First Look: Crow & the Pitcher in Rittenhouse

A relaxed hangout with food whose simple presentation belies classic French techniques
April 11, 2014
by Danya Henninger

On Tuesday, April 15, chef Alex Capasso and manager Michael Franco will officially open the doors to Crow & the Pitcher. Just south of Rittenhouse Square in the former home of C19, the New American is intended to be a relaxed hangout with food whose simple presentation belies classic French technique.

The Food: Nothing on Capasso’s menu goes above $25, and that top ticket item is a hearty rib-eye steak. The oft-changing list will be composed of a dozen or so items of various sizes, and there’s no specific theme, says the chef, who ran critically acclaimed BYO Blackbird in Collingswood for six years after time at Brasserie Perrier. Cock’s combs will be confited and deep fried - “They taste good and look cool” - and a single large housemade ravioli is stuffed with an egg yolk that oozes when it’s cut into, making a kind of reverse carbonara.

The Cheese: There’s also a huge cheese program, directed by sous chef Amy Miller, who is a former cheesemonger. More than 16 varieties will be available at opening, and the selection will grow - a temperature controlled cheese room was constructed just across from the bar. Cheese service will come via a cart that previously rolled through the dining room of Le Bec-Fin.

The Drinks: Eight beer taps have been installed at the bar, with one dedicated to cider and the rest to craft brews from around the country. All the drafts pour from sixtels, meaning options will rotate often, adding to a collection of 20 bottles and craft cans. Bess Gulliver is running the bar, and her house syrup- and shrub-flavored cocktails will run from $9-$12. A wine cellar in the basement will grow over time, holding a collection of affordable and special occasion bottles.

The Space: Rustic and easy is the look Capasso and Franco have given the 50-seat room, which flows easily past the front high-tops and granite bar to a dining room with leather banquettes. Along with a designer friend, the partners “bought a barn” in New Jersey and used almost half of it on the interior, from the weathered wood covering the walls to the whitewash-patterned tables to rough-hewn frames around each doorway.

The Vibe: Similar to the food concept, the idea is to take the best parts of high-end service and apply them in a casual atmosphere. Selecting fromage from a cart while sitting on a stool next to exposed brick? You’ll find it here. Franco was most recently a captain at Per Se (and before that a manager and sommelier at Le Bec-Fin), so his hand flows with an haute pulse, but he’s a fan of relaxed environments.

The Details: Crow & the Pitcher will serve dinner seven nights a week with the kitchen open til 1 AM (bar serving until 2 AM). Lunch and weekend brunch will be introduced soon. The downstairs dining room will be open for reservations on Fridays and Saturdays, with a tasting menu option in the plans. BYO Sundays will likely launch there later this spring (267 S. 19th St.; 267-702-0059).

Flip through the photos below for a look around and more fun facts.

No, you can’t bring your dog inside - that’s a pre-opening privilege reserved for Georges Perrier. Walls that aren’t exposed brick or clad with barn wood were hand-painted with a palette knife in muted greens and grays.

Windows swing fully open at front, making the bar area feel as breezy as the park steps away. As soon as permits go through, outdoors seating will line the sidewalk below the balcony.

Table settings skip adornment, in keeping with the natural wood surroundings. “So, what color are you going to paint that wood?” asked Franco’s father, a South Philly native. “They told me, ‘We’re leaving it like that, Dad!’ Guess that’s how it’s done now,” he says.

As soon as Capasso told his longtime friend he planned to open in Center City, Franco jumped on the excuse to move back to Philadelphia. “New York is fine,” he says, “but I like Philly better.”

The two partners both worked under Georges Perrier, and the legendary chef is definitely a “friend of the house,” dropping in often since he lives nearby.

Perrier donated his only remaining Le Bec-Fin cheese cart to the new spot. It was made in Paris and is worth upwards of $25,000, according to its former owner.

Half a dozen stools at the bar hail from San Francisco-based Zuo. “Saw them online and had to have them, they’re perfect,” says Franco.

Twenty additional seats are in the downstairs dining room, where the newly exposed brick and stone will soon be hung with art. The wine cellar sits at one side of the space.

A couple of living wall planters will provide herbs for the bar, including mint, thyme, sage and French lavender. Another large pot will hold a few spiraling hop bines, and when they bud, the fresh hop flowers will be used in cooking and in drinks.

Gulliver is excited about her shrubs, including a just-finished nectarine-herb blend that started out as an experiment but exceeded expectations.

Quinine powder is used to make a unique Hendrick’s gin and tonic that has a fresh, cucumber aroma and a sharp tang but no bitter aftertaste.

What do cock’s combs taste like? “Like chicken,” says Capasso with a friendly smirk. Herb salt is spread over the rooster bits to prepare them for the confit, after which they’ll be fried.

Braised rabbit legs are also on the menu.

Soon, a sculpture of a crow made of black tie-irons will hang outside the entrance, which sits directly across 19th Street from Metropolitan Bakery and right next to Marathon Grill.

georges perrier
alex capasso