Blackbird Public House has been open for just over a year, but the Washington Park eatery has already lived through a decade's worth of change. Since opening last year in the former home of Handlebar, the restaurant has seen a sewage-system disaster that required replacing every inch of pipe under the building, a grease-trap explosion, a makeover that removed the wall between the bar and dining room (and also added new flooring), a couple of chef swaps, and an image shift — including adding "Public House" to the name — to accommodate the preferences of the neighborhood.
Owners Brian and Angie Midtbo think the latest change is one of the best yet: Last month, they brought on chef Lou Ortiz to head the kitchen. Prior to joining Blackbird, Ortiz opened both locations of restaurateur Troy Guard's Los Chingones (the original in RiNo and the new DTC outpost), and he brings plenty of pizza-making experience from East Coast gigs.
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Blackbird's opening menu in November 2014 was ambitious and upscale, but since then the Midtbos have adjusted to the pace of the neighborhood, dialing back plated entrees to a handful of favorites while bumping up the bar bites and family-friendly offerings with a wider range of pizza, a variety of grilled and raw oysters, and fun dinners like a cocktail-and-card-trick night, during which guests learned how to make house cocktails while being treated to a little sleight of hand.
One of the secrets to good pizza that he learned while working in Delaware, Baltimore and Philadelphia, Ortiz explains, is layering toppings at different times during cooking. Instead of loading everything on all at once, the chef considers how ingredients sauté in a pan — and applies the same logic to the pizza so that fresh ingredients don't get overcooked and blends of cheeses can be timed to maximize the flavor of each.
Ortiz's other current menu favorites are the house fried chicken and the wings on the snacks list, which are smoked before being flash-fried and sauced. While at Los Chingones, Ortiz helped introduce the weekly taco wild card, and he'd like to add something similar to Blackbird's slate, with a dish that's a little crazy and new each week (those wild-card tacos included the likes of antelope and camel).
While Ortiz is still acclimating to his new home, he says he plans to put his stamp on the menu soon with new dishes and specials.