The Underground Gourmet is no spring chicken, but that didn’t stop the bouncer at the Stoned Crow from checking our I.D.’s the other night. Whether this was because the barroom is dimly lit or whether it was because Ms. UG was dressed like Nanook of the North—as is her custom whenever the temperature drops below 68 degrees—is anyone’s guess. Most likely, it was the fact that the Stoned Crow, an unassuming fifteen-year-old beer bar located on a quiet residential street off Washington Square Park, caters mainly to a young clientele (NYU students, thirtysomething locals, and goateed pool sharks), and checking anyone and everyone’s I.D. is house policy. In fact, you get the impression that if someone with a long gray beard and a cane were to hobble by, they would card him too, or at least tug at his whiskers.
In any case, the UG wasn’t here to inquire about carding protocol. Nor were we here to shoot pool or to admire the décor (images of rock and film stars galore, papier-mâché crows perched on a back-room rafter, jukebox), as bemusing as it is. No, we were here on a tip that the Stoned Crow is, in the words of our tipster, the recent home to a burger that “rocks.”
So we dug into our wallets in search of our driver’s licenses, and, having located the dusty relics, made our way past the long narrow bar to the high-ceilinged back room and took a seat at one of the battered tables that form a ring around the pool table. Before too long, our order arrived.
The burgers listed on the tabletop menu as a half pound of ground beef, as it turned out, were all that and more. The Crow Burger is a bacon-cheeseburger; the Classic is baconless. Both are served on paper plates and come with raw onion, crinkle-cut pickles, iceberg lettuce, and rather anemic tomatoes. You have a choice of cheese—American or Cheddar, and ketchup (Heinz) or mustard (Gulden’s), and that’s about it. As for the beef, it was remarkably fresh and nicely broiled with a rough, salt-crusted char; the patties were irregularly hand-shaped, loosely packed, and fairly juicy. Standard-issue sesame-seeded buns served their purpose well in being supremely squishy, melding quickly with the cheese and beef into one delicious, harmonious whole. In short, the burgers at the Stoned Crow did indeed rock.
Not that that came as a huge surprise after learning that Jaime Saucedo, the Stoned Crow cook of several months standing, was a ten-year veteran of the Corner Bistro. Just as temples of fine dining send their disciples out into the world, bearing the mark of Bouley or Boulud, so too do the time-tested taverns and burger joints. But while crowds pack the Bistro, the Crow remains under the burger radar, known only to the inner sanctum of pool players and NYU barflies.
Besides a darn tasty burger, the place has a haphazard charm, most of that emanating from Betty Gordon, the flame-haired proprietress who can be found weekend nights monitoring the proceedings from her pool-room throne, a tall, green-velvet-upholstered chair inscribed with the words owner betty. Although the bar has served food on and off over the years, it’s never been a priority, but Gordon, who resembles a zaftig Bonnie Raitt, knew she’d gotten ahold of a good thing when Saucedo walked in the kitchen door, soon to be joined by his wife and assistant, Silvia Ramírez, a woman Gordon refers to fondly as Mamacita.
While burgers are definitely the thing at the Stoned Crow, Saucedo also covers well-established pub-grub ground, including some fiendish bar snacks that you probably shouldn’t make part of your regular diet. Buffalo Fingers, strips of breaded, deep-fried chicken breast soaked in an invigorating Buffalo-wing sauce and served with a blue-cheese dip, are, in spite of their mysterious deliciousness, something that was deemed by a dining companion to be, cosmically speaking, “just wrong.” A basket of mini burgers are served oddly but somewhat charmingly on hot-dog buns sliced into thirds, and the pale but decent fries, reminiscent of the Corner Bistro’s, come overflowing in a big basket.
Since Saucedo hails from Puebla, and because his current post affords him greater latitude to expand his repertoire, there are also tasty tacos served with salsa and sour cream, $3 per taco, three for $8. On Taco Tuesdays, it’s three for $6, and $4 Coronas all night.
The Stoned Crow
Address: 85 Washington Pl., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-677-4022
Hours: Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday till midnight.
Prices: $3 to $9, plus a $20 combination appetizer plate.
Ideal Meal: Crow Burger with American cheese, fries, and a pint of Sixpoint Sweet Action Cream Ale.
Note: The kitchen has a tendency to overcook, so adjust your order accordingly.
Scratchpad: An increasingly rare thing: a great bar burger served in a quirky, unpretentious setting.