Chef and restauranteur Bryan Sikora has demonstrated he’s got a good ear for what people like in their food, drinks and dining vibe.
La Fia, his flagship restaurant on lower Market Street is now firmly entrenched as one of the city’s standard-bearers in quality and consistency. Across the street, Merchant Bar offers Wilmington’s best combination of classic cocktails, hip yet old-school ambiance and tasty bar bites. And Hearth Kitchen in Kennett – featuring produce and dishes with deep local heritage – fits the earthy Chester County venue it inhabits on Rte. 1.
Sikora and his wife Andrea have now turned their sites on Trolley Square, long a beer-and-a-shot playground for 20-somethings with iron stomachs but increasingly home to swank bar-restaurants – think Bar Roja and Trolley Square Oyster House – that might very easily be found in some of the poshest neighborhoods in Philadelphia or Washington, DC.
Their new venture is Crow Bar, at 1711 Delaware Avenue, which officially opens today. Sikora tells us the name is an homage to the “Game of Thrones era,” conveying this is a gathering place for good times, good food, serious cocktails and maybe a hint of danger.
We had an early look at Crow Bar at last night’s friends and family preview party/test drive and caught up with Sikora to get the 411 on his latest culinary meets cocktail venture.
Town Square Delaware: Ok, so the name ….?
Bryan Sikora: It’s funny because as Game of Thrones wound down in the spring, and the popularity of that show certainly had an influence. So, when Andrea suggested we name it Crow Bar, I thought that was very cool. The name is good because it gives us flexibility in the food styles we offer – it is kind of nondenominational. And it sounds fun and a little bit dark.
TSD: People are going to think this is a bar, but when they know you’re running it, they’ll assume there will be good food.
Sikora: To me, the word bar now really connotes an institution that has great food but is very approachable.
I think the vibe fits well in the neighborhood. People get it – it’s perfect for Trolley Square. Our goal is to offer a sense of sophistication, but also just approachability – a neighborhood place. It feels comfortable. Crows also congregate. So it’s kind of fun, I think, to call it a crow bar.
But then – wow! We’ll surprise our guests with the food. It’ll be small and medium-sized plates, we have a pizza oven, so we’re going to do some hand-tossed pizzas and pita bread but also use that oven to do some other big things like casseroles, wings, sandwiches and pozoles, that sort of thing – dishes that work well in an oven. Our pozole (a Mexican stew) has hominy, seafood and chorizo. We could lean into a paella, but we’re not doing that yet.
TSD: How will this be different from Merchant Bar?
Sikora: Well over there [Merchant Bar], we have some smoked things on the menu. We have a roasting smoker that we will use for a lot of the food style over there.
But here at Crow Bar, we just started from scratch with the menu development. And hopefully, that will create the difference right there. Plus, Merchant Bar has been running for two years with one cook in the kitchen. And, you know, we work on the menu with him. But that spot has become an interpretation of our food through him. So that will change it quite a bit.
But here at Crow Bar, I’ll make my impression, create the menu, develop it, be here for a while. And then someone else will ultimately start to develop it forward. Plus the community creates the menu too. They kind of show us what they like, just by their feedback and expressing their interests.
TSD: We’re seeing American, Italian and Spanish influences. Can you tell us more about the menu?
Sikora: This oven is not wood-fired. So, it’s going to be a little more manageable. As far as putting things in there, they can be in longer.
Up at Hearth Kitchen, we have a wood-fired oven, which is like 700 degrees, so you can’t put everything in there — very few things except for a pizza. So here, we’re going to do a hand-tossed pizza, pretty much the same recipe [as the one at Hearth], but the pizza will come out a little different because of the different oven.
And then for late night, after the kitchen’s kind of winding down, we’ll still offer a Roman-style square pie, where it’s developed in a rectangle steel pan, like a big sheet tray. And then it’s allowed to proof. You can easily set up thirds or halves – half’s got pepperoni and half’s got this — and it will bake it, and they reheat very well. So it’s a common street food in Rome to have pizza like that. So we’ll offer that probably after 10 o’clock here. That way we can make it, bake it, cut it into slices, and then people can just get a slice down here late night.
TSD: Was it important to you to branch into Trolley Square?
Sikora: Well, it was an opportunity offered to us that we couldn’t pass up. Eric Sugrue (president and managing partner of Big Fish restaurant group) bought the buildings here [on this block]. He has the Trolly Square Oyster House. And then he did Bar Roja next door.
And he had this space also, and he didn’t want to clone himself again on the street just to overdevelop it himself. He wanted to bring in somebody else and that would actually bring it up a little — a higher bar. And so he contacted us, and we jumped on it right away immediately.
TSD: It’s a good-looking space.
Sikora: Andrea and I have really worked with our guys here to make some good choices and kind of create that eclectic, warm, approachable environment — different styles, like all high tops up here, including a high-top farm table.
The whole place was stripped to the bones. We demoed the entire thing to find out what was behind the sheetrock, and we discovered the ceiling beams that were up there. And we exposed these outposts (pointing to the brick wall), which were once windows. Those are now faux windows with frosted glass and dimmable LED lighting behind the glass inside each window frame. So it will give you an illuminative effect of the sunlight shining through. The colors can change from red to blue to white.
We also moved an entire staircase to the back to open up the space. Then we built this low half wall to offer a separate space for some of the dining. And we created an outdoor patio with railing all the way around.