What’s cooking: Locals and travelers flock to Blackbird Bakery | Features

BRISTOL, Va. – For many across the region, Blackbird Bakery has become a favorite over the past 14 years. Its legions of fans include locals who drop in on the way to work, at lunch, or for an after-dinner treat. Others make it a routine destination from throughout the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia.

Still more, as we witnessed at least twice on a recent hour-long visit, are travelers on Interstate 81 who have been told it’s well worth their time to make Blackbird a pitstop.

With its downtown location and relatively long hours, Blackbird is definitely a gathering place, especially on evenings featuring live music. There’s plenty of seating on the main floor and in two loft areas.

It’s usually busy near the entrance and exit and along the counter, where customers pick from a wide selection of cakes, pies, tarts, cookie bars, brownies, brownie bars, cookies, donuts and cinnamon rolls.

But you can typically find seating away from the hustle and bustle. And Blackbird offers wonderful patio dining on the sidewalk out front, complete with umbrellas for shade.

Some folks haven’t yet discovered Blackbird on the Fly, the bakery’s offshoot drive-thru only. It’s located on Commonwealth Avenue closer to I-81.

We asked manager Carla Perkins to answer the following questions:

Q: How long has your restaurant been in operation?

A: We opened June 16, 2008.

Q: What do you consider the specialties at your restaurant and why?

A: Donuts, cakes and brownie towers are some of the things that are the most popular. We make donuts by hand. A real person mixes the ingredients and makes the dough then cuts them out. There are over 20 cake flavors on our menu, also made by hand. And our brownie towers are just the ultimate chocolate dessert.

Q: What is your culinary education and how did you learn to do what you do in the kitchen?

A: Some of our bakers have had formal training through culinary school, but most have learned on the job, starting with the simple recipes and working their way through to more complicated products like breads. I haven’t had formal training, just taught myself over the years.

Q: Explain in as much detail as possible why your restaurant is appealing to customers and how you maintain that ambience.

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A: We try to be that place where you can come in and get a great cup of coffee and a delicious pastry, plus sit and chat with a friend for as long as you want to. A place that you can come to after a dinner just to hang out and have dessert. Or the stop for grandparents to get a treat for their grandkids. A Saturday morning cinnamon roll as a weekly tradition. The place to bring your out-of-town friends or family.

But in addition, we want to be that bakery who has friendly customer service, who wants your special cake to be just what you want and you know that we care about every order, large or small.

Blackbird Bakery also wants the customer to be in a happy place. In the winter, the fireplace is going and there are comfortable chairs and a couch to gather. We have lamp lighting in our mezzanines and fireplace areas, instead of the more business-like fluorescent ceiling lights. The decor is made to be relaxing. Two nights per week we have music, often jazz and always family friendly. Local art often made by school children or community groups is displayed in one of our dining areas. Everyone should feel comfortable here, from the youngest to the oldest patron.

Q: Do you share recipes with your diners? If so, please share your favorite recipe.

A: We don’t really share recipes with customers.

Q: How do you think your restaurant differs from other restaurants in the Tri-Cities region?

A: Blackbird Bakery is unique in that we are not just a bakery or a coffee shop or a donut shop. Our hours are longer so that we can accommodate as many people as possible. Our menu is extensive, from donuts to cookies to birthday cakes and wedding cakes, plus coffee drinks and ice cream. If you have a sweet tooth, you can find something here at Blackbird.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of your location?

A: We love being downtown, near restaurants, shops and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Our patrons can walk right up the sidewalk to visit us after dinner at one of the State Street restaurants, or maybe after they have been to the library, or shopping for gifts. The biggest disadvantage is parking. Downtown parking is very limited, and we wish there were more space for that.

Q: How often do you change the menu at the restaurant and why?

A: Our menu doesn’t change much. We do add seasonal and holiday items several times throughout the year, but mostly we try to keep our cases stocked with as many goodies as we can.

Q: What’s your favorite cookbook?

A: “The Pastry Bible” or the “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” pie cookbook. There are too many to list, really.

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