Eat Crow (1931 South 12th Street, 213-994-1400) serves a taco salad. It's an observation that might otherwise go unsaid, were this a typical Tex-Mex, ground-beef-in-a-tortilla-bowl sort of thing. Eat Crow's version is nothing like that, but is instead an actual salad of tacos. It's the most literal, yet utterly ridiculous interpretation of the form: mixed greens — garnished with diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, chunky salsa, guacamole and avocado ranch — provide a backdrop for seven mini-tacos. Filled with chicken and deep-fried to a golden hue, these tortilla half-moons are placed around the inside edge of the bowl like a glorious crown. It's downright regal.
This salad of tacos perfectly encapsulates the good-natured irreverence that permeates Eat Crow, the sophomore effort from Eliza Coriell and Kenny Snarzyk, who own the beloved Maplewood restaurant and bar the Crow's Nest. Joined in this venture by their kitchen manager, R.J. Marsh, the business partners opened the restaurant and bar in late July as a way to expand upon their success at the Crow's Nest when it became apparent to them that they needed more space. Though they'd started talking about how to accommodate more people before March of 2020, once they reopened after a pandemic-induced, 11-month shutdown and were inundated with guests, they knew they needed to act as soon as possible.
Expanding the Crow's Nest's footprint was not an option. Boxed in by storefronts on Maplewood's main commercial drag, they had already added onto the back patio and saw no other way to increase capacity there. Coriell, Marsh and Snarzyk realized their only option was to open a second location, so they started to look elsewhere and found the former Nadine's Gin Joint on the western edge of Soulard and got to work putting their unique stamp on the place.
That uniqueness is a big part of the draw. Like the Crow's Nest, Eat Crow is outfitted in every kind of Gen-X vintage tchotchke imaginable — something Snarzyk attributes to his and Coriell's soft spot for collecting what he calls "junk," but what should actually be referred to as priceless treasure. Garbage Pail Kids cards are shellacked into the bartop, a statue of E.T. wearing a cowboy hat stands watch over a section of the dining room, and a cardboard cutout of Martin Lawrence greets patrons from his perch above the bar. The reason for his presence? The bar came with an old martini sign that they couldn't remove, so they turned the last "i" into an exclamation point.
That sense of humor carries over to the menu, which, like the taco salad, is a collection of delightful culinary absurdities. An entire section of the menu is dedicated to various mac and cheese dishes, for instance, and each is as over-the-top as the next. The Hot Honey Mac tastes like the sort of thing you'd eat after a bad breakup made you feel that there is no way you'd ever put on hard pants again. Trumpet-shaped campanelle noodles, gilded with luxurious Gouda jalapeño cheese sauce, are topped with a Buffalo-sauce-coated, fried boneless chicken breast. Crumbles of Gorgonzola cheese and a drizzle of ranch dressing finish a dish that works surprisingly well. The heat and vinegar of the Buffalo sauce slices through the mac-and-cheese decadence, giving something outrageously rich some unexpected balance.
If the Hot Honey Mac is what you eat when you are in the throes of despair, the Mac Stack might be the last thing you consume after the nukes have been released. The dish uses the same pasta and cheese sauce base as the Hot Honey version, though this time, in place of Buffalo chicken, Marsh tops the creamy noodles with two smashburger patties, molten American cheese, zesty Frisco sauce and chopped dill pickle slices, which pierce through the dish with piquant vinegar. Like a Jersey Italian version of a slinger, this is so wrong, yet oddly so right.
Marsh leans into this irreverence throughout the menu, but his less silly dishes show he does not have to rely on it. The pork poutine smartly uses waffle fries for its base, a decision that allows each bite to act like a shovel for scooping up bits of bacon, green onions, cheese and pork gravy. His decision to deep-fry soft pretzel sticks results in a wonderfully rustic texture and concentrated malty flavor. Paired with his Gouda jalapeño cheese sauce, these are the quintessential accompaniment to an evening spent sitting at the bar drinking Busch and playing trivia.
Marsh's Philly cheesesteak is in the conversation as one of the best in the area, not because it's necessarily the most traditional, but because it's just so damn good. Thinly shaved pieces of roast beef, so overstuffed they spill out from their hoagie roll, are covered in sauteed onions and peppers, cream cheese and Gouda jalapeño cheese sauce. The cheeses mingle to create a gloriously creamy concoction that is more like a gooey dressing that holds the meat together than a simple topping. It's decadent, of course, but the interplay of the jalapeños in the cheese sauce and the green peppers give a little snap that permeates every bite.
If I'm choosing favorites, though, it's the Albuquerque Turkey, a hybrid turkey club/turkey melt that has been haunting my dreams for a week. Thin slices of roasted turkey breast, piled roughly three inches thick onto buttery griddled sourdough, are accented with bacon strips, cheddar and pepper-jack cheeses, a generous smattering of diced New Mexican green chilis and deep-fried garlic mayo. The sandwich is delightfully gooey, but the chili heat and bacon's smoke provide a depth that keeps all the flavors in balance.
Coriell, Marsh and Snarzyk are clearly having fun with Eat Crow, but like with most comedic endeavors, the jokes land because there is heart. All three worked their ways up at the Crow's Nest before going on to their ownership roles: Coriell began as a server working one day per week; Snarzyk started out as a barback; and Marsh worked in the kitchen part time before taking on a kitchen manager role that ultimately led to him becoming a partner in Eat Crow. Because of this, the restaurants have the feel of a collective — that everyone on staff knows they are taken care of, and in turn, they take care of each other. Those seven mini-tacos might try to kill your heart, but the kindness, sense of humor and good-naturedness will put it back together.
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