Big Crow Toronto Restaurant Review
A few months back, I visited Anthony Rose’s Annex hangout, Rose & Sons, where diner fare, Southern classics, Jewish delicacies, and a little Asian inspiration all came together into one comforting meal. And while R&S is still a fairly new joint, Rose was quick to get at it again, opening up a backyard BBQ restaurant, quite literally, in the backyard. Seriously- if you are looking for his new digs, Big Crow, just find R&S, and sneak down the alley towards the back. Like R&S, Big Crow takes a limited number of reservations, so I was happily booked in just a few weeks after they’d opened up shop. Thankfully, where R&S is tight and a bit of a challenge for parties larger than four, Big Crow is much more open and breathable (it is, after all, outside). The long rows of communal tables seat a total of 50 or so hungry eaters, and provide a clear visual (and smell) of the all-outdoor kitchen. The demographic? In one word- Jews. Upon walking in, my partner turned to me and (quietly) commented that Big Crow was where all us not-so-Kosher Jews come on Shabbat to indulge ourselves in #porkporn sans guilt. And yes, sure, we were making some generalizations based on the crowds’ appearances, but hey, as members of the club, we’re allowed to make assumptions and statements like that.
Staying true to Rose’s reputation (and of course, Jewish tradition), the vibe at BC is friendly, inviting and unpretentious. I mean, really, how serious can it be when you’re sitting at a picnic table beside a smoke pit, eating with your hands, licking sticky BBQ sauce off blouse and chatting with some “strangers” who are now your friends. It’s the who-gives-a-f*ck attitude of the cottage, the adventure of the camping trip, and the freedom of being in the bush without Instagram (okay, maybe I wouldn’t go this far). But seriously, it’s this kind of casual al fresco dining that I specifically crave at this time of year. Come winter, however, I’m not sure how they’ll keep this outdoor theme. When asked, the best our server could tell us is that they’re going to batten down the hatches, trap in the staff, and host a reality TV show. Sounds like something I’d watch every night.
Speaking of our server, service at BC rolls exactly as you’d expect for someone helping you out at a cottage or camping site. Super casual, laid back, and friendly with a little sass. Drinks and food all came promptly, and our server was helpful with recommendations. She did, however, forget to punch in one of the dishes I ordered, which she apologized for after I had pointed out it was never received. This is why I actually hate when servers don’t write down my order. Servers- even if you know you know my order, please just let me see you write it down- for my own OCD peace of mind- this forgetting dishes thing happens way too often. So sure, BC is still quite new and expectantly, have some service issues to iron out. Thankfully, it didn’t bother us much since at that point we were quite full.
At least there weren’t any drinks forgotten because these would really be missed. The cocktail menu at BC is super playful and retro. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a Mai Tai or “punch” on the menu? Actually, when’s the last time you saw root beer mixed with anything, much less with bourbon and bitters. While some may “poo-poo” the white trash combo of boxed wine and coke, or a circa 1990 tequila sunrise, I was pretty excited about the old-school theme. Way to take me back to the days I shouldn’t have been drinking (aka. When pina colada was the go-to drink). For those not into the classic cocktails, there are also 6 local brews (some in draft, cans or bottle), and a short local and international set of wines. Never one to turn down liquor, especially when it’s tied to semi-shameful memories of my youth, we sampled:
Root Beer and Bourbon – 4 Roses, Coster’s Blackstrap Bitters
The bitters helped balance the sweetness of the root beer and the bourbon was a surprisingly good pairing.
Bohemian Cooler- Ginger Beer, Elderflower, Rye
I’m a huge fan of ginger beer and elderflower, so this was a no brainer. I love the peppery tingle of the ginger beer on my tongue and the subtle sweetness of the elderflower. There was also a good amount of citrus flavour going on, making this a perfect refreshing summer drink.
Pina Colada- White Rum, Pineapple Juice, Coconut Milk
A far cry from what I remember drinking as a kid- Pina Colada is so much smoother when it’s not bogged down with copious amounts of sugar. I think with all that fatty coconut milk, it could have used a touch more lime but it was very creamy and satisfying nonetheless.
Like the drinks, the food menu at BC is equally comforting and fun. Executive chef, Christopher Sanderson, has developed a menu with 4 main sections- starters (crow start), small plates (little crow), larger plates (big crow), sides (eat crow) and desserts. The challenge of choosing for just two people was seriously overwhelming as every single menu option that was persistently calling my name. But with a little help from our server, I finally made my picks. We had:
Crows Sizzling Bacon- Ancho Chili BBQ Sauce
My second favourite dish of the night- the bacon had a variety of pleasant textures going on- really crispy in some corners, and satisfyingly chewy in others. I didn’t get any unpleasant grizzel or unrendered fat- just thick cut glorified pork. The sauce may have been a touch sweet for my liking, but it surely didn’t take away from the #foodgasm going on.
Baby Back Ribs with Burst Tomato Pesto (1/2 rack)
The clear winner of the night and a welcome savoury escape from all of the sweeter sauces on the table. The ribs were meaty, with a good amount of caramelized bark on them, while the pesto was a burst of refreshing sunshine. With all of those gorgeous summer tomatoes and ample garlic going on, I was truly in flavour heaven.
Rabbit with Honey Butter Hot Sauce (1/2)
This dish should come with a warning to beware of rabbit bones. Rabbits are bony little creatures, so while this may look like a gigantic serving for the ½ portion, the truth is you gotta work for that meat. Thankfully, it was a worth-while venture. The meat was deliciously tender and juicy, and the sauce had just the right amount of sweetness and heat. It wasn’t like a cloying sticky BBQ sauce, it was relatively thin and fabulous soaked into the rustic bread.
Pork and Beans
I grew up on pork and beans, but this was a far cry than the canned stuff I always had. I did find the beans a touch al dente for me, and the sauce a little loose, but it was otherwise really well seasoned, and I loved the generous chunks of sausage in there.
PB & J Ice Cream Sandwich
I had my heart set on the Smores sandwich, but the table next to us had tried both and suggested the PB & J. Our server also was pretty adamant that we go with the latter, so I reluctantly obliged- and while I didn’t try the smores to compare, I was pretty happy with the pick. I think they are using the same blueberry sauce that Rose and Sons puts on their famous bread pudding (at least it tasted like it), as well as a generous smear of the unsweetened peanut butter spread. So combined with the brioche, the dessert wasn’t terribly sweet, leaving room for a massive square of vanilla ice cream. Simple and unfussy, the square shape reminded me of the boxed stuff my thrifty grandma would always buy us kids because it was the cheapest at the store. Grandma never put it on decadent brioche though, so way to give the old-school faves a culinary upgrade.
So for 5 dishes and 4 cocktails, the bill came to $125 including tax and tip- very reasonable considering the generous portions of meat we managed to inhale. In summary, Big Crow brought us a nostalgic taste of comfort that I rarely get to experience in the city. The food was delicious, the drinks were tasty and pleasantly familiar, the service was friendly, and I absolutely love the backyard BBQ vibe. When we came home and got into bed, all I could smell was campfire goodness and smoked meat, memories of the #foodporn delights that had just occurred. I am definitely intrigued to see what happens to BC when the big bad Mr. Winter rears it’s ugly face, but I’m sure I’ll be back before then. Thanks BC for a fun and thoroughly enjoyable night out amongst friends and “family” (aka. the Jews), I’ll be back to try that Smores Sammy real soon!
Now, here is my little disclaimer note for BC- Usually, I try not to officially review a restaurant until they’re at least a month in, so please to use this post more as a guide than a critique. But on second thought, these guys got their stuff down well, pretty good, so just go and enjoy it.