Before it opened as a restaurant in May, Black Iron Bystro was last a print shop. The space still has an industrial feel, albeit a factory cobbled together by avid recyclers. The lighting fixtures include a mixture of do-it-yourself and retro numbers, but the menu is resolutely original. There are unusual combinations, like scallops on spinach with black-eyed peas and red wine reduction. There also are duded-up throwback dishes such as tuna croquettes, whose deep-fried crunch evokes pleasant memories of childhood tuna fish sandwiches. At some point, finding food like this in an area near Bethlehem Steel’s ghost, where culinary innovation means barbecue sauce on wings, won’t be surprising any more. Not yet, though.
Chef-owner Bryan Mecozzi is a former Vera Pizzeria sous chef who spent his time off work fixing up this space. It was his great-uncle’s print shop, and he and his crew pieced together fixtures over the years to furnish it.
I’m all for recycling, until I’m trying to figure out how to comfortably fit my legs under a homemade table whose uneven top makes me careful where I put my glass. I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this. At least two-thirds of the seating was just fine. But if you’re old enough to remember phones with dials, get there when there are still seats to choose from.
That said, Mecozzi’s cooking was technically adept and interesting enough to bring me back for more. Those tuna croquettes ($9) are one example. Six prune-sized nuggets are fried to a golden brown with mustard seed lemon mayonnaise for dipping. “Tuna Tots,” Cat said, nailing what pleased about the crusty bites.
Duck sliders ($17) was a pricey appetizer, but the duck delivered, rosy slices on a griddled herb bun with cranberry compote for tart sweetness and creamy fennel slaw for crunch. Alongside it was a triangle of rutabaga blue cheese gratin that was my second favorite bite of the night, a heady blend of bittersweet carrot and funky cheese flavor. My only complaint is I couldn’t get a bigger piece.
Other appetizers were farmhouse frites ($7) and arancini ($8). The fries were skin-on, hand-cut potatoes that were cooked well enough, though some were surprisingly chewy, and overpowered with black pepper. The golf ball-sized arancini were served in a chunky, spicy tomato sauce and fried to a crunch.
Our entrees showed distinctive touches, a refusal to stop at the predictable dish. Six large scallops ($19) were well-seared but still spoon-tender, arranged around spinach that had been sautéed with onion, roasted red pepper and black-eyed peas. The legumes added heartiness to the greens, but not much to my overall appreciation of the dish.
I could have done without the kidney beans atop the shrimp and grits ($17), though. The cornmeal mush was well-seasoned and pleasantly cheesy, the shrimp plump and not overcooked. I could have stopped there, or even accepted that the sauté included onions and peas. But the plentiful kidney beans and a ring of fried wontons seemed like over-elaboration, distractions, compared to my favorite versions.
My Cornish game hen ($19) was a mini-chicken with bronzed skin bearing a patch of Parmesan cheese crusted atop it, like snow on a boulder. The bird was cooked well, tender to the bone, and the skin was delightfully rendered. I thought it would have benefited from more seasoning, and the spaghetti squash pillow beneath it lacked salt. But I was glad to see the squash there, along with chard that still retained a bit of crunch. Who needs any more mashed potatoes and broccoli?
Cat’s cider-glazed pork ($15) was simple and delicious. Sticky-sweet bone-in pork was piled on earthy celeriac-parsnip puree, and supported with perfectly cooked green beans. Hearty, homey and satisfying.
The menu was tiny, under 20 dishes total. There were two desserts, apple crisp and lemon rosemary scones (both $6). The glazed scones were airily light, with breaths of herbal flavor when you bit one of the rosemary speckles. The apple dessert had enough flour that it was more of a moist apple cake with an oatmeal topping, but who cares about nomenclature. It had a crisped top, held tender fruit and was delicious, especially with a swipe through the accompanying caramel coffee sauce. It was such a treat I ordered a second piece, on the grounds that we were four people, but then I ate most of that one, too.
Our server was prompt and precise, and well informed about what the kitchen had to offer.
Black Iron Bystro is just starting out, but it’s already shown determination that the same old thing isn’t enough any more. Chef Mecozzi is showing steel by offering original dishes outside of hipsterville, and I look forward to seeing what emerges from his forge.
Black Iron Bystro - 7 plates (out of 10)
Refined throwback dishes, new sensations in former print shop are expanding Blasdell’s menu.
WHERE: 3648 South Park Ave., Blasdell (240-9830)
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday; and closed Sunday and Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Starters, $7-$14; sandwiches, $10-$17; and entrees, $15-$19.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.