Whistling Bird’s return attracts flock of old friendsWednesday was a day of happy coincidences on Gilbert’s main street. The Whistling Bird reopened 15 years to the day since diners first sat down to platters of Jamaican jerk chicken and pork.
By: Janna Goerdt, For the News Tribune
GILBERT — Wednesday was a day of happy coincidences on Gilbert’s main street. The Whistling Bird reopened 15 years to the day since diners first sat down to platters of Jamaican jerk chicken and pork.
And April and Jim Monetti of Hibbing finally got to celebrate a personal milestone properly.
“We used to come here for our anniversary,” April Monetti said. When the couple learned the restaurant would be serving food and drinks on Wednesday, their ninth anniversary, their celebration plans were back on. They shared nibbles of chicken as a steel drum band warmed up in the background and Bob Marley songs poured out of a loudspeaker.
New Whistling Bird owner Jessica Antonovich said the last few months of renovations and reworking the Caribbean-themed restaurant menu have been exciting. She is planning to open for regular dinner hours beginning July 10. On Wednesday, diners enjoyed jerk chicken and pork as Gilbert’s annual Third of July parade wound through town.
The first customer in line was Kenny Belanger, who dropped by to enjoy a Pickled Parrot cocktail. Belanger and his wife, Louise, used to drive from Carlton to Gilbert a few times a month to have dinner at the Whistling Bird. If they had to wait for their table, they often went to the Alibi, the bar next door, to have a drink. And about two years ago, when they learned the Alibi was for sale, they decided to buy that, too.
Belanger said he welcomes the return of the Whistling Bird and the added business he expects it to draw to the area.
“I’m really glad,” Belanger said. “It will only benefit Gilbert and the surrounding bars.”
The Whistling Bird closed in November 2009. Antonovich has brought back several of the kitchen staff, including executive chef Patrick Berg. He said there has been significant buzz about the restaurant’s rebirth.
“Expectations are really high,” Berg said. “We want the restaurant to have the same energy as before.”
Some of the most popular menu items will be back, Berg said, as well as some new offerings he expects will be popular. Berg said they will be adding seared Ahi tuna, conch fritters and sugar cane-skewered shrimp to the list, as well as nightly dinner specials.
But customers can also count on their traditional favorites, like the jerk chicken and pork that was hot off the Whistling Bird’s outdoor grills on Wednesday. Chef Eric Schneider, who worked for about six years at the original Whistling Bird, seemed happy have a pair of tongs in his hand on opening day.
“This is where I need to be,” Schneider said as he dabbed jerk sauce on the sizzling chicken. “Me and Patrick are back home.”
“Absolutely,” Berg said as he bustled by.