Black Twig Cider House

Nosh, imbibe at Black Twig Cider House

By Greg Cox

Review originally posted 9/29/2016

Every metropolitan area worth its salt-rimmed glass can lay claim to at least a couple of first-rate cocktail bars, and probably more than a few wine bars and craft beer joints. But how many have a cider house?

What is a cider house, for that matter?

Glad you asked.

Psst! The password is txotx! It’s pronounced CHOCH (rhymes with coach) – and no, Black Twig Cider House is not a speakeasy. Anyone can walk in.

But if you say “txotx” to your server or bartender, you will be admitted to an exclusive club of sorts. The cost of membership is a very un-exclusive $2, which gets you a three-ounce pour of hard cider. Not just any cider, though. This is a Basque cider on tap, authentically poured (out of a spout called a txotx) from a height of five feet or so directly into the glass. This is how it’s done in the Spanish Basque country, where they’ve long known that the method aerates and imparts a light effervescence to wine or cider.

It’s safe to say, you’ll find the traditional txotx in precious few other places in this country. Black Twig joined that short list in March, when Mattie Beason and John Eisensmith opened the restaurant and bar, billing it as the first cider house in the Southeast.

And Beason should know. The owner of Mattie B’s Public House (and former owner of Six Plates Wine Bar, which he closed to make way for Black Twig) is a a certified cider expert and an instructor for the U.S. Association of Cider Makers. His knowledge and passion are reflected in Black Twig’s global selection of more than 80 ciders, 10 of them on tap or available by the glass. Friendly, helpful descriptions are aimed at sharing that passion and leading the uninitiated to the discovery that fermented apple juice can be just as nuanced and complex as beer or wine.

Who could resist trying, say, the Le Brun Cidre from Brittany after reading this description? “Melding the fresh orchard apple flavor that you expect from French cider with a tart and slightly funky character, this cider has a rich mouthfeel with a bit of texture. Don’t fear the funk – it doesn’t overpower the lush fruit.”

To encourage exploration, former Six Plates chef John Eisensmith has created a menu of shareable nibbles, salads and sandwiches, many featuring Firsthand sausages on Guglhupf buns. The Handsome Norman (like most sandwiches, named for a cider apple variety) drops a tasty cholesterol bomb of bratwurst, smoked pimento cheese, Picnic pulled pork, mustard and slaw into a sturdy hoagie bun. At the other end of the spectrum (and surprisingly satisfying for an avowed carnivore) is the Slack Ma Girdle: vegan potato-apple-sage sausage with pickled collard greens, spicy peppers and caramelized onions.

The obligatory burger makes its appearance here with cheddar and pickled red onions on a pretzel bun. Six Plates fans will be happy to know that Lamby Joes, that restaurant’s signature lamb-and-chorizo riff on sloppy Joes, are baaaack on the menu.

If you’re looking for something to share, Southern poutine – hand-cut Belgian fries topped with warm cheese sauce, diced tomatoes, scallions and crunchy, thick cut bacon – won’t let you down. Lighter nibbles include spicy-sweet cashews, rosemary-Old Bay popcorn, and Txotx Mix, Black Twig’s gluten-free answer to Chex Mix.

Black Twig Cider House is a casual place, with rustic communal tables setting a suitably relaxed mood for exploring the world of cider with some good, hearty food. On one brick wall, the word TXOTX painted in giant letters marks the spot where the special Basque barrel dispenses its dramatic pours. Even if you decide not to participate, you’re encouraged to say “txotx” when you hoist your glass of whatever beverage you choose. Turns out the word is also Basque for “cheers!”

Black Twig Cider House

2812 Erwin Road, Durham