Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the dedication of a new building space in Oberlin, Ohio with friend and Oberlin College alumnus Edsel. The project had been completed by a trio of Oberlin alumnae, one of whom was a mutual Facebook friend to Edsel and I. Since it has been literally twenty years since I stepped foot onto the Oberlin campus, I asked Edsel to recommend a place to eat after the ceremony was completed. While many college campus type options were available, only a couple of upscale options existed. The one Edsel suggested was Black River Cafe.
I had actually heard of Black River Cafe before and excited to finally get a chance to try this eatery, I quickly agreed. After the ceremony had come to an end, we made our way to 15 South Main Street, Oberlin, OH 44074. They can also be reached at 440-775-3663. At the time of this writing, Black River Cafe does not have their own website; however, they do have a Facebook fan page. While there was no specific parking lot available for the restaurant, metered parking was available on the street. Fortunately, since it was a Saturday night when we went, the parking was free.
The restaurant was located in a long line of storefront properties just off the main intersection by the college. Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:
Sitting on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was a chalkboard sign announcing some of the items on the menu for tonight's visit:
While I don't recommend showing up on a Saturday night without a reservation at 7:00 PM, fortunately because it was just Edsel and I, they were able to seat us within a very short ten minutes. While the menu was only one page (which I greatly liked), because it was fairly large, I took two photographs in order to capture the entire thing:
As you can see, gentle reader, the menu was broken up into small plates, salads, large plates, and sides; several dishes making an appearance in each category. It was clear that the goal of the restaurant and chef was cooking seasonally as many of the ingredients reflected this time of year. While we pondered what to order tonight, our server started us out with bread and olive oil.
Here was a shot of the bread:
And the plate of extra virgin olive oil she poured for us:
The bread was actually quite tasty, having a crumb with just a slight amount of resistance and a crust that was chewy without being crusty. The olive oil made a nice foil for the bread, adding in just a bit of pepperiness to each bite.
Looking over the menu, Edsel and I decided to split two of the small plates and then each order our own entrée. First up was the Cornmeal Crusted Fried Calamari with Sweet and Hot Peppers:
The peppers had been pickled and added a wonderful acidity that helped to cut through the fried calamari, which itself was done very well. Those who have tried to cook calamari before know that you either cook it a very short time or a very long time. Any place in the middle and you end up with chewy rubber bands. While not the ultimate in tenderness, Black River Cafe's version was still pretty darn tender. The peppers added just a touch of heat, enough to make the dish interesting without being overpowering.
The other small plate that we ordered was the Soft Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms, Porcini Cream Sauce, Parmesan and topped with a hint of Truffle Oil:
As soon as this plate was set in front of us, the gorgeous earthy smell from the truffle oil made me salivate even more. The polenta (cooked cornmeal) was indeed soft and creamy, but by itself, lacked salt. The sautéed mushrooms, however, made up for this deficiency by being properly seasoned. When eaten together, the corn flavor from the polenta was even more pronounced. Of the two starters, Edsel and I both agreed that the fried calamari dish was definitely better.
For my entree, I settled on the Half-Roasted Chicken with Acorn Squash Puree, Maple Jus and Fresh Green Beans:
Here was a shot of my plate from the opposite side:
The maple jus was drizzled around the plate. By itself, it was far too salty, even though the sweetness from the maple syrup did help to cut it slightly. When I combined it with the acorn squash puree, however, it's assertiveness was mitigated slightly and worked much better. The fresh green beans were cooked nicely and had both a tender and crunchy aspect to them. When I finally got around to the chicken, I noticed that the skin wasn't uniformly crispy, which would've added another textural element to the dish.
I started with the dark meat, the thigh and leg. While the dark meat wasn't overcooked, I could tell that it was a tad bit drier than it should have been. Edsel immediately made the comment that if the dark meat had been cooked this far, there was surprisingly little hope for moist breast meat. As someone who knows never to contradict an experienced foodie, it came as no shock that Edsel was right on the money. Here was a shot of the interior of the breast meat:
While I did enjoy the flavor of the chicken and the chicken skin, it had definitely been overcooked and that detracted from my overall enjoyment of the dish. Even with the aggressive maple jus and the overcooked meat and undercooked skin, I did actually enjoy eating the dish as a whole and would hope that were I to order it again that it would come out of the kitchen prepared perfectly the next time.
Edsel and I did ponder getting dessert for just a second, but both of us were too full to consider it longer than that. With tip and tax, my meal tonight at the Black River Cafe came to $30, which given the quality of the food was a good value. There were a few small errors along the way, but no real show stoppers. Knowing that a trip to Oberlin is an hour drive each way, I don't know that I personally would be seeking out regular trips to the restaurant, but if I happened to already be at the college, I can certainly see myself returning for another meal.