As someone who finds herself scooting into a booth for dinner rather than my own dining room table, this is something I have picked up on. It *can be* easy to make things taste really good; take a carb and make it buttery, and salty and “Oh!” let’s add eight different types of cheese on top and make it melty. YEAH! Sounds SUPER good! But what is really, truly admirable, is when a Chef is able to take something healthy, and make it taste real good. Ever notice that healthy things don’t naturally taste awesome!? When was the last time your broccoli tasted like pizza? Never! (if it did you’re a witch). It takes skill to transform a health-conscious dish into something appealing. And no, I don’t mean taking a salad and smothering it in bacon and bleu cheese. I mean taking wholesome ingredients, and knowing how to finesse them to maintain their health conscious purpose, while serving as an appealing and tasty dish. But at the end of the day, get you a chef who can do both! Chef Angie Armenise at Blackie’s Bulldog Tavern in Smithfield is a savage beast when it comes to making a balanced menu. And that’s what life is all about, right? Monday through Friday we’re all “meal prep and bottled water” and Saturday hits we go bizerk with bottomless bloodys and 10 lbs of donuts. That’s the way life is, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Luckily, at Blackie’s, you can do both.
Let’s start with the weekends most important meal of the day: BRUNCH. God, brunch is magical. Not only is it the love child of two meals, it’s a social scene, it’s the prize at the end of a long work week, it’s the breath of life after a late Saturday night. Of course all brunch menus rattle off the same eggs, waffles and sandwiches. But baby I want something more. I want to taste the unusual. Blackie’s took a step in the direction of the wild side and got weird. And that is precisely what I am looking for.
OK let’s talk about the Smokey Pig. This breakfast style pig-in-a-blanket will make you wonder what other of your favorite foods can be magically transformed into a breakfast item. The limit does not exist (well, in Chef Angie’s world). Fresh English muffin dough is the soft, pillowy blanket that swaddles a house smoked maple breakfast sausage. First of all, let’s all acknowledge the brilliant use of English muffin dough here, this aint no basic puff pastry. The English muffin dough was ever so slightly crisped along the edging, while maintaining a beautiful doughy texture inside. On the side, is a welcoming brown sugar maple mayo dipping sauce, just begging for that piggy to dive in head first.
Next on the breakfast agenda was a sweet. I have really been taken by pancakes this year. And these fluffy cakes at Blackie’s really woo’d me. Made from scratch batter is folded with whipped egg whites, giving it that silky soft, cloud like composure. We had our’s topped with thinly sliced bananas and of course warm maple syrup.
Of course breakfast has it’s traditional items, but in all honesty, they can get dull. We have all seen eggs and home fries, but how about eggs and home made fried rice? (if you read that and had a “duh, why havent we been doing that all along” moment, you and I are in the same boat). You know when you cook rice and you scrape the bits that get stuck to the bottom of the pan? My favorite part, I call it the “cripsies”. This fried rice had that perfect toasted crunch, and literally fireworks of flavor. Tender shiitake mushrooms and tangy kim chi are adding pops of spicy bites. Aromatic veggies and chopped green onion join the party, but the real star here in the pork. Chunks of cold brew coffee rubbed pork are seared to a succulent crisp and tossed with the rice. Sitting atop of this heaping, glorious monument is a Buffoni Farms poached egg.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it every single time I eat an egg, runny yolk should be nominated to be an eighth wonder of the world. That thick, salty golden river coats seemingly every grain of rice, and completes the dish to be a breakfast contender.
We might as well have graduated with a degree in sticky buns, so you can imagine our excitement when we saw this giant, sweet coil of dough. Freckles of sweet cinnamon sugar line the layers, while candied pecans proudly sit on top like crown jewels. A smearing of think caramel lays beside the bun, awaiting a tear and dip.
Moving in a “lunchier” direction, let’s chat about the Diner Burger. Ever had a classic patty melt from a casual corner diner and be blown away by its simple goodness? That is the nostalgic feel happening here with this burger. Except instead of the skimpy patty, Blackies hand forms a beef burger using Lafrieda Farms brisket and chuck (not yo average patty, eh?) topped with all of the good stuff; thin slices of red onion, lettuce, tomato, and 1000 island dressing.
All of this was stacked between two buttery, fluffy roles. I will make a bold statement and say the bun here is my favorite part of it. The airyness only adds to the flavor of the burger, rather than steal the show. All wrapped up tight like a bow in folded wax paper.
Of course, butts rule everything around us. So maybe we ordered the Big Booty Judy sandwich because of the name, but we were enamored by its savory flavah! Damn, Judy! Toastie slices of artisan bread are smeared with a sweet and sticky apple butter, and layered with crispy shaved and fried brussel sprouts and thinly sliced granny smith apples. Sweet and tart bold flavors are met with pancetta cracklings and lusciously laid with melty smoked guerre and a creamy American cheese. Oh, my, god Becky, look at her sandwich! Yeah Judy’s got a booty and the popping sandwich to show off!
