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
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