The recently relocated Crop Bistro isn't quite as close to the Scene offices as it used to be. But commanding the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 25th, the spot isn't nearly far enough removed to keep me away for long.
Case in point: a recent Thursday's late lunch. Even well past noon, the joint was hopping with an eclectic crowd that included young professionals and retired boomers alike. The size of the mini-mob surprised even co-owner Jackie Shultz, who marveled at the unusual “1 p.m. rush.”
Not that the rush seemed to have an impact on the quality of the food or service: As expected, both were first rate.
Of course, my history with Jackie and her business partner chef Steve Schimoler — first as Scene's restaurant critic, and later as Crop's communications director — garnered a little extra lovin' for my companion and me: The kitchen started us off with an amuse-sized portion of the soup du jour: a rich, well-balanced tomato-basil bisque. (A regulation-sized portion would have set us back $5 and been well worth the cost for its sassy interplay of tart and unctuous flavors.)
Main lunchtime options range from salads ($7, plus an up charge for meaty add-ons), towering sandwiches ($9 to $12), and entrees like chicken saltimbocca, seared scallops, and Schimoler's incomparable Mac & Brisket (al dente cavatappi glossed with Amish cheddar and topped with succulent braised brisket); prices in that category are set at $12 to $14.
We settled on the (not so) Simple Caesar Salad, with romaine, roasted tomatoes, and a scattering of crisp and chewy cornbread croutons (my lunch bud raved about them!), topped with a slab of melt-in-the-mouth grilled salmon; and the hilariously oversized Pig Mac, a multi-layered stackup of braised pork, sliced pork loin, bacon, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame-seed challah bun. (Sing along if you like!)
Presentation was tempting, portions were more than ample, and flavors, freshness, and overall deliciousness were right on. Same goes for the complementary sweet ending the kitchen sent over: the Cropper Nutter, composed of a moist slab of toasted crème fraiche cake, an amber orb of peanut-butter mousse, and a jaunty cap of flamed marshmallow fluff, all garnished with chopped salted peanuts. (Menu price is $8.)
Much has already been written about the jaw-dropping space where Crop's magic now takes place: a temple-like former bank lobby with a soaring ceiling, marble floors, tall windows, and ornate plasterwork. Other than to toss around adjectives like “light-filled,” “energetic,” and “engaging,” we'll skip the descriptions here.
Just know that when we rolled out of the restaurant 90 minutes after our arrival, we felt about as well fed and well cared-for as any two working stiffs could hope to be. And really, what could be a better lunch break than that?