The Crow's Nest, one of the newest additions to the Maplewood strip, may be a bar, but the imaginative and tasty meals it serves don't show any relationship with traditional bar food. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised -- it's the Bleeding Deacon's new sib. the long, narrow room has been several other establishments, and now its dark, simple decor is marked by two pinball machines (Elvis and Space Shuttle, for inquiring minds) and a movie playing silently on a wall. At least we think it was silently; the music was turned up enough that we had to work a little to hear each other across the table. Church-pew booths and high tables are accompanied by a good-sized bar with a large chalkboard of beer options, and there's a porch in the rear.
The Crow's Nest puts out a good, if slightly untraditional hummus. Our first thought was, boy, lots of tahini, but then realized and confirmed with the menu that it's peanut butter. Its slightly chunky texture is a matter of some contention among fanatics. Silky smooth almost shouts "commercial" to us, but we acknowledge there are some home cooks for whom this is the grail of the garbanzo. The pita served with it is warm, fresh and in sufficient quantity
While the hummus is served all day, frog legs are an evenings-only option. Chef Jimmy Hipchen says they're his riff on chicken wings. Considering the price chicken wings are fetching these days, it's apparently just as cheap to jump as it is to fly. Meatier than wings, although with a texture very close, and very lightly breaded, they're served with buttermilk dressing, a Buffalo wing sauce and a puree of blue cheese, to mix or not as desired. Large loops of celery soar above the plate. The tender meat almost falls from the bone, and reaches excellence when dragged through all three of the sauces.
“Open faced whole chicken” read the sandwich description. Well, not really a whole chicken. Good-sized pieces of roast chicken, both white meat and dark, had been quickly re-heated on the grill, a technique new to us but very successful, their juiciness retained, the skin nicely crisped up. Not drowned in the pan-juice gravy but merely drizzled with it, it was topped with a sunny-side-up egg. (Eggs, it seems, will be the next bacon; insert your own joke here about the chicken-and-egg situation.) The only unsuccessful ingredient in the open-face sandwich was its base, a small slab of foccaccia that was stale before it was toasted. Waffle fries alongside were tastiest when very hot; the steak seasoning, as mentioned on the menu, was sprinkled with a hand so light as to be nonexistent.
Meatloaf is first rate, wearing what the menu calls “bacon ketchup,” more like a thick, chunky, almost sweet sauce that has none of ketchup's nursery-school taste. The loaf itself was firm but not tough and carried such beefy savor that on first bite, one was reminded of a good hamburger. A proper slab of cornbread rode shotgun, and the plate was completed by a tangle of mixed salad greens lightly dressed with the buttermilk dressing which had made its debut with the frog legs, a nice fresh note with the hearty protein.
Golf ball-sized doughnuts fried to order and dusted with fine granulated sugar and even more finely ground coffee were perhaps a little too chewy, but the accompaniments, hazelnut brittle and cherries poached in an anonymous cola, allowed for forgiveness. The cherries, slightly more than a garnish, gave a pleasing, contrasting tartness, and the caramelly notes of the brittle worked well, too.
But the dessert that left us enjoying and discussing it for some time afterwards was a bread pudding. Thin slices of pear topped a dense and only faintly sweet pudding, and pieces of gorgonzola cheese were scattered around, pear and gorgonzola being one of the classic combinations. A few shreds of basil provided yet another layer of flavor. Indeed, we were more able to appreciate its complexity the next day when our mouths weren't so cranked up from the earlier part of the meal.
The movie while we were there was Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil", the 1998 version, we think, the Welles chiarascuro a good match for the decor. It was, our server reported with some satisfaction, her choice for a film. But she paid a lot more attention to her work than to the film, and we were left wanting nothing.
As we said, this is a beer house, tap, bottle and cans but dishes this complex will bring a demand for a wine list, too.
The Crow's Nest
7336 Manchester, Maplewood
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good