Black-Eyed Susans, Assertive Flavors, Inspired Pairings

If it’s your first evening visit to Black-Eyed Susan’s , you might be surprised that all their dinner offerings fit on one side of an 8 x 11 menu. But after you read the menu and understand the range of the chefs in this small island eatery, you’ll realize that’s all they need to please their patrons.

Executive Chef and Co-Owner Jeff Worster is bold enough to create dishes that you’ve probably never before tasted, and this is a kitchen fond of surprises. The menu is spare in its descriptions—each is really just a list of the main ingredients— so you’re putting yourself in the hands of this talented chef when you dine here. Good thing Worster’s team cooks with confidence: every plate served here delivers on its promise with assertive flavors and inspired pairings.

With just four appetizers and four seasonal entrees, our team tasted everything on their fall menu… everything but the trio of regular offerings. On every Black-Eyed Susan’s dinner menu that we can remember (and they go back a ways!), there have been three dishes that haven’t changed: Whole Leaf Caesar Salad, Capellini, and Linguini with Local Quahogs. These can be ordered in half portions or full, and we know patrons who dream of these (especially the Linguini) from November to April, when the restaurant reopens for the season.

We began our recent meal with Kaboucha Squash and Ginger Bisque. Chef Worster always includes a soup on the dinner menu, and it’s always delicious. This turned out to be a bowlful of warm flavors with a whisper of sweetness topped with rich bulgogi beef, the sharp taste of scallions, and a light crunch of kimchi.

We enjoyed the Black-Eyed’s Chopped Salad, a hearty mix of radicchio and napa cabbage dressed in a tahini that adds a deeply savory taste with a scattering of fun and crunchy chickpea “pebbles,” but if you want a cold appetizer we recommend the Yam Pra Muek. It’s vibrant, fresh, spicy, crunchy, sharp, and tangy in just the right proportion. This spicy seafood salad combines the four elements of Thai cooking: salt, sweet, bitter and sour. Tender rings and tentacles of squid, Chinese celery, sweet cherry tomatoes at their peak in beautiful combination with Kaffir lime leaf, plenty of cilantro, and crispy bits of onion.

Food on a stick is a Fall fair favorite, but we rarely see it served in a fine dining setting. But Black-Eyed Susan’s seems to revel in breaking the rules, much to their patrons’ delight! Especially when the result is something as good as their Mexican Street Corndog. Meaty and succulent, the plump wagyu beef hot dog is given a crunchy cornmeal coating and topped with a luscious lime crema that helps the crumbled queso fresco and scallions cling to it. Chili and cilantro add even more flavor and heat.

You can usually count on at least one special addition to the menu, and very frequently that will be Chef Worster’s Tuna Tartar. A stunning dish featuring deep red, sparkling fresh tuna chopped in medium-small dice and topped with tiny cubes of cool, crisp cucumber, the tuna is served simply with a side of chili aioli and scallion pancake. It’s the perfect starter: a dish that is so good you yearn for more but light enough that it won’t eclipse the main course.

It’s wrong to call anything served at Black-Eyed Susan’s “comfort food” because there is nothing traditional or nostalgic about any of their dishes. But the Free Range Chicken Paillard is very satisfying and, well, comforting. The centerpiece of the dish is perfectly seared chicken that tastes gloriously of itself. A square of shredded sweet potatoes deliciously browned and crunchy on the outside, sweet and moist inside, is placed on top with a handful of wilted Swiss chard. Jus spiked with Reisling and flavored with cilantro surrounds the chicken.

In the vein of making casual food something elegant (remember the corndog?) the Braised Lamb Meatballs present all the hearty flavors of a meatball sandwich elevated by using lamb for the meatballs and replacing the deli cheese with a salty grilled halloumi. This is served open-face on a thick slice of grilled ciabatta, surrounded by eggplant puttanesca with lots of capers.

It can be difficult to make an exciting entree featuring a mild fish without overpowering it, but leave it to the chefs at Black-Eyed Susan’s to succeed. Their Seared Atlantic Halibut is a dish full of savory flavor. The well-seasoned and perfectly cooked fish is bathed in an onion-bacon dashi with tender slices of fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus that tastes delightfully of bacon, garnished with wasabi sprouts

With a deep russet crust on top and light pink underneath, we only had to tap the Tandoori Faroe Island Salmon with our forks to see it come apart in big, moist flakes and know it would be superb. The fish is topped with a brilliant apricot-ginger chutney, and served on an umami background of mildly seasoned yellow dahl, fresh spinach leaves, and cilantro.

There are only two desserts offered at Black-Eyed Susan’s, but as with the appetizers and entrees, that’s all they need. There’s a rich, dark Chocolate Pot de Creme with a trio of tasty cookies, coconut macaroon, sugar cookie, and white chocolate chip. And there’s our perennial favorite: the housemade Gelato with warm cinnamon tortilla. Last week Chef Worster’s gelato was a luscious autumnal pumpkin- maple-ginger, but no matter what flavor he features next week, we’re confident it will be delicious!

Black-Eyed Susan’s
open through late-October at 10 India Street
stop by or call 508-325-0308 for reservations
Breakfast served from 7 am to 1 p.m.
Dinner served Mon.-Sat. from 6 to 10 pm
Seatings are at 6 pm, 7:30 pm, and 9:15 pm
entree prices range from $26 to $29
BYOB, corkage fee •
Cash or checks only, no credit cards
black-eyedsusans.com