The brand-new Black Duck Tavern is a fifty-fifty split between gastro and pub. Both rooms are defined by exposed brick, floor to ceiling windows, and wood ceiling panels. The pub side is darker, with muted pendant lights and a nice mix of bar, high tops, and a couch, which is where I’d be headed if I was just here for a drink. On this day though, it was the brighter dining room for my party of five, including my wife and infant son.
This bar is mostly about beer and cocktails, with a handful of wines for the stubborn. Black Duck has about a dozen craft beers on draught, with a large New England emphasis: Shaidzon, Grey Sail, and Revival make up the Rhode Island contingent.
Only one of our party went for beer, an unrepentant Blue Moon drinker ($4). The rest of us stiffened up with a Whiskey Sour Smash ($9) an Old Fashioned ($9) and a Southside ($8). My sister-in-law Carley isn’t normally a whiskey girl, but she loved the Smash, thanks to the sorbet-like lemon rock in her tumbler. My Old Fashioned was the brighter approach with the orange slice and cherry, and it hit the spot, plenty hard. Finally, my wife’s Southside was a classic combo of gin and mint, refreshing as ever.
The menu effectively bridges the gap between restaurant and tavern. Small plates, burgers, and sandwiches were for the munchers, while more involved entrees awaited people in the dining room. The cuisine was an all-American mix of New England fare - like the EP Risotto with fresh mussels and clams with chourico - and Old World traditions, like Spaetzle and Cottage Pot Pie. There’s also a bit of southern hospitality with cornbread and Nashville Hot Fried Chicken.
For appetizers, our Bibb Lettuce Wraps ($7) and Fried Pickles and Chips ($6) fell on two ends of the health spectrum, but both made for perfect finger food. The crisp bibb lettuce was wrapped around chunks of curried veggies and chickpeas, making for a nice contrast of texture, while the earthy roasted veggies were complemented perfectly by the sharp lime aioli. The pickles and chips were just that, with chips made in-house, and everything nicely fried. The Cajun aioli was incredibly addictive, a stunning match for the pickles. If you are just here for drinks and want a classic salty bar snack, you’d never go wrong with these.
My wife’s Salmon ($17) was a hit, with both her and our little chubby thief. An ample piece of salmon was encrusted with mild Moroccan spices and served over wilting spinach and button mushrooms. Accompanied by a chickpea salad, the dish was clean and well composed. My Cottage Pot Pie ($15), broken down in parts was familiar enough: good gravy and ground beef, lovely mashers.
My in-laws Mike and Carley did dueling burgers; the Tavern Burger ($13) and the Veggie Burger ($12). The Tavern Burger was destroyed in a matter of minutes, but I was able to steal a great little bite. Smoked Raclette, mushrooms and onions met a fat piece of cow on some airy brioche, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Mike was easily the victor of the burger wars, with Carley’s black bean burger a little bit bland.
No meal with the Cairnses is complete without ordering a dessert we don’t quite have room for. The service, excellent to the last, split two orders of warm cornbread into four portions ($7). I admit, I may have eaten three of them. Our meal ended in cornbread, vanilla ice cream, homemade peanut brittle, caramel and a bit of Tuile. Well, at least we had a bit of a walk ahead of us.
Black Duck Tavern
31 Warren Avenue, East Providence • 401-434-8703