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A First Look

The BlackFinn family of restaurants has locations throughout the eastern half of the country, and the American Grille incarnation hails from Jacksonville, Florida – at least that’s where Mark, the gentleman behind the bar training the staff at Houston’s new 1910 Bagby location hails from. All hands were on deck Sunday evening for BlackFinn’s soft opening, with the attentive staff seemingly outnumbering the guests sidling into the new restaurant space. The common thread that runs through all BlackFinn locations is what they call “the experience” – with four unique spaces, it’s got something for everybody, and the manager that stopped by felt confident that nobody else in Houston has what they have. And while that may be true, it could go either way.

BlackFinn PlatterOur group of three sat at the bar in what they call “The Grille Room,” a level-upped sports bar on par with Champp’s Americana in Uptown Park, and were given a number of menu cards to order from, as long as we stuck to items on two of the six cards. Sipping on gin martinis expertly mixed by our server/bartender Chris, we started with the BlackFinn Platter, consisting of “ying-yang” shrimp, calamari, chicken tenders, and chicken wings in one of three varieties. Each of the items was like the bar itself, scaled up, if unremarkable. The shrimp had a sweet and tangy glaze, the tenders were hand-battered and still juicy, the calamari was flaky, and the traditional Buffalo sauce we got on the wings as a barometer was savory with a subtle kick of heat.

BlackFinn Chicken and Corn EnchiladasFor entrees, I went with the chicken and corn enchiladas, while my companions ordered the “Queen City” chicken and stir fry chicken, respectively. While the tortillas were a bit greasy in my enchiladas, the chicken was still tender, and the roasted tomatillo salsa was excellent with the sour cream and avocados to cut the acidity, while the corn in both the enchiladas and the southwestern rice added a nice touch of sweetness. The stir fry was good, though I found the chicken a tad dry on that one, and the Queen City chicken, consisting of sausage-stuffed, bacon-wrapped (rather than “crusted” as the menu indicates) chicken was complex, almost an improvement on Chicken Cordon Bleu, though I’d have preferred the bacon exterior crispy, rather than the chewy casing served. But the creamy sweet potatoes and the grilled asparagus that came on the side were excellent, and the portions were generous for the proposed $15-20 price range. In the end, I feel like a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, lots of positives to say, but always going to find at least one negative. It’s Monday, maybe I’m just being curmudgeonly. Though I’m not much of a sweets guy, I will say I didn’t find anything to complain about in the dessert offerings, having sampled both the seasonal (in this case, apple) fruit crisp with vanilla ice cream and a caramel drizzle, and the BlackFinn Hot Chocolate, a souffle of chocolate and peanut butter along with the same vanilla ice cream and caramel. At this point I didn’t have much room, but I did relish a few bites of each.

The other “experiences” touted at BlackFinn include the outdoor Patio, the Saloon, and the Dining Room. The Grille Room where we were sitting was inviting, with just a few TV’s scattered throughout to watch football. The Dining Room has a more white-tablecloth atmosphere, with no TV’s at all, more focused on BlackFinn’s ambitious menu. The Saloon is the Grille Room’s rowdier cousin, with a four-sided bar in the middle, tables scattered throughout, and a plethora of TV’s on the wall – a consummate sports bar with a tailgate demeanor along the lines of the actual Christian’s Tailgate across the street. The manager informed us that as the weekend nights wear on, tables will be cleared out to make room for a dancefloor as it embraces its Midtown environs. The beer selection was decent, with 30 taps and even more bottles, hewing to a big beer standard, though I was glad to see a couple of Saint Arnold taps and Stone IPA on offer.

Ultimately, I found BlackFinn to espouse a refined take on the idea of a sports bar, with some unexpected menu items like sushi-grade tuna alongside common pub fare with uncommon treatment. The necktied staff were friendly, attentive, and knowledgable – in fact, Chris told us the staff had tried all 120 or so items on the menu recently, a caloric intake he had yet to burn off. But I appreciate the effort BlackFinn has put into bringing the staff up to speed, including flying Mark from Jacksonville to supervise for a week. He will stay until Friday, the day after BlackFinn’s official grand opening. Whether the four “experiences” will prove to be an example of trying to do too much, whether one will come to dominate over the others, or whether the endeavor will end up having the success it has had in other cities remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure, it will make a good spot to catch the game without settling for subpar cuisine.


Post from jack | around
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