Chef Mark Schmidt's long-awaited return does not disappoint
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., June 6, 2014
Happy Hour: Tue.-Fri., 3-6pm
After closing their fantastic Cafe 909 in Marble Falls in 2008, it was my hope that owners Mark and Shelly Schmidt would return to Austin to open another restaurant. Finally, after a few stints working for other entrepreneurs in Austin, Houston, and Dallas, chef Mark Schmidt has a place to call his very own, just north of campus. Named after one of the Schmidts' three dogs and taking a cue from traditional British neighborhood eateries, Blackbird and Henry showcases everything that has made Schmidt one of the country's most acclaimed chefs.
The idea behind B&H is to feature simple fare, with influences that range from Cafe 909 favorites with new twists to dishes inspired by Schmidt's British upbringing and the couple's extensive travels through Europe. The overall aim is to create a neighborhood space where friends can gather over a pint, an expertly made cocktail, or a selection from the outstanding wine list curated by Shelly Schmidt, a sommelier. The cocktail menu was designed by local bar consultant Lara Nixon and has continued growing under the watchful eye of bartendress extraordinaire Allison Green. The bar also serves a number of libations on tap, including beer (in true British fashion, they offer Iron Maiden Trooper ale!) and a very tasty gin and house-made tonic. Happy Hour is Tuesday through Friday, 3-6pm.
The menu offers affordable, yet way-above-average options for dinner, lunch, and brunch, and Schmidt prides himself on making all sauces and condiments in-house. The atmosphere is comfortable and pleasant while remaining elegant and cozy. But I am sure that once people find out about this gem, boisterous evenings of wining and dining will ensue. I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits for lunch and dinner, receiving excellent service at both the bar and in the dining room. I suggest you enjoy offerings from the seafood bar, including fresh oysters with house-made accompaniments, a ceviche of the day, a refreshing crab and shrimp cocktail ($15), and pan-roasted oysters "Grand Central" style ($10). The starters are varied and run the spectrum from steamed mussels ($12) to curried prawn kedgeree ($11), a classic British dish of Indian origin featuring flaked house-smoked trout, couscous, cilantro, hard-boiled quail eggs, and topped with large grilled prawns and crispy chickpea chips.
I highly recommend the grilled romaine salad ($8), dressed with fresh tomato vinaigrette, garlic confit, and shaved Parmesan, as one of the best salads I've ever had. The Henry burger ($12) has to be in contention for best in town. The kitchen grinds the meat daily – a mix of brisket, round, and other secret cuts – and hand-shapes the patties which are cooked to desired temperature and topped with aged Texas cheddar and ale mustard. And the triple-baked fries that come with it are so addicting I may challenge you to stop eating them before you even take a bite of the burger. The chicken schnitzel ($12) is served at lunch only, but I wish it was also available for dinner. The thin-sliced, breaded chicken breast is lovingly crowned by a delicate butter sauce with capers, parsley, grilled lemon, and tender spring asparagus on top, with fingerling potato salad on the side.
From the rotisseries we loved the leg of Texas lamb ($24), which is marinated in a fresh mint agrodolce as a novel nod to the classic British mint jelly. For the side we chose the seasonal vegetables, roasted under the meat so they are doused with the meat drippings. The portion was generous and would have been enough for two, but we had to try the seared duck breast ($26), served with basmati and wild rice fried with duck confit, asparagus tips, and duck egg. For dessert, the bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with shortbread crust and salted-caramel ice cream from Lick ($7) is unbelievable. And longtime regulars will rejoice to see the Cafe 909 frozen pistachio parfait ($7) back on the menu. I am looking forward to visiting Wednesday nights for the "Curry and a Pint" special, when Schmidt serves a different curry – Indian, Thai, Indonesian, or whatever else strikes his fancy – paired with a suitable brew. I also can't wait to come in to try the new Sunday brunch.
Mark Schmidt was cooking with local products before the term was en vogue, and he continues doing so every chance he gets. This also means including wines from Lewis Dickson, whose La Cruz de Comal are amongst Texas' finest vinos. I cannot recommend visiting Blackbird and Henry more wholeheartedly.