Wintertime comfort food can be summed up in Chef Angie’s fettucini, as it’s beautiful richness is complimented by hearty slow cooked short rib for a seasonal dish cozier than a crackling fireplace on a snowy night. Braised beef in a bone broth cooked for 60 hours makes for commitment to ensuring tender and flavorful meat. Pulled and shredded atop of al dente fettuccine with sautéed Tuscan kale and shitake mushrooms for extra meaty bites. Tossed in a black garlic cream sauce and pecorino bread crumbs, this pasta dish isn’t for lady and the tramp slurping because you will definitely not want to share it with your date.
If everything you’ve read so far seems nacho’ average, you are correct my dear. So naturally, the nachos follow suit. Crunchy flour tortillas are the base for the pig-pile that is to come, so try to keep up. A slow simmered veggie chili loaded with hearty beans smothers these chippies, followed by sour cream, house whipped guac, pickled jalapenos and a tangy smoked salsa verde for some extra heat. All of this is tucked in with a heavy winter blanket of sharp white cheddar cheese sauce. Yes!!!! Sharp cheddar, a game changer for that notable taste. Go ahead and use one of the chips like a snow shovel and scoop up as much goodness as you can in one bite.
Let’s dedicate this section to our vegan friends. We feel for you when you go out to eat with your friends, and everyone is mowing on burgers and wings, yet the only vegan option on the menu is the house salad. I am having flashbacks of being the kid left out at the lunch table, and no one should feel that way! Chef Angie is dedicated to providing guests with ample options no matter the dietary restriction. Her Clean Living section is your playground. We tried the vegan ramen and found heaven.
On a chilly winter day it was literally the perfect dish to warm you from the inside out. Shredded wok fried cabbage and shitake mushrooms simmer with roasted butternut squash and chickpeas. These ingredients alone are packed with super powers to help make this dish extra hearty. Traditional ramen noodles rest in the boldy flavored vegetable broth, and finally topped with pickled red onion, toasted sesame seeds, and avocado. Finally, a win for our vegan and vegetarian friends. Don’t go anywhere, health lovers, we’ve got more wholesome options below.
OK let’s talk about pizza real quick. Carbs covered in sauce and cheese make it the Madonna of cheat meals, a world wide favorite, voted “most likely to break your diet”. I desperately search for the illusive “healthy pizza”; but how do you ever make handfuls of melted cheese good for you? How does salty carb-a-licious crust ever constitute as acceptable by your trainer? Well I am here to tell you that Chef Angie used her magic powers to create a guilt free Keto pizza. A flourless crust is made from egg and finely ground almond flour, which toasts up nicely and created a crunchy crust. House made tomato sauce and fresh whole mozzarella and cured pepperoni on top. Slice away, folks!
Keeping on the healthy train, we dug into the Paleo short rib and veggie fried rice. Paleo basically let’s you eat anything that our hairy caveman ancestors may have eaten! AKA, whole foods that aren’t processed with all the unnecessary junk! Cauliflower “rice is cooked with more of the 60 hour bone broth and coconut aminos for an extra boost of good-for-you stuff. Slow cooked braised short rib and a vegetable medley, topped with slices of coveted ripe avocado, toasted sesame seeds and a sliver of bright lime. Damn, our caveman ancestors were eating good!
OK enough of all the healthy stuff, pour some sugar on me! No seriously, I am addicted to sugar. No matter how full I am, I must end each meal with a sweet. If you’ve learned anything from the dishes i’ve described above, you know that Chef Angie takes something basic and gives it a makeover to a Beyonce status.
For the big reveal, a carrot cake ice cream sandwich. Yall ready for this? Two slices of house made carrot cake hold hands with vanilla ice cream, smears of cinnamon cream cheese frosting and a carrot “cream”. Towering on top is a whole lot of vanilla bean whipped cream, and thin slices of candied carrots. This savage beast of a dessert sets a whole new standard for ice cream sandwiches.
When I got in my car after leaving this meal, I had to unbutton my pants and rub my belly. It is crazy because that alarm in your brain that blaringly tells your stomach that you're full was completely drowned out by the “oooh’s and mmmm’s” I was making. With so much food, I literally couldn’t control myself from going back for more. There wasn’t a single thing that I wouldnt rate a 10.
Thank you to Chef Angie and Jeanine, Nicole and Molly. Yall put on a culinary show that I want front row seats to. Seriously, a round of applause doesn’t cut it. Standing ovation is more like it!