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Ewe oughta know about Black Sheep 

A drawn-out brunch at downtown’s Black Sheep Restaurant is full of unforgettable flavours.

click to enlarge Black Sheep’s fried chicken sandwich is one of the best in town.
  • Black Sheep’s fried chicken sandwich is one of the best in town.

If you look at the restaurant community as a family, Black Sheep is by no means the disgraceful brother or ne'er-do-well sister. It is run by a duo of chef-owners, Dave Woodley and John House, who previously worked together at Gio.

Gio has long been a bit of a hidden gem, even if some of the gleam has rubbed off in recent years. For years the hotel restaurant has proven itself as a stomping ground for raw potential—chefs like Bee Choo Char and Vince Scigliano—with its thoughtful menu, refined plating and tightly run front and back of house.

Spinning off on their own, Woodley and House have left the finer dining of Gio for a looser, more playful feel at Black Sheep, and by all appearances are thriving. The daily daytime menu is especially alluring, straddling the line between eggy brunch and traditional lunch, with options like fishcakes, breakfast poutine and French toast mingling with hearty lunch fare like rabbit ragù and gnocchi.

 It's one of those days where the sun is just a bright bleed along the edges of hazy clouds, so we skip the new, woody patio and opt for the dining room. The restaurant wobbles through a weird space where a nail salon, a hair salon and the lobby that used to lead to Efendy and Jincheng was—their entrances are now on Dresden Row—with a dusky slash of a dining room in one half and a sunnier bar area, grey with dim sunlight pouring through a dotted line of leafy and prickly plants in the other. The bar is pretty, a long stretch of hemlock with a raw wood edge and wooden shelves crawling up the wall behind it, bottles of wine and booze, glassware and growlers gleaming bright and brown.

We sit in the corner, at the end of the row of tables clattered together across from the bar. A server quickly brings water and menus. I skip hot coffee and order a Black Drip Flip ($11), a mix of rum, sweet vermouth, coffee syrup and angostura bitters given frothy life with whipped eggs and nutmeg. Allison gets the Robert Van Winkle ($9), a silky iced coffee laced with Bailey's and Galiano.

I am quietly devastated when the fried chicken and johnnycakes listed on the online menu is not actually on the menu. I silently curse all restaurants that fail to update their website menus and settle for the new fried chicken iteration, the sandwich ($12), while Allison gets the brisket benny ($14).

The sandwich is hell to eat: There are three small cuts of breaded thigh that tumble around making it impossible to hold the sandwich without half of it falling out. I'd rather see a pounded-out thigh that stretches out of the bun; it'd be easier to eat and would extend the crunch-crispness of the breading, the gutsy heat and sweet zip of the sauce and slaw. Even hard to hold, though, the simple fiery sweetness, accented by hints of cilantro, tucked into a light sesame brioche makes this one of the best chicken sandwiches in town.

The brisket makes for a satisfying middle ground between eggs Benedict and steak and eggs. Gently rendered house-smoked beef is stacked under the runny eggs with a nest of mild sauerkraut. Chipotle mustard is a smoky, spicy surprise, a fine foil to a dollop of creamy Béarnaise. Both plates are served with excellent hand-cut fries that are given a salty tang when dipped into a pitch-dark squid ink aioli, garlic muted by the earthy darkness of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.

We linger over coffee after lunch. It feels rare to be in a restaurant this good, eating weekend brunch without feeling crowded or rushed. I'm sure that won't last, but I hope Black Sheep does.

Black Sheep Restaurant
1569 Dresden Row, 902-406-6856
Mon-Fri 10am-11pm
Sat-Sun 9am-11pm

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