Owner Says Blackfish Tavern Getting Closer to Opening at Former Elijah Churchill’s Spot in Northport

The new owner of the building at 1031 Fort Salonga Road in Northport – the old Elijah Churchill’s Public House – says he’s finally ready to begin putting together his vision for his restaurant called Blackfish Tavern.

In all the years Andrew Whitcomb had been driving past Elijah Churchill’s Public House on Fort Salonga Road on his way to work he alway felt a special attachment to the old joint.

“Something was just drawing me to it,” Whitcomb explained to Long Island Restaurants recently when talking about his plans for the Northport property that he bought two years ago. “I felt a connection to it.”

Whitcomb said one day he finally stopped in and discovered there was an opportunity to act on his instinct.

“The guy said ‘hey it’s for sale,’” he said.

It was a fortuitous moment (one can almost say it was fate) and by February of 2022 Whitcomb owned the place. As broken down as it was at the time Whitcomb saw the potential for something great.

“I’ve been in this business my whole life and I have learned to trust my gut,” he said.

Back in 1978, Whitcomb’s father started Whitsons Culinary Group with a couple of restaurants in Garden City, eventually growing into an industrial dining services company running USDA-inspected kitchens up and down the East Coast, including emergency kitchen capabilities that served workers after 9/11. Whitcomb and his siblings run the company now and he’s getting set to retire from the family business. The certified executive chef estimates that in the 45 years he spent in the food service industry he’s helped produce millions upon millions of meals.

In a way you can say he’s not retiring with Blackfish Tavern, he’s just downsizing.

Whitcomb’s labor of love includes a complete renovation of the place, increasing the parking capacity, and installing a state-of-the-art kitchen. After two years going through the permitting process, Whitcomb says he is close to beginning construction.

Blackfish Tavern Rendering

Concept art for Blackfish Tavern via blackfishtavern.com.

Whitcomb, an avid fisherman, compares the process to fixing up an old boat. (The inspiration for the name of the restaurant comes from his favorite fish to catch and eat: blackfish.)

“I want to return this building to its previous splendor and have a place to eat that’s different from everything else in Northport,” he said.

Whitcomb’s plans include stripping the structure down to its bare bones and rebuilding it to his own vision.

On the outside, Whitcomb has worked to alleviate the parking situation. He is restructuring the property to reclaim space, creating parking for up to 25 cars without having to expand its borders at all. (The old business was operating with deficient parking.) There will be parking on all sides of the property with a one way entrance and a one way exit on the frontage facing Fort Salonga Road. He is also in an agreement to provide valet parking across the street to accommodate up to 54 additional vehicles.

Whitcomb is reducing the back deck but not eliminating it altogether, and building an outside bar.

Major changes are in store for the interior.

“It’s going to be new from soup to nuts,” he said.

Along with modernizing the infrastructure like adding ADA-compliant bathrooms and an elevator to the second floor, the interior layout is being reimagined.

On the first floor will be a large bar that will be the centerpiece of the dining room with 360-degree seating. There will be a center hung display for bottles and glasses suspended from the ceiling.

“You’ll be able to look across the bar and see people sitting on the other side,” Whitcomb said.

He is installing a food centrifuge to infuse the cocktails with flavor and 16 draft beers on tap.

“With a good smattering of local brews,” he said.

Concept art for the front of Blackfish Tavern via blackfishtavern.com.

Previously, the second floor of Elijah Churchill’s was approved for residential use. Whitcomb is making the upstairs into additional seating along with a 20-by-30 foot second floor patio for rooftop dining. The outside dining area up top will be on the front of the building and surrounded by clear glass so people can have a view but with soundproofing. There will also be an awning to protect diners from the elements.

In addition to the elevators for accessibility to the second floor, Whitcomb is installing a dumbwaiter so food and drinks can be sent up and down, limiting the times his waitstaff have to navigate the stairs. These details, he said, will make people feel comfortable working in his restaurant.

“It makes it a happy place to work,” he said.

That goes for the kitchen as well. Whitcomb excitedly described the modern kitchen he is building out. He wasn’t as forthcoming on his plans for the kitchen for fear of tipping his hand but he promised that it will be impressive.

“It will be quite cutting edge,” he said. “I’m making sure everything is very organized and has everything they need. I’m trying to build a kitchen that chefs will want to work in.”

If he was mum on plans for the kitchen he was even more tight-lipped about his menu, not wanting to spill the beans before it was ready for prime time. He promises lots of options. The menu will feature fish, steak, vegetarian items, and gluten free products. He is especially excited about his desserts, which he says will be 95% homemade. The bottom line, according to Whitcomb, is using good quality ingredients.

“You don’t nickel or dime,” he said. “Use true ingredients like real butter and real wine and the flavors will come through.”

Whitcomb plans to source as much as he can locally from farms and fishermen.

We were able to pry a few menu items from Whitcomb.

“I’m making a mushroom souffle that will be savory,” he said. “And smashburgers.”

Of course, as the name of the restaurant implies, there will be blackfish on the menu.

“I’m a fisherman,” he said. “I enjoy eating it.”

If all goes as planned, Blackfish Tavern will open around September 2024. They will open for dinner service only at first and then add lunch and brunch to the menu later.

“I can’t wait to open,” Whitcomb said. “I want to blow people’s minds.”

📷 Google Maps.

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