Crow Hill Restaurant and Bar
9 S. Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
Open Wed,Sun 5:30pm-10pm
Liz's announcement of the opening in the Star-News.
For those of you from Wilmington, yes, Crow Hill is in Caffe' Phoenix's old spot. They've done a lovely job on the interior. The colors are warm and inviting and I love the blacksmithed tools and prints on the wall. We had a seat in the upstairs section, which allowed us to watch the coming and going and the bar crowd below. Fun!
The menu is short, which I like a lot. I would rather be given just a few choices than be overwhelmed with nine different fishes, six chicken dishes, and twelve cuts of beef. It's also often been my experience that when a place has only a few items on the menu, they can really throw their all into each of them, and the quality is excellent. That is definitely the case at Crow Hill.
There are a handful of signature cocktails, named after downtown streets and spots. I had the Red Cross Smash - a great medley of smashed berries, mint, bourbon and lime in a sugar-rimmed glass. The bartender clearly knew what he was doing. (Yes, it was a he. I watched him make my drink. There was a woman tending bar, too.) The wine list is limited, but good quality and from our view above, it looked like they had a good beer selection. (I forgot to look on the menu.)
Drinks came with a small clamp-lid jar of pickled vegetables. They were excellent, and obviously homemade. It was also a little off the beaten path and a surprisingly good accompaniment. It's not easy to do a vinegar-based something with drinks.
In the interest of getting a fair sampling from the menu (ahem) we each ordered an appetizer, Pootie had a salad, and we ordered different entrees and Pootie ordered a side of greens. For apps, I had the pickled eggs, stained a pretty purple but mildly flavored with a deviled dipping sauce (it was a dipping sauce of mustard, mayo and spices - just like a deviled egg). Man, they were good. Pootie had a bowl of marinated olives that were good quality and flavorful. He also ordered the plain green salad. They got the dressing spot-on. It was a lemon vinaigrette that wasn't sweet, but wasn't so puckery-tart that it tasted like floor cleaner. Perfectly balanced. (I have a problem with that in my own kitchen, so I respect a chef who can nail it.)
Pootie ordered the mountain trout, which came with a small-dice sweet potato hash with a little (I think) tasso ham and sweet onion. It was delicious. So was the trout. It was simply prepared, so you could taste the freshness of the fish. His side of greens was tender and flavorful without the noxious bitter edge I'm accustomed to with cooked greens. And they weren't just cooked to death and gloppy, either.
I had the chicken, which is kind of my litmus test for this kind of food. It's not as easy as you might think to pull off a perfectly cooked chicken, and very often it winds up being dry and tough and tasteless. This chicken was excellent. The skin was crispy and lemony-salty, and the meat was moist. It came with a side of a simple lemony panzanella and a seared lemon for squeezing on the chicken. That really made the flavor pop, too.
Pootie was thrilled to death that they had espresso available, and I went ahead and ordered the Compost Cookie in the interest of sharing with you a full range of their offerings. (ahem again). The two cookies came with an espresso cup of milk. Whole milk. Which we never have at home so it was like drinking cream. Perfect amount, and perfect with the cookies, which had a nice SALTY bite to them. You have no idea how happy I was about that. I really hate desserts that are just sweet. They need that salt to balance them out and this cookie has it. We shared one and brought the other one home. It's in the kitchen now, telling me lies about how it is the breakfast of champions.
The service was great. The wait staff were friendly, but not obsequious, and they didn't pull up a chair and visit with us. Our waitress knew the menu well and was able to make great suggestions. The guys who came to bus our table in between courses were nice and unobtrusive. There seemed to be good enthusiasm from all the staff for the restaurant, which is always nice to see.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about the experience was the attention to detail. The cutlery was cool and good quality (I want some forks like those!), the little clamp-lid jars of pickled veggies were neat and more interesting than just getting them on a plate, and Pootie's olives came in this gorgeous little olive-wood (yes) wooden bowl. I love stuff like that.
We were kind of shocked at how reasonable the bill was, given how much we ordered. That was a pleasant surprise. The price point is pretty middle-of-the road - $14 - $16 for high quality entrees.
We will definitely be back and will encourage everyone to go. Crow Hill is a great addition to the downtown restaurant scene.
Oh, hey, you know what else? They give you the leftovers (if there are any) in a cardboard container made from recycled materials. No Styrofoam! Rock!