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BIG CROW (176 Dupont, at St. George, 647-748-3287, roseandsonsbigcrow.com, @roseandsons) Complete dinners for $50 per person (lunches $40), including tax, tip and a mai tai. Average main $18. Open Thursday to Sunday 11 am to close, Monday to Wednesday 5 pm to close. Closed some holidays. Reservations accepted only at dinner. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, three steps to washroom. Rating: NNNN
Our condolences to Bar Isabel and Electric Mud, but you are no longer the noisiest restaurants in town.
That dubious honour now goes to ex-Drake chef Anthony Rose's three-week-old outdoor barbecue joint, Big Crow. Yes, he cranks the Zeppelin, but the bucolic tented garden becomes our idea of hell every 15 minutes or so whenever a 100-car freight train rumbles past not 30 feet away. And just wait till Casey Jones tootles his air horn!
But apart from the assault on our ear drums, there's much to trumpet about the Annex's latest hot spot. Rose is no stranger to 'cue, having helmed the Drake's short-lived barbecue pop-up a few seasons back. There, the focus was the Texas Panhandle. At the Crow, it's the Toronto backyard.
See it in starters like Tymek's ultra-crunchy dills ($7) and a chopped country-style salad of chickpeas, baby plum tomatoes, cubed English cuke and pitted black olives, all tossed with sheep's-milk feta, a basic vinaigrette and more of them pickles ($11). His Shrimp Louie salad ($12) finds a retro bed of shredded iceberg finished with avocado, hard-boiled egg and a handful of Quebecois cocktail shrimp in creamy Thousand Island dressing ($12). Who forgot the canned asparagus?
Pronounced "poo-kay," his spin on Hawaiian poke ($13) begins with raw marinated steelhead trout before adding peanuts and tortilla chips to the mix.
It's all the sort of grub that tastes even better eaten off a plastic plate sitting on a picnic bench, a pint of Thomas Lavers ginger beer ($4) in hand.
So where's the meat? There are several good reasons why his uncut jerk chicken wings ($12) almost always sell out: an aggressive Caribbean rub, generous splashings of coriander hot sauce and grilled pineapple slices.
On the other hand, that no one fights over the last of Rose's Miami ribs ($15) with garlicky tzatziki attests to their middling quality: dry and way too salty. His racks of baby backs with charred tomato pesto ($16 half/$26 whole) would be the best in town if they hadn't suffered the same fate.
Rose gets his mojo back with unusually juicy Cornish hens splattered with chopped parsley and scallion ($16) à la Top Chef Jonathan Waxman, hence the "JW bird" on the menu. But it's his slow-smoked and deliciously grilled rabbit ($18 half/$32 whole) that puts Rose firmly on the barbecue map. You'll appreciate that porous slice of Thuet bread even more as you sop up every drop of the bunny's buttered honey hot sauce.
Sides - $4 each, $6 for two, $9 for three - are equally unconventional. Skip the heinous ketchup chips unless you like them straight from the bag, and opt for chef's baby red potato salad with smoked 'n' grilled cremini mushrooms instead. Fans of La Carnita's nuevo corn on the cob will flip over the Crow's grilled corn salad with crumbly feta-like queso and crema fresca.
The season's barely a month old and we're already declaring ex-Drake and STOCK pastry chef David Chow's outrageous s'mores ice cream sandwich (think profiteroles stuffed with a slab of vanilla ice cream in chocolate sauce topped with two roasted marshmallows straight from the nearest campfire, $6) the dessert of the summer.
Moist towelette, anyone?