If you are from Northern Rhode Island, chances are you’ve eaten at Blackie’s Bull Dog Tavern. If you’re not from Northern Rhode Island, you’ve probably heard about this laid-back pub with a from-scratch menu and lively crowd. Well, your friends at Providence Eats had enough of hearing about how amazing Blackie’s is and decided to take the 20 minute drive to Smithfield to indulge ourselves. It was VERY well worth it.
For a Wednesday evening, we were surprised when we pulled in to find the parking lot almost full. We were instantly greeted by Nicole Palumbo, Brand Manager and Jeanine Iannucci, General Manager and Co-Owner. These ladies were warm, friendly and passionate about their pub.
Jeanine describes her opening of Blackie’s as “fate”. With an extensive background in furniture sales, she never pictured herself in the food industry. She loved to cook – and people loved to eat her cooking. And so, it was one of her pizzas that encouraged a colleague to ask her to manage an upscale, fine dining restaurant he was opening in Smithfield. She had no experience in the restaurant business, and her close-knit, Italian family called her crazy, but she felt as though she needed to accept the offer. Jeanine took a chance and became the General Manager of Rocco Italian Osteria.
However, the Osteria closed it’s doors in 2010 – it was not placed in the right location to achieve great success. Jeanine was devastated until three months later, the owner came to her and said, “We’re opening a tavern. You have three months to do it.” Challenge accepted.
But the challenge was difficult. It was hard to find a chef, which forced the kitchen to rely on frozen, simple foods. The tavern wasn’t what the original owners had planned for, and they were considering closing the doors. The arrival of Angie Armenise’s resume was, again, fate.
Angie began her career in the Chicago restaurant industry at age 15, starting from the bottom and working her way up tirelessly. She moved to Rhode Island to receive her education at Johnson & Wales, where she soaked up every drop of education and experience she could. During her freshman year, she was promoted to Executive Chef at a well-known Rhode Island dining establishment, was working toward her culinary degree, and was stressed beyond belief. However, it would soon all be worth it as she graduated the top of her class and went on to open four more restaurants with the company, eventually becoming their Corporate Chef overseeing all 7 establishments.
After eleven years in her position, Angie switched paths and began working at a University. However, she still felt a calling for something more. It was around this time when she sent Jeanine her resume on a whim. They met, an offer was made, she accepted. Now the true challenge awaited: saving Blackie’s Bull Dog tavern.
After a month of working together, Jeanine asked Angie to buy Blackie’s with her. This December will mark their 6 year anniversary of ownership. Their success comes from a simple fact: they care. Every plate, every encounter, every drink presentation – all the details are thought out with care and creativity. These women had a vision six years ago and its safe to say they have achieved it, but continue their great success because they don’t get lazy. There are no short cuts for them.
So there’s the story of Blackie’s. It will help you appreciate the experience even more when you visit. But now its time to talk food!
The bar area and dining room were completely filled. We had a table waiting for us with one of the most helpful, cheerful waitresses we’ve had in a while – thanks, Steph! We were taken back by how easy Blackie’s made eating healthy, with a regular menu, a gluten-free menu, and a paleo menu. Each menu had an assortment of classic pub appetizers along with unique items we’ve never heard of, burgers on burgers and sandwiches on sandwiches, entrees and gourmet plates, and more. It took us quite a while to make our choices, but we did so with some recommendations from Steph.
Since their new Fall/Winter menu had just debuted, I decided to get some seasonal cocktails. I ordered a “Cranberry Margarita” (pictured below, left), which was suggested by our waitress: Cazadores Tequilla, cranberry juice, house made sour mix, and cranberry jam. It was sweet and delicious! I then ordered the “Original Cinn” (pictured below, right): Diplomatica Reserve rum, Harvest simple, Jaswell’s Farm apple cider, fresh lemon and a cinnamon stick. It was the perfect fall drink. Their cocktail and beer list was impressive!
For appetizers, we were very torn – their sharable plates ALL sounded amazing. We ordered the Buffalo Chicken Dip – Holy HOT! It was amazing and the portion was huge, so I even got to take some home. We also ordered the Cheeseburger Rangoons…yes, you heard me right. I cannot rave about the flavor of these enough. I haven’t stopped thinking about them! Consider these to be one perfect bite of a cheeseburger, fries, ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomato, lettuce, crispy wonton and special sauce. Amazing.