 60 mph, and is named “No Waiting Room.”

Q: Where and when will these trains collide in a mess of sharp elbows and drooling patrons?
A: At the Blackbird Kitchen in Bozeman, pretty much every Friday and Saturday night.

The Blackbird Kitchen is a high-ceilinged, one-room affair. The front of the house grins across the intersection of East Main Street and Bozeman Avenue, sharing the street bazaar with guests. A few of Main Street’s landmarks in signage smile back, as the neon beacons above The Crystal Bar and the Rockin’ R bookend a spinning white stallion, hoofing the air above the marquee of the former Army/Navy store. It may not be Siena in the fall, but it’s as classic an image as Main Street musters.

The interior design of the Blackbird rears up and kicks, too. From the handcrafted steel oven to the eclectic array of tables, the attention to detail whispers of professional counsel. Day or night, the Blackbird meets the charmed hum of a Restoration Hardware catalog or a Martha Stewart home. For me, the emotional response is much the same for any of the three—I want to live in it. The framed chalkboard menu is a nice if oft-repeated touch, though it’s outperformed by the bar-front fashioned from old doors, evoking the early years of the Rolling Stones, all painted black and heavily lacquered. Speaking of colors (or the colorless, with respect to artsy friends out there), my favorite design detail in the Blackbird is the white high on the walls. Yes, just the color alone—it is the perfect hue for the moment, reminding me of springtime linens softened by the sun and postcards from Europe.

Speaking of worldly travels, let’s skip ahead to the wine. The two of us had plenty of time to sip through a couple glasses before our table came available. The bottle was a selection from France—I can never understand the gallic labels— a malbec, one with just the right amount of spark to light an evening. As we waited next to the front door, however, there ignited a flame in me sprung from the frictions of the coming-and-going which was fanned by the winds of Montana. My mood was incensed by the thought that soon others would be warming themselves over my dinner, as well.

As luck was not yet in evidence, we were seated at the two-top nearest the door. In fairness, the primary occupancy for the Blackbird would need Gisele’s heels and stature to top thirty, so all of the tables are near the entry. That is, unless you count the seats along the wall leading to the bathroom. I do not, as I am not yet at the stage where conversing with a wall or being passed by those who just relieved their bladders is an experience worth cherishing. Call me a snob.

Oddly enough, the open-air kitchen space is another lovely feat of decoration and properly proportioned for a seating area twice the size. This conclusion is somewhat ironic, since the kitchen’s also twice the size of the seating area. The effect is that the Blackbird feels hustling and bustling, even if there’s less faces than you’d find on a soccer pitch.

We ordered not long after being seated, since the proximity to other diners also heated up quite an appetite. And for me, the first course—a crostini appetizer served alongside a pot of seasoned white beans—was the gastronomical highlight. I should have ordered it twice and skipped the pasta. Of the delectable dish, my friend took notes of her own with plans to master an at-home version (I’ve since sampled hers, too, and the inaugural effort provided cause enough for a speech).

After we raked the vessel clean—with lady-like manners, of course—our waitress delivered the entrees. A blue-eyed Nordic-type and a vegetarian, my friend is more experienced with the Blackbird; the Funghi pizza was her choice. Rightfully so, it had a nearly perfect crust, just what one should expect upon appraisal of the house’s artisan oven. And oh, those mushrooms…

On a previous visit, I ordered the homemade gnocchi, but found the dish oily enough for the Formula One circuit. This time, I went with a risotto dish bearing peas. I should have reared back at those peas, but the offering was a special that came highly recommended by our waitress. Sadly, the risotto lacked anything special, and I spent the majority of the meal stealing lusty glances at the pizza, as it slowly disappeared before me. (In a stroke of luck, my friend possesses a generous soul, and she answered my baleful looks with two slices before the plate was itself spring clean.)

Borrowing from the Blackbird’s website, the “cuisine is inspired by the rustic beauty of European peasant fare.” I openly admit that the white bean crostini took me back to some bronzed memories of rural Tuscany where it seemed that every restaurant boasted a fagioli dish. Too bad the arrival of the bill reminded me of the expenses of European travel, too. Including a fine tip for the medley of staff, we spent almost $90, and I again found myself in the sub-genre of “peasant fare.”

Overruling an adoring jury in town, I feel the Blackbird’s policy against reservations is but one of several challenging algebra problems. If you rank atmosphere above comfort, or if value is not in your Italian lexicon, then the Blackbird makes a fine destination. Travelers spending “tourist dollars” (the ones that seem to hold less value than when at home) will really savor a visit, too. Please note: I can say with no reservations that the Blackbird venue is a work of art serviced by an iron-clad staff wielding fine food.

As advice for fellow Montana homebodies: I would recommend staying away on popular nights. Value shoppers may enjoy visiting the Blackbird on sunny mornings, since they now operate as a café when both the room and the traffic are light. If seeking a dinner-time alternative without so much bustling or account hustling, I’d recommend the off-Main locations like the Fresco Café or the forthcoming Damasco’s on North Wallace.  -TBM

Beverly Ridge is the area's first regularly featured restaurant reviewer.  A native of the valley and a veteran of the food service industry, she's a virtuoso on all things epicurean.  She's also made it a personal mission to protect Montana diners from the fleecing imposters, the lazy sourpusses, and the just plain rotten.

Read More Magpie:  New fans may enjoy her Christmastime article on John Bozeman's Bistro.

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