We had tried to visit the Old Crow previously, but if you don't have a booking and it's a Friday or Saturday, you may as well sit on the curb and cry, because this place is popular. That being said, the Old Crow is now open seven nights a week, so it gives you more opportunity to head in for a relaxed and unusual meal.
Old school sound system, with actual vinyl records!
From the front, the Old Crow looks like a modern glass box with a little al fresco dining area, umbrellas and heaters strategically placed depending on the season. But when you wind your way in, past the tiered pot plant displays and eye-popping sound system, you suddenly find yourself in a much older place. An old renovated Northbridge cottage, with ceiling roses and fireplaces, and picture rails filled with assorted vintage bric-a-brac. This part of the building feels more like Grandma's place, if Grandma had married a deer hunter and had a tendency to hoard things from St Vinnies.
Our lovely waitress, eternally patient despite coming to take our order three times and us too busy chatting to look at the menu, was helpful and friendly. We needed a translation for some of the items on the menu. Bubba, was simply a shortened way of saying baba ghanoush; hush puppies are pieces of crispy polenta; burnt ends are the crispy bits left over after making a roast; and barigoule is a stew.
Once all our questions were answered we then needed to debate how to order the meal. The menu is made up of five snacks ($6-$10), six small plates ($16.50-$22), seven large plates ($28-$38), three sides ($5-$9.50) and three desserts ($9-$15).
I'm going to stop here and say: save room for dessert.
Our vegetarian felt there wasn't a lot of choice for her, as there is only one 'meal' for vegetarians, the Winter barigoule (stew) with slow egg, ricotta and truffle beignets ($29). Beignets, it turns out, are deep fried choux pastry. However, there were plenty of vegetarian starters and sides, and one of the most intriguing side dishes, dirty potato's with jalapeños, ranch dressing and burnt ends ($9.50) can also be made without the 'ends'. She ended up choosing a snack, a small plate and a side and was unable to finish.
Brussel sprouts, really enjoyable even if you're not a fan
Here's the thing: despite the small prices, the serving sizes are very generous. For most dishes anyway. Her 'snack' plate of crispy brussels with chilli jam, pine nuts and buttermilk ($10) although admittedly not looking the nicest, was a heaving plate of tasty little bites, that even people who claim not to like Brussel sprouts, would enjoy.
The (savoury) winner of the night were the corn and green onion fritters with bubba and sour cream. At $16.50 for four small fritters, they were certainly not the cheapest dish on the menu, but the plates were picked clean, and the most popular dish for all of us. Recommended.
The hush puppies were cubes of crispy friend polenta, and at only $6 a very economical dish. On their own they were tasty, but when combined with their spicy dipping sauce, certainly caused a few people to reach for their water glasses.
Oh, the water glasses. I love it when places do things a little differently, and in the case of Old Crow, they had commissioned someone to make their drinking glasses out of old brown beer bottles. Very cool, very retro, and in some cases – very chipped. Ouch.
We chose only one large plate to share amongst four of us, and it was a cracker: braised lamb shoulder with tahini yogurt and carrot relish ($28). Like anything that comes out of a slow cooker, it wasn't much to look at, but the lighting is so dim it wasn't really an issue. And the taste – absolutely delicious. The meat was so soft, it simply slid apart, and the accompanying yoghurt and carrot added lightness and crunch to the richness of the meat. I don't know how you'd go trying to eat the entire dish to yourself, I am sure some people would manage. But this, like all the dishes, are definitely meant to be shared.
We also selected two of the sides, the dirty potatoes which was just like the best bits of winter - roast spuds, crispy morsel of meat, creamy dressing and random bites of flavour (the jalapeños weren't too hot) and the smoked corn with almonds, pickled chilli and butter (two for $5) were so good, I'd happily go back and just order a few serves for myself and sit crunching corn all night. There is something special about the flavour that corn takes on when it is charred, and this was a really enjoyable dish.
Like most people, when we arrive at a restaurant, we tend to look at the dessert menu first, to determine if we need to save space for something special. We all saw it, it stood out like a beacon: a chocolate and peanut butter pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. Yes, it's $15 and yes it says on the menu it will take at least 15 minutes to prepare, but it's totally worth it.
Normally my friends wait for me to take the picture first, not with the chocolate and peanut butter pudding
This pudding is one of those dishes that people will talk about at work. Remember the original 'death by chocolate' in the 1990s, before everyone did a death by chocolate. It became an icon, you went to the Northbridge restaurant (whose name now escapes me) just for the dessert. This chocolate and peanut butter pudding is just like that. But be warned, it is quite large, and coma-inducingly rich. Share it with a friend. Share it with three friends. Just make sure you try it (unless of course, you're allergic to peanuts).
Old Crow's drinks list is easily ten times longer than the food menu, and it has a huge range of wines, beers, ciders, spirits, cocktails and pitchers of cocktails. 'Take a pitcher,' they say. 'It'll last longer.' Pitchers come in both alcoholic ($32) and non-alcoholic ($12) and they come in cute vintage jugs.
There's not much I don't like about the Old Crow. I was concerned when I saw the high bar stools they directed us towards, and admittedly, people with short legs tend to find they dangle alarmingly all night, but I was comfortable enough. If you're short and hate sitting at a high table all night, ask specifically for one of the normal tables. It was also quite loud and therefore difficult to hear people speak, but really, when the noise is just people being happy and cool jazzy music, you shouldn't really complain, right?
Old Crow is a strange place that fits like your favourite old cardigan. The food is unusual yet thoughtful, and although serious dieters might struggle to find something on the menu, if you're into southern and soul food, that is full of love and not too expensive, then I just think you might have found somewhere new to nest.