I don’t know if restauranteurs are typically superstitious, but Lexington’s downtown restaurants and bars can be thankful that Tim and Mark Adams ignored the portents lurking around the corner of Short and Limestone.
Open now for about a year, the Upstart Crow has outdistanced several of the operations that preceded it, most recently Jax. I personally never got to any of them, because either they weren’t open long enough or reports weren’t encouraging, or both.
Perhaps the key to the brothers’ willingness to take on this troubled spot is in the restaurant’s name, derived from an insult hurled at a young actor in 1592. Robert Greene, a Cambridge/Oxford insider and wit-about-town, snarled about the presumption of the lowbred, ill-educated William Shakespeare that he could write as well as act. Maybe the Upstart Adams brothers think they can rewrite this spot’s troubled history.
This is the second incarnation of an Adams-run Upstart Crow in Lexington. The original operated in the 1980s at South Broadway and Angliana and featured the beautiful 1896 mahogany bar that anchors one wall of the current restaurant. After the first Crow closed, they operated Morgan’s Café at Main and Mill streets, not far from the reincarnation of the Crow, before moving on to other careers.
In this third round of their hospitality careers, I think they have a good shot at reviving this troubled downtown spot. After two visits, I found the Upstart Crow, although not perfect in food and drink execution, is a place I’ll happily visit again.
Some of the offerings I just loved: the short rib dumplings and deviled eggs, the fried oysters and catfish beignets.
I was told, and I certainly believe, that those delicate, Asian flavored dumplings ($10) were made completely in-house. Too often, restaurants resort to dumplings or pot stickers that betray their mass-produced history with glutinous lumps of meat inside a dough casing that is almost impenetrable. Not here. Using only a fork, a diner could easily slice off a delicious bite combining the subtly flavored meat filling with the almost diaphanous casing.
I’m a sucker for good deviled eggs, and I loved the ones served at the Upstart Crow for $8. I don’t know where they get their eggs but suspect that they are local, because they were certainly tasty and boiled perfectly. They’re served on a bed of arugula, and the devilish filling includes smoked salmon and is topped with real bacon bits and fried capers.
Equally impressive was the light touch that made the fried oysters and catfish beignets, both $10, delightful. Someone in that kitchen knows how to fry things perfectly. And on that topic, the duck-fat fries that came with the house hamburger ($11) were wonderful. Real potatoes cooked in the miracle of duck fat produce a crispy, full-flavored fry that was even good cold the next day.
A bit less impressive was the burger itself, largely because it was overcooked. We asked for it rare to medium rare, but there was nary a sign of red or even pink in the interior. More successful, and a huge portion, was the double-bone pork chop served on sweet potato puree. The pork chop was nicely grilled on the outside without being overcooked inside. This also was good cold the next day.
The only salad we tried was the iceberg wedge ($9), a generous serving dressed with bacon bits and bleu cheese. If you want something crunchy with very tasty accompaniments, go for it, but the lettuce itself had little flavor.
At dinner we tried a couple of signature drinks — it is after all, a bar — but we weren’t impressed. Both $10, the Salty Dog and the Bols Genever, a gin and tonic, seemed a little too subtle, almost watery. I don’t know whether it was an off night for the bartender or a plague of particularly watery ice, but neither delighted in the way you’d hope on an early summer evening.
But overall, The Upstart Crow gave us plenty of reasons to come back and try again.
Jacalyn Carfagno: 859-231-1652.
The Upstart Crow
Where: 101 W. Short St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., closed Sunday
Notes: Lunch menu available all day; dinner menu begins at 5 p.m.