Black Sheep

by ERIN THURSBY
Black Sheep is still in its awkward stage, though it’s hidden behind a-cooler-than-thou facade. They’re still finding out what works, what doesn’t and trying to train their staff. In a month or so, they should have things figured out. The important thing is that Black Sheep has a great base to start from.
It’s not surprising that Black Sheep has some similarities to Chew, as the owners decided to close up the Downtown fav to focus on the build and development of this new venture. Like Chew, they cater to the lunch crowd, but unlike Chew, Black Sheep will get the traffic to support a dinner service.
Lunch at Black Sheep is a totally different experience than dinner, by the way. You order at the counter for lunch in their quick-moving line. If you buy a sandwich and a drink, it’s about $12-$16. At dinner with table service, things get more formal, less fast and more expensive.
Sound bounces around like crazy in the place, so while you might have trouble hearing your waiter, you can also somehow be privy to a conversation four tables over. Unless it’s busy. Then you won’t be able to hear much above the din of diners. But noise is pretty much standard in the more popular places where we nosh. The food is certainly good enough that Black Sheep shouldn’t be discounted because of it. Besides, they have a sweet full bar.
The feel is industrial bistro, with the sort of tiny tiles on the walls that look like they belong in a subway. The rest is wood, steel and glass, with some funky lighting accents. I’m stoked about the rooftop opening, which could happen in about a month.
I dove into the menu with their deep fried olives and a duck confit sandwich with lovely shoestring fries on the side, which are accompanied by ketchup and a delish ancho chile aioli. The first time I went, I decided to go during linner, between 2 pm and 4:45 pm. You can call it dunch instead of linner, either way, it’s when restaurants clean up from lunch and prepare for dinner. Black Sheep offers a more limited menu during this transition, but it’s still more than adequate for this diner’s needs.
The duck confit, at $14, was the most expensive thing on the linner/dunch bar menu. It is one of the least expensive entrees on the dinner menu. The sweetness in this sandwich was such a strident note that it eclipsed some of the other, more poignant notes of duck and Camembert. It was actually quite good the next day, when I ate it cold from the fridge. Generally, sweet and duck is a perfectly agreeable match, but because it was between two pieces of bread (excellent bread, I might add) the duck flavor was tamped down and the sweetness ended up overwhelming. Each ingredient in the sandwich was top-drawer, but all together, it didn’t win me. I dug the deep-fried olives, though.
When I came again for dinner service, I stuck to the appetizers. Out of everything I tried, the lemon basil ravioli is the thing that will bring me back again and again. It’s a $10 appetizer that you could get away with eating as a small meal.
The poutine is also worth coming back for, partially because it’s not a common menu item in Jacksonville and partially because it was well-executed. It’s an $8 appetizer, but because it’s starch-based (thick cut fries, cheese curds, gravy and smoke cured meat) it fills you up.
I also wholly endorse the truffled egg toast. It’s more of a lunch thing, but it’s so damn good, you might want to have eggs for dinner. The entree burger is middle of the road. It is grass-fed beef, and that tends to be on the leaner side.
The atmosphere of Black Sheep is trendy, but I don’t know if it’s high-end enough to call for more than half the dinner entree prices being over $25. I don’t object to them having things at that price-point–I just think there should be more options between $15-24 in the entree column.
What potential customers should know is this: portions are smallish, ingredients are excellent and locally sourced when possible.

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