Blackbird Tavern for large groups, intimate dining in Old Town Temecula

A unique “honey bear” light fixture shows the subtle whimsy of Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
A unique “honey bear” light fixture shows the subtle whimsy of Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula. Ashley Ludwig photos

Blackbird Tavern, off 5th and Front streets in Old Town Temecula, welcomes all with rustic whimsy and amazing flavors. Founded in 2013, the barn-style building has charm to spare, in the self-described continual pub experiment.

“We started out as a pub, but Blackbird Tavern has morphed into something unexpected,” owner Julian Nelson said.

Behind the bar, the welcome sign.

Blackbird Tavern is rising as an event location for Old Town Temecula, already booking events, rehearsal dinners, and group gatherings into November of 2016. As we strolled through the brick and concrete interior, it also holds a “mountain resort” appeal, combined with the SoCal charm. Window boxes stuffed with succulent plants, the larger than life chalkboard menus and drawings, and the honey bear light fixture over the host stand. Taste is the word of the day at Blackbird Tavern.

Walk in, and the restaurant keeps going, with expansive dining area behind the deceptively small 5th Street façade. Out a rolling glass door, the open air patio “yard” boasts fire pit seats, booth seating, sidewalk chalk for the kiddos, and grassy area with enclosed yet open feel. Blackbird Tavern is an ideal location for Wednesday night’s specials for wood fired pizza and pints, or any number of special events such as the tavern’s frequent Campfire Sessions over the summer months.

Blackbird Tavern’s sign atop the fireplace mantel in Old Town Temecula restaurant.
Blackbird Tavern’s sign atop the fireplace mantel in Old Town Temecula restaurant.
Menus inside old record albums harken the whimsy and flavor of this gem in Old Town Temecula’s dining district.
Menus inside old record albums harken the whimsy and flavor of this gem in Old Town Temecula’s dining district.
(l.) Chef Jonathan Perez and Sous Chef Algiers Castro of Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
(l.) Chef Jonathan Perez and Sous Chef Algiers Castro of Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Take a Trip to Brussels, fried Brussel Sprouts, French fried scallions, and farm fresh fried egg at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Take a Trip to Brussels, fried Brussel Sprouts, French fried scallions, and farm fresh fried egg at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Roasted Beets salad served with citrus dressing and goat cheese at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Roasted Beets salad served with citrus dressing and goat cheese at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Verde Wood Burning Pizza an ideal sharable menu item at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Verde Wood Burning Pizza an ideal sharable menu item at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Scallops on Scallops, a flavorful seafood delicacy at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Scallops on Scallops, a flavorful seafood delicacy at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Family friendly atmosphere abounds at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.
Family friendly atmosphere abounds at Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula.

Prices range from the $6 Brown Bag Special Sharable to low $20s for dinner favorites—such as the scallops, barramundi, or pork chops. All are worth the price of admission for lunch, or a night on the town. Nelson, together with Blackbird Tavern’s Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Perez and sous chef Algier Castro, are constantly seeking ways to better serve their clientele.

On a cloudy afternoon, Perez and Castro served up some old favorites and new creations for us to sample. With a little something from the Shared, Soups and Greens, Wood Burning Pizza menu—the same for both lunch and dinner—and a specialty from The Main Course, dinner menu only, Blackbird Tavern promises to be a place we return with a plethora of friends and family.

Lunch time on a weekday, tables are available for ready seating. Blackbird Tavern offers indoor and outdoor dining. Family friendly, Nelson and his wife Jill have created a welcoming atmosphere for all ages. Large groups are easily accommodated, when you plan in advance, with varying menu options and prices per head from farm-style family fare—with starch, veggie, protein platters, to individual menu offerings. Behind the bar, the mixologist’s unique creations, along with craft beer, and local/California wines will please any palate.

This is the year of the Brussel sprout, and Blackbird Tavern’s Trip to Brussels is a meal in and of itself.

“Fried, fried, and fried,” Perez said with a smile as the bountiful, highly sharable portion was served up.

These julienned, fresh Brussel sprouts are fried, served with crispy fried, delicate shallot strings, and topped with a fried, farm fresh egg all tossed with capers and a mustard vinaigrette. A unique twist, excellent on a chilly day, this bowl combines crisp and tender textures, with warmth and farm fresh goodness.

“I’ve had a few dozen bowls myself,” Nelson said of the Trip to Brussels. “It has been on the menu forever, and people would likely string me up if I took it off. People feel the same way about the roasted beets.”

A picture of farm freshness, the platter of earthy roasted beets, tossed in a honey-balsamic vinaigrette, and served on a mix of baby kale and arugula greens, with citrus slices and creamy farm fresh goat cheese. This highly sharable dish—a favorite among regulars, according to Nelson—is well-balanced in both flavor and consistency. The mellow cheese is a perfect pairing with the rich, roasted root veggie salad.

Next up was from the Wood Burning Pizza selections. We enjoyed the Verde Pizza. A Neapolitan style thin crust, this wood fired pizza starts with an arugula pesto, topped with roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, generous portions of mozzarella, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Smoky flavors abound in this flavorful pizza, and this will definitely be a must-order upon our return.

For our dinner entrée, the Scallop on Scallop commanded attention. It arrived with fire roasted, searing hot scallops served atop scallop potatoes, with buttered farm fresh peas, and creamed corn to finish. The dish arrived with mouth-watering aromas and the visual display of seared scallops. Cooked to perfection, the ocean-fresh scallops that burst to perfection with each bite. When combined with the layered scallop potatoes, a mix of sweet to counter the salty in a once again balanced dish. All three together, with the creamed corn, or individually, was a taste-sensation. Castro outdid himself with this creation.

Nelson took a moment to chat while we enjoyed the meal, and discussed the finer points of Old Town Temecula’s restaurant scene.

“It’s exciting watching Old Town evolve,” he said. “It’s packed here on Friday nights, but midweek there are always places to eat, to enjoy for the locals.”

The 5th Street Corridor, as owners call it, is highly stroll able for Old Town visitors. With shops, restaurants, and bars all within walking distance in this one location, Blackbird Tavern is the perfect place to start for groups of any size to dine in Old Town.

“The special events and rehearsal dinners are definitely working in our favor,” Nelson said. Blackbird Tavern recommends planning ahead for groups of 10 or more. Prices for large groups can range from $25 to $35 per person, with no venue rental fees.

A family man, Nelson looks forward to a summer packed with the brand new Movie Nights. “I strive to balance family and the restaurant. We want Blackbird Tavern to be welcoming to all.”

Blackbird Tavern is located at 41958 5th St. in Old Town Temecula.  To call ahead for information or reservations, phone (951) 699-9150.

Follow Blackbird Tavern on Facebook for specials, special events, and menu changes at www.facebook.com/blackbirdtemecula.

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