OC Business Journal; Expanding the Gastropub Title

OC Business Journal; Expanding the Gastropub Title

Crow Bar and Kitchen Expands the Gastropub Title

Orange County is getting into the Gastropub game with Crow Bar and KitchenOCBJ_logo_tn

Monday, December 17, 2007

A gastropub is not actually a stomach condition. That term popped up in Europe in the early ’90s when a couple of entrepreneurial guys took some shabby chic furniture, put it in a pub-like building—but with the kitchen brigade in full view—and set up a menu of food much classier than expected on the pub charts. They called it The Eagle, a restaurant that still exists and defines the genre to this day.

A few years ago, star power chef Benjamin Ford (son of artist Mary Ford and actor Harrison Ford) opened his gastropub in Culver City called Ford’s Filling Station and it’s doing gangbuster business.

Orange County, according to some, is just getting into the gastropub game with the recent opening of Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar. Of course, we in OC always take our time delving into the restaurant trends circulating in the big culinary cities. We’re too laid-back to accept every culinary quiver the minute it makes news somewhere. So, here we are again, only now calling something by a new moniker.

Truthfully, Memphis Café was our first gastropub. When it opened years ago next to The Lab on Bristol in Costa Mesa, it was already playing the gastropub melody: old biker bar building, long bar—part of which was turned into a mini looky loo kitchen—the rest for perching nicely on a banged up bar stool for food or drink, lots of shabby and unmatched furniture and food that quickly caught our attention as something vastly more interesting than pub food. Memphis endures with even a second location in the Santoro Art District of Santa Ana.

But, Corona del Mar is a bit up the ladder on the impressive location scale. So Crow Bar and Kitchen, in the space that was most recently dubbed Garlic Jo’s, has forsaken the shabby furniture part and kept the best of the genre. A certain energy and joie de vivre is paramount in these situations and Crow Bar delivers.

Customers seem to be having a good time and they are in a more urbane atmosphere driven by ample use of warm and polished wood. The food is a fun take on semi-gourmet dishes that draw inspiration from chef Scott Brandon’s appreciation of fresh-from-the-farm and -sea ingredients.

The wine list is an easy-to-handle compilation of about 110 labels for full bottles at reasonable prices. Perfect for this situation are the 26 wines by the glass and the many worldwide artisanal beers, which is where I am psychologically led.

Scott, who serves as both chef and general manager came to Crowbar after more than a decade at Oysters, a fine restaurant just down the street.

The principal owner in this venture is Steve Geary of Corona del Mar, who has been involved in real estate for the past 25 years as an investor and consultant to lending institutions. He has a passion for fine wine, beer and food, so this is not much of a stretch in his investment desires. His intent is to position Crow Bar and Kitchen as a true neighborhood place for people to gather and enjoy fine fresh food and beverages in a relaxing social and comfortable atmosphere.

Steve and Scott have already committed themselves and the restaurant to quality and good community stewardship. Through the sense of community camaraderie, they hope the public will become more involved with the dining experience and enjoy the farm fresh quality going hand-in-hand with sustainable agriculture that contributes to a better world and better health for diners.

On the charitable side, these two fellows support many causes and groups including Share our Strength, Slow Food USA, Meals on Wheels and others.

But on the food side, everyone is chattering about the deviled eggs gone uptown with some blue crab, so you’d be well advised to try those. A plate of cured meats from Spain, or selections from Fra’ Mani (the artisanal cured meat company in Berkeley) kept me happy with my beer. A great group of cheeses are listed along with the animal milk from which they came and are served as three tastes or five tastes on a plate.

In a tongue-and-cheek effort to blend its pub heritage with upscale trends, the menu offers a “Burger Special.” A burger of your choice is served with one full bottle of Screaming Eagle wine for a mere $2,900! I forgot to ask how many have already ordered it.

Every gastropub seems to put importance on flatbreads. Here, they emerge as crusty and convincing, direct from the brick oven and topped with niceties such as caramelized onion, fig jam, pancetta, Spanish chorizo, piquillo peppers, fennel, burrata and more, making for a lot of fun combinations.

Throughout the meal, munching on sweet potato fries, house-made chips, oven-roasted asparagus and broccoli rabe are a few of the possibilities. Main courses can be as simple as a burger. They come in French, Italian, Cuban, classic American and mod versions.

Other plates that can be defined as main courses—but are also good for sharing and priced from $9 to $16—are full of come-hither interest. Meatballs in the chef’s unique sauce, Scotch quail eggs (wrapped in sausage and deep fried), cold-fried chicken (Shelton Farms chicken, of course), fish and chips, Fra’ Mani Italian style sausage with white beans, duck confit with roasted apples, wild striped bass baked in the brick oven, short ribs braised in ale, chowder and steamed clams are a few of the culinary encounters.

The fun continues with desserts: house-made churros with iced horchata, an Irish car “bombe” with Jameson whiskey crème Anglaise, an over-the-moon version of a ding-dong and a draft root beer float. I might have one meal of only a couple of starter plates and then a couple of these desserts.

They let you know from the outset that this is a place meant to shed the stressful image of the world outside. Everything from the wine list to the menu forgot about capitalization and all those lower case letters parlay that stuffiness is not their strong suit. Add all this interesting food and it’s a place to rev up your taste buds and add some extra smiles to life.

Crow Bar and Kitchen: 2325 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, (949) 675-0070. Open nightly from 5 p.m. for dinner and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Lunch will be served Monday through Friday starting in January.

[OC Business Journal Online Magazine]