Blackfish opened its doors in September 2007 on Truro Center Road in a space that was originally a blacksmith shop, and then the well-loved Blacksmith Shop Restaurant for over 50 years. Chef and restaurateur Eric Jansen’s original idea was to open Blackfish as a gastro pub. Excited by April Bloomfield’s success at the Spotted Pig in New York City, he sought to do something similar in Truro. The name change was part of a conscious rebrand in an effort to reinvent the restaurant as something new, but the concept was adapted and refined to better suit the Cape Cod clientele once they opened.
“You only get one chance with the locals,” Jansen says, and you cannot force a concept, so he found a middle ground with an inventive upscale menu featuring seafood, meat and a selection of burger options, ranging from traditional to topping choices such as a panko fried duck egg and Hudson Valley foie gras torchon.
Even on a Monday night, the parking lot begins to steadily fill just before 5 pm when the restaurant opens, and by 7:30 customers walk up the road from the overflow parking spots. Blackfish is open from the first week of May through the first week of November and they average about 200 customers a night; they always have more requests for reservations than they are able to accommodate. Jansen is quick to give credit to his staff. “This is a family, this restaurant, we hang out together after work and in the off season, and I think that comes across and resonates with customers.” The turnover is low and even the staff that come through the H-2B visa program return each season.
Blackfish has 81 seats, including the front and back dining rooms and the bar, which is first come first serve. The decor is a mix of art that Jansen has collected and old relics from the space’s blacksmith shop past. A brick wall of the dining room showcases an anvil and giant bellows, and open ceilings with exposed beams add to the rustic barn feel while letting light and air into the somewhat dark space. The concrete bar by Derek Oliver hints at two whales with giant glowing eyes. An iron blackfish marks the top of the driveway and the front door is a big metal fish skeleton.
Blackfish prides itself on using fine ingredients and executing their menu well. “We embrace farm to table, but we look at it in more of a concentric circle sort of way,” Jansen explains. “Meaning we try to source locally right here in Truro, then we go out a little bit further and source a little bit more and then we go out a little bit further… so for us farm to table also means Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. As far as protein goes that’s not seafood related, we’re able to source some pork or beef sometimes locally, but for the most part we look to farm co-ops off Cape [to source meat].” He says that even with the recent farming boom on Cape Cod, the prohibitive cost of real estate means the farms are still limited, especially ones that raise livestock. “Another problem,” Jansen says, “which is a great problem to have, is that we’ve gotten so busy. It is hard for us sometimes to get the quantity [of local or foraged ingredients]. We take whatever we can get, but sometimes that only comes out to ten orders.”
These varying farmed and foraged ingredients often make their way into the three to five changing nightly specials and larger, more consistent crops of local produce, such as lettuce from Longnook Meadows Farm, are peppered throughout the seasonally changing menu. An expanding chef’s garden starts at the back of the kitchen and continues down the length of the parking lot and grows strawberries, mint, nasturtiums, blueberries, and other herbs and edibles.
“What we’re really looking for is what we feel is the best,” Jansen says. “If we’re not curing our own bacon, we really like Nueske’s out of Wisconsin. It’s not local and it’s not that close, but it’s really good bacon…super smoky and it’s what we like in bacon!” We includes Kevin Mandeville who has been the chef at Blackfish for six years. He was hired as the sous chef to cover Jansen’s days off, but quickly began to take on more responsibility.
“Kevin is faster than me and he’s better than me, so sometimes you just have to step aside,” Jansen says. Jansen still covers Mandeville’s night off and the two work together on the weekend nights. They also collaborate to test and refine the menu. With Mandeville as the creative force behind most of the food at Blackfish, Jansen is able to keep up with his other endeavors, which include Local 186, his burger restaurant in Provincetown, where he is also the chef some nights of the week; Crush Pad, the 26-foot food cart located at Truro Vineyards that he designed and operates; and a small catering company that he recently started with his two Blackfish business partners. Jansen says the concept and design are some of his favorite aspects of being in the food business and he is already looking around for his next project.
“We’ve tried to create a symbiotic relationship between the farmer and ourselves. We pretty much take whatever they’ll bring us and then we figure out how to use it,” Jansen says. Small quantities that don’t go into specials sometimes go to the food truck and are incorporated into the menu there. Mandeville is excited about a delivery of turnips that just arrived from a half mile up the road, “They’re baby Hakurei Japanese turnips… beautiful little white marbles, they’re so peppery and amazing. I’m going to roast them and figure a side out.”
The dining room and bar fill quickly as groups gather around tables covered with brown craft paper and topped with flickering tea lights and green Pellegrino bottles. Laughter, conversation, and clinking build to a steady hum and add to the warm ambiance of the restaurant. Dinner time!
The buttermilk-fried oyster was light and crispy and paired well with the slightly spicy mignonette sauce that Jansen developed from a Jamaican recipe. All of the oysters served at Blackfish come from Wellfleet and even the fried ones are shucked to order. The oysterman is also the bartender and one of Jansen’s business partners.
The scallop appetizer came with three perfectly seared day-boat scallops served on a Parmesan fondue and accompanied by thick Parmesan crisps. The roasted baby beet appetizer was at once simple and sophisticated. The tastes, colors, and textures balanced visually and gastronomically. The earthy trio of pink, purple, and golden beets glistened on a bed of light and citrusy orange curd flecked with sorrel leaves. Marcona almonds and a couple of beet chips added a touch of salt and crunch.
Jansen’s self-proclaimed love of crunch seemed evident in every dish. At Blackfish they are excited and passionate about food and all of its possibilities. “We make mistakes because we like to take some chances,” says Jansen. Most of the risks seem to be working out quite well. The salad made from Longnook Meadows Farm lettuces and shaved radishes topped with crispy shallots was a testament to good ingredients allowed to shine. The lettuce was tender and flavorful and stood out even with the spice of the radishes and the warm aromatic shallots, which brought the salad that signature crunch.
The all-lower-case menu seems to equalize the vegetables, sides and toppings with the proteins, and the dishes themselves prove the deliberateness of every element on the plate. The crispy skin haddock was tender under its crunchy blackened skin, and the bright green sweet pea hummus, served warm, and roasted carrots seemed to have equal consideration in the dish and were just as flavorful and delicious. The sides were a far cry from boring peas and carrots and would make a great dish on their own. Bits of candied orange added bursts of sweetness to complement the colorful medley of flavors on the plate.
This winter, Blackfish will open a pop-up location at Local 186 in Provincetown for the second time. The Blackfish pop-up was an effort to capitalize on the foot traffic of Provincetown and to keep their loyal staff working in the winter months. Jansen says, “It was successful beyond our expectations.” They lowered the prices, did a chalkboard menu and got to embrace some of the original gastro pub concepts.
“We could do things like meat loaf, mac and cheese, and collard greens…. It was a good different,” says Mandeville, who moved into the inn adjacent to the restaurant and barely left the premises because they were so busy. Jansen describes it as “a win-win for both restaurants. Local got a lot of customers from out this way who don’t normally go to P-Town.” And likewise, P-Towners who may have heard of Blackfish but had never made the journey to Truro, discovered it was worth the trip.
17 Truro Center Road, Truro
Open nightly starting at 5pm until the first week in November.