To every thing there is a season ……
. . . and this is the season of fine dining in downtown Blacksburg, along with the season of independence and entrepreneurship for chef-couple Cunninghame and Linda West. Giles County native and once-again resident Cunninghame carries into town a storied career of culinary innovation at acclaimed restaurants with beaucoup stars in Seattle, Houston, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Hailing from Seattle, Linda graduated from the London Cordon Bleu and also worked at top restaurants in big cities.
About 10 years ago, the Wests moved to Giles County and opened The Bank Restaurant in Pearisburg. After four years, Cunninghame was enticed by a former boss to resume an executive chef position at Hotel Derek and Piero Selvaggio’s Valentino and Vin Bar in Houston. “It’s hard to go back to corporate after being independent,” Linda says. And the quiet, country lifestyle of Giles County and the New River Valley still beckoned as the best place to raise their young family.
“We knew that now the time was ripe not only for our own restaurant, but also for downtown Blacksburg,” they explain. “We walked the streets looking for the right place, the right building, the ambiance we knew we could create, and this Jackson Street address just hit the spot.”
Opening a restaurant is not a quick endeavor, however. Between meeting building codes and restaurant regulations, there are myriad equipment and organization decisions. Executive chef Cunninghame, and pastry chef Linda each have specific requirements for their work spaces and equipment. And that’s before the dining room decor, tables, chairs, dishes, silverware and name. “I always thought I’d name our own restaurant for a yellow door, but that simply didn’t work well here,” Linda relates. “We were tossing around names sitting in our home kitchen when our eyes landed on the wrought iron shelf with black hens. That’s it, we exclaimed: The Black Hen Restaurant and Bar Blue.”
The simple black and white decor exudes a clean, contemporary atmosphere tempered with rustic wood table tops and seating for up to 40. Bar Blue sports six bar stools and four small bar height tables. At first, there was a bar menu, but demand for dinner has been so strong since their late August opening that the bar area has been taken over by full dinner dining.
In warm months, patio tables with apple green umbrellas will provide another 30 seats on this quiet, downtown, one-way street. “We plan to bring back a shorter bar-style menu with small plate options such as crab cakes, seared ahi tuna, roasted Portobello mushrooms and our very popular cheese “slate” sampler for patrons not totally committed to a full dinner,” Cunninghame explains. In the meantime, it’s the perfect dinner spot for innovative cuisine like Sautéed Faroe Island Salmon or Organic Tofu with black rice, assorted vegetables, soy glaze and cilantro, alongside standard favorites such as Angus Flat Iron Steak, or Pan Roasted Filet Mignon or Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast. There’s a nod to gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and lactose-intolerant for appetizers and entrees, as well.
Fine wine and beer choices are abundant, and saving room for dessert is practically imperative. Linda’s pastry creations have been lauded in Bon Appetit Magazine as being “the jackpot at this [MGM] restaurant,” referring at the time to Michael Mina’s Sea Blue Restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Speaking from experience, indeed, her desserts are divine.
Both Cunninghame and Linda are highly trained, skilled, experienced and creative, and that makes The Black Hen Restaurant and Bar Blue one of the finest dining experiences to come to the New River Valley. Welcome home, chefs!
Black Hen Restaurant and Bar Blue
126 Jackson Street, Blacksburg
Tues-Sat. 5 p.m. to close