Crow Burger Kitchen
3107 Newport Blvd. Newport Beach, CA 92663 (map); 949-673-2747; crowburgerkitchen.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This upscale casual burger spot makes high quality, thoughtful creations
Want Fries with That? Yes; the freshcut spuds are great and for those of you in the market for sweet potato fries, they're even better
Prices: Crow Boy Burger, $6.45, Green Label Burger, $13.95, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, $8.95; hand cut fries, $2.25; duck fat fries,$3.95; sweet potato fries ,$3.95; green bean "fries," $3.95
I don't normally consider Orange County my territory, but a college buddy invited me down to Newport Beach to catch up on our friendship and, as our midlife crises would have it, catch some waves. I have been known to be a bit critical of the vast, rolling subdivision that is Orange County, but the truth is floating on a surfboard next to the Newport pier on a sunny Thursday morning is enough to give even a gristly cynic such as myself some second thoughts. So when the idea of a burger lunch came up I allowed myself a moment of optimism and consented to a midday meal at the Crow Burger Kitchen.
Crow Burger is a concept born from the nearby Crow Bar and Kitchen. The latter is a successful "American gastropub" that the real estate maven and decidedly charitable Steve Geary opened a few years back. Now he's worked the concept into an slightly more casual but still upscale burger restaurant. It's an inviting and (other than its strip mall exterior) very attractive little joint that takes its burger seriously. As you might imagine, I approve of the attitude.
First up was the classic construction of the Crow Boy Burger ($6.45). It's a five-ounce patty that is a blend of certified Angus prime chuck, short rib, brisket, and hanger. That's right—in five ounces you get for different cuts of beef. A little obsessive perhaps, but in this case, the obsession pays off. The beef is all provided by Daniels and is ground fresh everyday in-house. Geary is careful to only use antibiotic, humanely raised meat and poultry. There might be an argument about what, if any, effect on flavor that provides, but I think I'd side with everyone moving in this direction. The burger gets topped with American cheese, shredded lettuce, pickle relish, and a house-made ketchup. The buttermilk bun is sourced from a local bakery and comes in fresh everyday.
This is the burger of choice for me at Crow Burger Kitchen. It's a simple construction that allows the strength of their tasty beef blend to come through. I might even omit the cheese to get a full hit of the well-seasoned and flavorful beef. The griddling gave the patty a great crust and while the default medium temperature is a bit hot for my palate, the patty still gave off a lot of juice and flavor. The bun was spongy and actually gave off a distinct hint of that buttermilk. I don't know that I'd make the argument for all burgers to get this bun, but the flavor wasn't overpowering and the texture was superb. The only failing by my count was the house-made ketchup. It wasn't anything special and, as is usually the case, Heinz would have been my preference over the homemade.
I also tried the "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger" ($8.95) construction off the house creations (you can build your own as well). In this case the same five-ounce patty gets smothered in black pepper cheese, cream cheese, and goat cheese. The throw on an onion ring and dress a whole wheat English muffin of a bun with garlic mayo. It's a decadent and fatty affair, but I fear all that cheese drowns out the vital beef a bit.
Lastly, I went for the Green Label Burger ($13.95). Like Minetta Tavern's Black Label Burger, this is the Cadillac of the burgers available at Crow Burger. It's an eight-ounce patty that, interestingly, is not a blend. In this case you get 100 percent prime chuck topped with fried shoestring onions on the same buttermilk bun as before. It's a hearty and beefy fellow that certainly will fulfill your classic burger hankering, but I think the patty is inferior to the house blend. There just wasn't the depth of flavor I tasted in the Crow Boy.
The fries come in four varieties and I tried them all. The classic, fresh cut spuds ($2.25) are made of Kennebec potatoes that are twice fried to give them a great crispy exterior and creamy middle.
The duck fat fries ($3.95) are a decadent treat, but I found the addition of rosemary overdone and the truffle mayo unnecessary.
The sweet potato fries ($3.95) are among the best I've tried. I was so surprised how well-executed and full of balanced flavor they were.
Finally, I sampled Crow Burger's healthy substitute for fries, Green Bean "Fries" ($3.95). The charred green beans were actually really tasty. The char balanced nicely against the starchy snap of the bean. Now, I wouldn't say these would replace my beloved french fries with any regularity, but it's a tasty enough dish that I suspect they'll start popping up on menus with more frequency.
I like to poke fun at Orange County, but my little excursion to Newport Beach was more than a small success. I caught up with an old friend, reminded myself that I love the ocean even as my aging body struggles against the tide, and found a burger spot worth a drive. Eating crow never tasted so good.