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Fruit on pizza has never caused a problem for Leader Eater. But there are those who are adamantly against any type of fruit gracing the top of baked dough and cheese. That dogmatic view towards the blending of pizza and fruit would foreseeably come from the most polarizing pizza topping combination of our time: Hawaiian. That love-it-or-hate-it blend of pineapple and ham blazed trails for fruit’s acceptance on pizza. Even though Leader Eater has come down on the pro side of the Hawaiian pizza preference, there was a little apprehension about ordering the Shiner, TX pizza ($13) at J. Black’s, a new casual diner and drinking room on the congested Washington corridor.
The pizza, named after the tiny Texas town with the reputable brewery, was a meeting of poblano pepper, spicy Shiner patek sausage and apples. Not only was this inclusion of tree-grown fruit the most ambitious topping of the nine pizzas on the menu (inching out lump crab), it was described as a Washington apple julienned, the handywork that produces thin, rectangular slices, presumably in efforts to elevate an apple’s place on pizza. The trepidation over an apple appearing on Leader Eater’s wheel was trumped by the possibility of trying out the Shiner sausage. Once it came out, the ‘zza and its headlining sausage did not overly excite Leader Eater. The pizza, though, was definitely a fitting dinner companion to a week night, after-work Old Fashioned ($8) cocktail.
Then again, J. Black’s is not really the appropriate venue to settle the score on a foodie feud, no matter how bourgeois the topic, or the place to seek out an unforgettable dinner. The third installment of the original Austin hang out is under no illusion that its food offerings are any more than a comfy, modern twist on bar grub. The menu is designed to play off the restaurant’s strong suit – a large, inviting and stylish watering hole. The immense space, reportedly more than 7,000 square feet and the previous home of the short-lived Phil’s BBQ, allows J. Black’s to have its main bar and high-tabled area in front for the raucous tavern experience while clusters of low-rise relaxed chairs and a built-in fireplace provides a casual scene at the back.
The buttoned-down approach of the menu, and inventive take on cocktails and craft beer offerings, had attracted the young professional crowd for happy hour, parents and their kids for a more refined take on casual family dining and even folks in their workout gear on a mid-week evening. Besides the usual sampling of starters and pizzas, which can be personalized with a long list of possible toppings, there are no true entrees on J. Black’s menu. Rather, traditional main course meals such as Australian lamb chop lollipops and steak frites are advertised as sharing plates; an ode to the joint’s invitation to kick back and hang out with friends. Even the restaurant’s burgers are built for multiple sets of hands, served as sliders.
J. Black’s is a welcome addition to the Washington scene because of its ability to attract a wide range of interest for its cool yet comfortable surroundings (think Earls for those who know the western US and Canada restaurant) that can hold its own as both a bar and an eatery, even one that serves fruit on its pizza.
110 S. Heights Blvd
Sharing plates and pizzas: $8-$18
Kid Friendly: probably best in the lounge at the back
LE’s pick: Old Fashioned