Blend a cup of Merchant Bar with a cup of Hearth Kitchen, a level teaspoon of the old Cocina Lolo and a pinch of La Fia. Simmer until you think you’ve got it right. Adjust to taste.
That seems to have been the recipe for Crow Bar in Wilmington’s Trolley Square, the latest from Bryan and Andrea Sikora. Known for his passionate commitment to his craft, Chef Bryan Sikora and his downtown restaurants succeeded where less-talented or less-committed others failed. With his classic-ish La Fia and gastropub-ish Merchant Bar, he proved Market Street’s potential and paved the way for the current wave of new restaurants there.
Maybe it was timing. Maybe it was his undeniable talent. Maybe it was a combination of both. Why speculate? Whatever else he may have accomplished, Sikora locked onto a winning formula: Give the people what they want while guiding them toward delightful surprises. Keep them coming back. It worked well enough for Sikora to venture into Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he found a ready audience for his brand of modern Italian. It also worked with his brand of modern Mexican at Cocina Lolo. He had fans there. Sadly, he didn’t have an ideal location, so that one folded after a three-year run.
Seven or eight years into his investment in Wilmington, however, Sikora’s record stands strong. So why not branch out into an almost foolproof location like Trolley Square? There’s a pre-built audience. There’s a livelier group of decent restaurants than ever. There’s always room for something new and different in the neighborhood. It’s a sure bet for a savvy operator.
Which seems to be all Crow Bar is. As a sure bet, there’s no need to innovate, to titillate or to try very hard. If you build it, they will come. And they have.
Without a doubt, the fare will tempt the foodies, but perhaps more important in context, it will appeal to Trolley’s weekend party crowd. The menu is a slate of favorite dishes from Sikora’s other restaurants, perhaps with a twist, but without the bold creativity that defines them.
Diners can begin with a shareable plate of artisanal cheese and charcuterie, a mezze of Mediterranean favorites such as hummus and falafel, or a pu pu platter piled with crab Rangoon, beef satay, tempura calamari and more. We started with a handful of bar snacks. We passed on such to-be-expected, pedestrian items as sour cream and onion dip (no matter that the chips were made in house) and shoestring fries with curry ketchup, opting instead for items that seemed more in line with Sikora’s creativity.
We found the salmon tartar to be a standout, though there were too far few of the lavash-like house-made “saltines” to get us through half the portion. Impressed by the grilled octopus at Hearth Kitchen, we opted for the Crow Bar version, which was equally tender, though loaded with salt from bits of chorizo and buttery butter beans.
Take this from a salt lover: There was an unwelcome abundance of it throughout our meal. A mushroom-truffle melt combined Manchego with the butter-grilled bread, a one-two combo that was intensified by the truffle and overshadowed the earthy goodness of the mushrooms (though I need to give props on the perfect grilling). The saltiness of the pad Thai with shrimp and Asian-spiced sausage was equally overwhelming. It lacked any of the subtle complexity that makes the crab version at Merchant Bar a dish I’d recommend to anyone.
Which makes me wonder who’s keeping an eye on things. One owner can’t be working in four kitchens at the same time. Perhaps Sikora has one too many balls in the air. (I want to assume he wasn’t present at Crow Bar on the Friday of our visit.) Or perhaps there’s a square peg/round hole dilemma here: In trying to carve out a share of the Trolley crowd, he feels he must appeal to disparate elements—the discriminating diner, the less adventurous eaters and the pure partiers—at once. Hence the presence of both poke and nachos on the menu, of both good microbrews and Pabst Blue Ribbon, listed under the well-known code name of PBR. That’s either a justifiable backlash against craft snobbery—a self-deprecating swipe at too-earnest enthusiasm for all things artisanal, small batch, boutique and craft-y—or it’s blatant appeal to someone who otherwise would happily pound cheap brew at party central down the block.
Not that Crow Bar doesn’t have ample virtues. The décor is as stylish as any of the other Sikora restaurants. There is plenty of seating for diners. There are private tables and long, marble-slabbed communal tables in the bar-lounge area, and there is a separate small dining room. You can hear a conversation. The list of house cocktails is interesting. The brownie in the brownie à la mode was sublimely textured and outrageously delicious—so amazing, I can forgive the salt and return to look for other surprises that may be hidden in unlikely places.
WHERE: 1711 Delaware Ave., Wilmington • 482-1241 • crowbarwilmington.com
PRICES: Starters: $8–$24 (shareable); large plates: $18–$22; pizzas: $12–$16
RECOMMENDED: Smoked coho salmon with tartar sauce and house-made saltines, grilled octopus
Published as “Excuse Me for Prying” in the March 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.