Grand Opening Media Event: Blackfinn American Grille
BlackFinn American Grille will hold its Grand Opening September 23rd. Get a first look right now and a chance to win a $50 BlackFinn gift card.
As in any profession, food writers attend “events.” Maybe it’s the Paper Product Managers’ Convention in Scranton or the Pipefitters Union Annual Meeting in Vegas (please let it have been in Vegas), but every profession has its professional gatherings. For food writers, it’s hit or miss. Anyone can buy a ticket to the Fancy Food Show, but when it comes to private restaurant media events, it is invitation only.
This may come as a surprise to you as an accountant, doctor or candlestick maker, but it’s important to me to be honest with you about where I get my food. If I review a restaurant, it’s because I went there anonymously and paid for the food myself. There’s no expense account, corporate card or company car here at EatJax. There’s just a hungry chubby chick with a pair of Chucks and a decent(?) vocabulary. So, in all honesty my impressions of the BlackFinn American Grille aren’t objective. My lunch and drinks were part of one of several media events over several days attended by dozens of other members of the media and community. At the end, I received a goodie bag with BlackFinn glassware, a press kit and a $50 gift certificate to return at a later date. What I’m about to tell you about this place is only relevant if you know that fact. Journalism 101, kids – right?
First, let me say that I am not the target audience for the BlackFinn. Back in August when I first got a firm opening date, I actually said this in the Mid-August Food News:
After all that quirky Riverside news, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, but what about the state of chain restaurants in the St. Johns Town Center?” Well, boy do I have news for you. Almost half a month has gone by, so you know we need a new chain! So, let’s hear it for BlackFinn American Grille! (::golf clap::) There will be a “Grille Room,” “Patio Room,” “Dining Room,” and “Saloon” where I’m hoping there will be duels between Armani-socked gunslingers over the recent fluctuations in the Asian market as it applies to Merrill Lynch’s holdings. What a thrille.
The place is very nice. If you’re into sports you’re going to be in heaven. The Saloon is golf themed, the Dining room has a lot of (fake) animals that look really, really real hanging all over the place, the Sports Bar has individual televisions for every table where you can “order” your sport and the Patio Room has that modern Ultraluxe Lounge thing going on. It’s quite a shame that “Golf Galaxy” is closing next door because BlackFinn’s target audience would have been driving past in a steady stream on their pilgrimages to obtain golf tees or pointy shoes or whatever it is they sell over there. BlackFinn is shiny, clean and new. There’s a place to plug in your laptop. There are those cool European Dyson hand dryers in the bathroom.
The food is not bad. It’s a chain, but it’s not Applebee’s. I have a full press kit CD of beautifully styled photos of the menu items at BlackFinn. However, this is the food as it was served to me and I took these photos myself. I would imagine that such a lunch would be their “best foot forward” so I think it’s fair to show the food as it was presented. All prices, descriptions and ingredients in italics are as stated in the current BlackFinn menu and are not guaranteed by moi.
I started with the Caesar Salad.
The lettuce and croutons had gone soggy but the dressing was okay. If you’re headed there, get the “BlackFinn House Salad” or one of the soups. They looked better.
Our entrée choices were the ultimate bacon cheese burger, spinach salad, herb rubbed campfire steak, bacon wrapped meatloaf, lemon chicken, shrimp and grits and spinach and feta pasta. I chose shrimp and grits. I am more than likely spoiled by Cafe NOLA, but this wasn’t bad. It was topped with two huge blackened shrimp which they weren’t shy about seasoning and goat cheese grit cakes that didn’t have a strong goat cheese flavor for me but they did taste creamy. The shrimp and grits would be a safe bet for anyone who enjoys moderately spicy food and rich cream sauces. I would choose this again if I were to go back.
A few more of the entrees that were in striking distance of my camera:
Four desserts were served family style – key lime pie, apple fruit crisp, “hot chocolate” – a fallen-on-purpose chocolate/peanut butter soufflé – and Strawberry shortcake.
The key lime was okay, but it had a REALLY thick crust and was firmer than many I’ve had. The fruit crisp was my favorite of the lot. The “hot chocolate” was warm choco-peanutbutter goo. It’s bound to be a crowd-pleaser, but it’s not my bag. The Strawberry Shortcake is on the right track (see Orsay’s for one truly-done-right). Sadly, the berries were pale and soft. I don’t know what their provenance was, but I’ll show you a photo and let you judge for yourselves.
Key Lime pie (foreground) graham cracker crust, lime custard, whipped cream, lime wheel, raspberry sauce ($6.99)
Seasonal Fruit (Apple) Crisp (background) crumb topping, vanilla ice cream, caramel drizzle ($6.99)
Each table also shared Iron Skillet Mac & Cheese with lobster. It is worth a try - it’s cheese, pasta and lobster.
In all honesty, the bar kicks ass. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable. When I came back for the cocktail party on Saturday, I had a berry mojito I’ll be looking for again. If you’re looking for a non-offensive upscale place to meet someone on the Southside try this bar.
They are doing some local sourcing, according to the Operating Partner, Dustin Birden. He said they are serving Bold City beer at the bar. I asked about the food and they said they were “locally sourcing seafood and produce.” I ordered the shrimp, took a bite and said, “These came from Mayport?” He said, “Well, THOSE aren’t from Mayport.” There are numerous other shrimp dishes on the menu so, who knows, but if you’re looking to eat locally here, ask questions before you order.
The staff was extremely nice – but again, why wouldn’t they be? The place is shiny and new. I’m sure there is a large segment of the city that works around the Town Center that will love this place. This is a very nice restaurant but it’s no better than J. Alexander or Mitchell’s, in my opinion. I do think it is better than PF Changs and the Cheesecake Factory. As I said in my original assessment, as far as the food goes, this place would be a good way to steer (especially golf loving) in-laws away from Olive Garden. It’s also an excellent choice for a large office party. BlackFinn hits the mark for what it is trying to do. However, I will always remain a cheerleader for local businesses. This is not a local business. Originality is not BlackFinn’s strong suit. If you’re looking for unique, local or personal, Blackfinn is not the place for you.
The BlackFinn American Grille is located at 4840 Big Island Drive, Suite 5 (In the Markets at the Town Center – near Toys R Us and Best Buy). Visit their website at www.BlackFinnAmericanGrille.com or give them a call at 345-3468. They are open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Now, here’s the good part – as the BadGirl of Jacksonville Food Journalism, I’m going to do something unheard of - I’m going to give YOU my $50 gift certificate to BlackFinn! Don’t take my word for this place. All you have to do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org by September 30th and tell me why you should be the recipient of the gift card. No strings attached! I’ll put all the names in a fetching velvet riding hat and let The Man draw one. I’ll email you if you’re chosen to get your address then snail mail you the gift card in early October.
The point of giving out these cards for the restaurant is to bring in new business, so I think this honors that idea. I would much rather introduce an EatJax reader to the place than pass this on to someone I know. Thanks to BlackFinn for the invitation and meal and good luck, readers!
Camera: Nikon d5000