Review: The Crow’s Nest in Maplewood

The Crow’s Nest
7336 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.781.0989

Idiosyncratic, scatterbrained and quirky are all decent adjectives for The Crow’s Nest, the gritty little restaurant that hopes to succeed in the prime spot on the Maplewood strip abandoned by the less imaginative Grateful Inn and Red Lion. Since opening in October, this hipster nirvana has spawned a solid following of in-the-know locals. And for good reason: On top of offering one of the most comprehensive, locally focused draft beer lists in town, the folks behind the popular, now-defunct Bleeding Deacon are continuing to redefine bar fare. In the process, they’ve carved out a cozy, clandestine drinking and eating house with substance to spare.

The deep, narrow space of the main room is dominated by a massive bar, flanked by a wall of dark church pew booths, over which hangs a spattering of retro 1970s and ’80s rock ‘n’ roll posters. The somber lighting and punk/funk paraphernalia are juxtaposed with an artsy 1960s Italian film silently projected on the wall of the front space (perhaps a bit unnecessary, but it adds to the avant-garde flavor). The music is also a collection of mismatched retro tunes. A patio through the back provides some welcome outdoor seating for chain-smokers and patrons looking to escape what can often be an overpowering decibel level inside.

Dining menus pasted on vintage record albums (Think Peter Frampton, not Peter, Paul and Mary.) boast what would seem to your average pub-hopper to be a pretentious lineup of hopelessly out-of-place items: i.e. cheese soup infused with local beer and smoked mozzarella, chorizo-encrusted fish tacos, pulled pork sandwiches smothered in smoked pineapple barbecue sauce, roasted-oyster and arugula flatbread, calf’s brain sandwiches. It’s definitely not for all tastes, but this is some seriously smart comfort grub presented with flair. I devoured a plate of buttermilk-and gorgonzola-fried frog’s legs, which paired surprisingly well with an Urban Chestnut Winged Nut Ale. Another pint, followed by a pear-gorgonzola bread pudding drenched in thick caramel sauce, was enough to clear up any misgivings about this innovative kitchen.

Don’t expect too much of the same innovation behind the bar – which, while extensively stocked, is wholly underutilized in terms of stirring up cocktails. Asking the bartender for a drink menu, I was all but laughed at. (Apparently, they’re working on creating one.) Make no mistake; The Crow’s Nest is a beer hall. Expect as much and enjoy selecting a frothy brew from the imposing chalkboard that hovers over the main bar with an abundance of drafts, bottles and cans. The best bet: Choose from the dozen or so beers on tap ($4 to $6), of which local craft options dominate: Perennial, Urban Chestnut, Civil Life, 4 Hands and Schlafly, to name a few.

Though a few random pinball machines provide mindless fun, the establishment plays host to a regular score of weekly events as well. Trivia nights and karaoke are to be expected. But once a month, The Crow’s Nest hosts its own Drink and Draw – a booze-fueled, artistic battle royale in which participants vying for free drinks put pen to paper and sketch live burlesque dancers who dance and pose until a winner is crowned.

A strange place attracts a strange crowd. There’s more than a whiff of oddity in this joint where the servers can be detached if not obnoxious, but it’s all part of the charm. On a Friday night, the place buzzed with laughs and tipsy chatter from a group of pre-gaming college kids in one corner and a pair of leather-clad bikers sipping pints in another. Expect anything in this laid-back, T-shirt-and-jeans booze den – except any sign of a see-and-be-seen mentality. People are here to lose themselves, whether it’s in the food, the booze or the atmosphere. Though there’s no lack of character, The Crow’s Nest is still wanting in a clear presence and décor of its own – one to match its superb menu and independent vibe.

Tags : Places, Reviews, Beer, Bars