blackbird fly

Veteran restaurateur's new Japanese pub takes flight in The Heights

Veteran restaurateur's new Japanese pub takes flight in The Heights

Blackbird Izakaya exterior
Blackbird replaces Republic Diner. Photo by Eric Sandler
Blackbird Izakaya uni spaghetti
Spaghetti with creamy sea urchin sauce. Photo by Eric Sandler
Blackbird Izakaya interior
Chef Billy Kin prepares a dish. Photo by Eric Sandler
Blackbird Izakaya ribeye skewer
Grilled ribeye rolled with scallions. Courtesy photo
Blackbird Izakaya chicken skewer
Chicken breast with torched roe mayo. Courtesy photo
Blackbird Izakaya exterior
Blackbird Izakaya uni spaghetti
Blackbird Izakaya interior
Blackbird Izakaya ribeye skewer
Blackbird Izakaya chicken skewer

Ken Bridge is at it again. The serial entrepreneur behind the Delicious Concepts restaurant group (everything from comfort food spot Lola to the carnivore favorite Ritual and stylish cocktail bar the Ready Room) has launched a new Japanese concept.

Blackbird Izakaya replaces Republic Diner, the Korean concept Bridge launched in 2015. It replaced Witchcraft, which itself replaced Dragon Bowl. Essentially, Bridge has used the space at 1221 W. 11th St. to try a number of different ideas.

“The bottom line is this has been my creative outlet within everything else happening, opening new concepts,” Bridge tells CultureMap. “I think it’s s great format: having an open kitchen, having a smaller space to explore direction and figure out concepts. Ultimately, I love the process of conception, buildout, opening, and then, like any typical serial entrepreneur, I get bored.”

Bridge doesn’t expect to get bored with Blackbird anytime soon. Working with chef and operating partner Billy Kin, he created a menu that covers all the basics for a Japanese-style pub: cold dishes, hot dishes, grilled skewers, and a range of noodle dishes. At lunch, the menu focuses on bento box combinations.

“I feel like we have a  really incredible dynamic,” Bridge says. “Billy’s been busting his ass on this menu. He’s done an amazing job.”

The only holdovers from the Republic menu are a couple of starters and the tonkotsu ramen. Highlights include the gyoza dumplings, the “miniature garden” (an ahi tuna lettuce wrap), chicken breast skewer with torched roe mayo, and spaghetti with creamy uni sauce.

Kin is also adept at conjuring up off the menu specials, as he did during this interview, by pairing a the grilled ribeye from one skewer with a dollop of uni. The resulting bite blended the uni’s creamy saltiness with the beef’s fatty richness. Daily sashimi specials keep things fresh, too.

In the spirit of a true izakaya, the drinks are as important as the food. Diners can choosing pairings from a solid selection of craft beers, sake, or a couple of easy-drinking, soju-based cocktails. Those with a designated driver may opt for highballs made with Suntory Toki whiskey. At a time when cocktail prices are creeping towards the $15 range, Blackbird keeps everything under $10.

Starting with Pink’s Pizza and moving through all of his projects, Bridge has proven adept at serving his neighborhood. Even though Heights residents have more choices than ever, expect Blackbird to find an audience for its creative take on Japanese cuisine.

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Blackbird Izakaya; 1221 W. 12th St.; Monday through Friday from 11 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm; Saturday 11 am to 11 pm; Sundays 11 am to 10 pm