Executive chef James Watterson adds the finishing touches to a pan-seared Norwegian salmon dinner with a butternut squash, succotash and port wine reduction.

Archived Story

Blackhawk Grille

Published 8:55am Thursday, March 1, 2012

Barboursville, W.Va., restaurant about atmosphere, appetizing cuisine

The Greenbrier Room provides an atmosphere to match the upscale dining experience patrons find at the Blackhawk Grille.

Cozily planted along Main Street in the quaint Village of Barboursville, W.Va., the Blackhawk Grille has been the setting for fine dining for the past 11 years.

Step under the green and white striped awning, and open the large, dark wooden and glass doors to find rooms full of character and history.

Joel Hankins, Blackhawk Grille’s owner and manager, said the building itself is more than 100 years old. He said his family completed a major remodeling in 1978, combining three buildings into one.

Much of the décor in the rooms reflects historical charm by bringing in furniture and fixtures from other times and places.

The booths in the restaurant are fashioned after dining cars on a train, with three of the booths near the window in the “Oyster Bar” room actual train seats. Train memorabilia adorns the walls. Hankins said he comes from a line of railroad buffs.

“My grandfather was a land surveyor for the C&O Railroad and we have had a lifelong association with railroads,” Hankins said.

In the main dining area, dark, stamped metal tiles decorate the ceiling. White linen tablecloths and napkins, as well as glass stemware, decorate the tables. To the left is the bar, with heavy dark wood and stools, all illuminated with stained glass lighting above.

The next room to the right, known as the “Oyster Bar,” gets its name from the authentic oyster bar from the early ‘80s, when the restaurant Gatsby’s was there. While no longer an actual oyster bar, the look remains the same.

The banquet room is next, known as the Greenbrier Room due to the all of the Greenbrier memorabilia on the walls, and seats up to 50 people. Often used for parties, office events and receptions, the room can accommodate just about any kind of gathering. It is advised to give a minimum of a week’s notice when planning an event, to ensure availability and adequate food supply.

Beyond the main dining room is a rectangular shaped room, known as “The Library,” and is ideal for smaller parties.

Executive chef James Watterson describes the restaurant as upper scale, but “casual dining in a classical ambiance.” Meal prices range from $21 to $40.

Hankins said the restaurant has been successful. “Our Christmas season was wonderful,” he said. “We have quite a bit of repeat business.”

Reservations are preferred, and the restaurant is currently taking reservations for Valentine’s Day.

Hankins describes the food at Blackhawk Grille as fine American cuisine with an emphasis on seafood and steaks. The menu changes seasonally. The appetizers offered include seared sea scallops with prosciutto and leak buerre blanc, roasted red pepper and three-cheese fondue and veal and herb cheese stuffed mushrooms, to name a few.

Soups include lobster bisque and a soup du jour, and the salad menu offers four choices to accent the meals.

The main courses include twin South African Lobster Tails, along with roasted potatoes and the chef’s vegetables or New York strip steak with garlic herb butter, served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Wild salmon, herb chicken and grilled pork chops are among the many other choices.

Chef Watterson said the steak and fish are the most popular of the menu items.

“We are sort of known for our fresh seafood,” Hankins added, with seafood brought in twice, sometimes three times weekly, always fresh.

“For appetizers, the scallops are probably our most popular dish,” Hankins said.

Watterson said the Norwegian salmon is one of the most popular entrees, second to the steak.

Watterson said his favorite item on the menu is the grilled cobia.

“It’s a unique, flavorful fish that isn’t seen in these parts much,” he said. “It’s a really delicate fish. I grill it. I am big on pan-searing just about everything, but that fish is the one fish I like to grill. The sauce that comes with it is incredible too. A coconut Thai chili sauce.”

“I think he is the best chef in the Tri-State area,” Hankins said of Watterson. “He is fantastic and I think he is aces. The feedback we’ve gotten since he has taken over… He has really invigorated the menu and made it his own.”

While the restaurant doesn’t have a children’s menu, Watterson and his culinary team of five are happy to make food that will please the palates of the younger crowd. He will whip up some handmade battered chicken tenders or hand-cut fries, or a fresh batch of macaroni and cheese.

“I always keep dry macaroni and if there are a few kids out there, we can make cheese sauce in no time,” Watterson said. The chef is also accommodating to vegetarians. While there isn’t a special menu, he is sure to put together a delicious meal that fits the needs of his customers upon request.

The desserts include a chocolate mousse, vanilla bean cheesecake and a Madagascar vanilla crème brulee, to name a few.

Hankins said the restaurant has a very nice wine list, with an emphasis on California wines, but also offers several European wines as well.

The restaurant also does catering, on and off site.

Watterson graduated from the Academy of Culinary Arts in Lakewood, Florida, in 1999. He had originally planned on studying psychology, but changed his mind at the last second.

“I’m happy with the path I chose,” he said. “I’m an artist. Food is my passion.”

When asked for any tips on ordering a meal, Watterson said it’s all about the temperature.

“As far as something like a salmon, a lot of people don’t know you should really take a temperature on it,” he said, meaning specifying if the customer wants it well-done, medium, or rare. While it is common to do this with steak, it is often overlooked in fish and customers can end up getting a fish that could have tasted better to them.

Watterson said salmon is usually preferred medium, though some people dislike seeing any rawness in it.

Chef Watterson has a vision for the kind of experience he wants his customers to have when they visit the Blackhawk Grille.

“What I like to say, you walk away feeling you’ve had big-city food. You walk away happy and you feel like you’ve walked out of a place in Cincinnati, but it’s in the little city of Barboursville.”

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