Please excuse the dust at Black Shirt Brewing: The nearly five-year-old River North Brewery has finally converted its manufacturing license into a brewpub license — a process that took more than a year — and is working on its long-anticipated kitchen, one that will focus on artisan pizza, salads and dessert.
The change won't be that obvious to customers, since the pizza oven will be located in a small room behind the bar, but it will be a major change for owners Branden, Chad and Carissa Miller.
"If you know anything about Black Shirt, we are perfectionists and we want to ensure the very best execution in all that we do," Branden Miller says. "Our time frame to open the kitchen is early April, and we're actively looking for a talented, dedicated and inspired kitchen staff to help us achieve this."
In the meantime, though, Black Shirt has begun serving red wine by the glass and spirits, Stem Cider ciders and Punching Mules from Mile High Spirits, made possible because of the brewpub license. The brewery also plans to design a small cocktail menu in the near future.
Bill Greenwood, who was the chef at Beano's Cabin in Beaver Creek for the past four years, is designing the menu and kitchen layout and operation. The opening menu will include three pizzas and three salads, all named for Johnny Cash, a longtime favorite of Black Shirt's owners.
The pizzas will be the Carter, with beefsteak tomatoes, mozzarella, spent-malt E.V.O. and basil; the Johnny, topped with red ale-roasted sausage, fennel, fontina, tomato sauce and oregano; and the Cash, which has IPA barbecue sauce, roasted chicken, Tellagio cheese, mango, caramelized sweet onions and arugula.
Salads will include the Folsom, with roasted chicken, avocado, egg, Tender Belly bacon, blue, buttermilk ranch, iceberg lettuce and marinated cherry tomatoes; the Sue, with roasted zucchini, black walnut vinaigrette, fried egg, mixed herb salad, roasted black walnuts and red grapes; and the Line, with chimichurri flank steak, creamy Dijon dressing, roasted red onions, charred corn, cotija, sweet gem and red sorrel greens.
Although seating is a little cramped since the taproom is small, the change is worth it to the Millers, who say they got tired of relying on food trucks, which have been unreliable, inconsistent, difficult to deal with and with varying quality of food.
“We basically followed the model that every other brewery has followed to bring in food trucks, but for us, it was no-show after no-show. Or they would show up late and be mad that we didn’t have parking saved for them, and they would drive off in frustration,” Chad Miller told Westword in an interview last fall. “We felt it was best to have this under our control so that we could better serve our guests.
“You are so proud of these beers that you put out, and then a food truck throws a plate of stale nachos in front of you.... If our customers have bad food, they feel like they had a bad experience, and guess who gets the bad Yelp review?” he added.
Branden says he hopes the kitchen will be up and running by April.