Fans of downtown basement dining lamented the crosstown move made by Firebelly’s last year. Now, they can rejoice since the Dead Crow Comedy Room has taken up residence in the subterranean Front Street kitchen. I don’t mean to sound trite, because the space has kitschy appeal, and the layout is surprisingly well-suited for the stand-up comedy millieu. Still, it always strikes me as a little strange when I walk down a flight of stairs from the sidewalk to my table. Windowless entertainment always feels more suited to casinos than restaurants, but Dead Crow is nor ordinary restaurant. It’s also an entertainment space. The interior will be recognizable to Firebelly fans despite layout changes. A small, one-step thrust stage sits to the left of the entrance, with small tables tightly packed and fanning out on three sides. It’s a pretty standard comedy-club design.
On my first visit, I wanted to make sure I only sampled the food regardless of whether they comedians would leave a good or bad taste in mouth. So I went for lunch. I made it just in time, too, as now Dead Crow is closed for lunch throughout winter, but the menu will return in the spring.
Known for its tacos, I opened with a duo. The carnita, a shredded-pork taco on a white corn tortilla, lives up to the hype. Though it had perhaps a bit more cilantro than needed, the pork itself was casually spicy and just a touch smoky. All in all, it was a rather smooth and pleasant lunch option.
I cannot say the same for the vegan taco. First, it came cold, and had a bland tempeh filler. While it’s no fault of the restaurant, I don’t know where Daiya gets off calling that plastic vegan concoction of theirs “cheese.” It’s an unpleasant and flavorless addition. Daiya mozzarella is so bad, it gave me a newfound respect for vegans: If this is what they have to tolerate when they eat, then they must be awfully principled to stick with their self-imposed dietary restrictions.
For anyone who has not eaten a fried hot dog, I can only ask: What the hell are you waiting for? The crispy skin and condensed flavor makes for a much richer experience than the boiled wieners so common to most eateries. Dead Crow offers up a nice hot dog, reminiscent of some of the better Coney Island variations. I opted not to try it wrapped in bacon because I still hold some hope of living to see 40.
Technically, that’s a lie, because, while I didn’t order the hot dog wrapped in bacon, I couldn’t resist a side of maple-bourbon bacon. Fried crispy, the maple sweetness, coupled with the salty meat, made up for a little over-charring.
Speaking of sides, it may be silly, but I’m fond of the fact that Dead Crow offers tater tots. They’re a nostalgic French-fry alternative that I wouldn’t want every day, but I enjoy seeing on the occasional menu.
While I didn’t want the comedy of the Dead Crow to color my first visit, I also recognize that much like dinner theater or Benihana’s, the show is part of the experience. So I returned a few nights later to catch one of the touring acts and have another meal. The show carried a very reasonable $13 cover charge, but they only accept cash, so I wound up at the convenience store across the street, paying a $3 surcharge at a nameless ATM. Just remember to stop by the bank before heading to the club.
I’m not the encore entertainment critic, so I won’t go into detail about the acts, but here is something patrons should consider: Comedy clubs are essentially rehearsal spaces. If your only exposure to stand-up comedy is HBO or Comedy Central, then you are accustomed to seeing stand up in its cleanest, best-executed form. By the time those specials are filmed, the comedians have spent months on the road, testing jokes in front of live audiences to see what works and how well it works. Live stand-up comedy is often a testing ground. And you’re going to hear a few bombs in there.
As for dinner, I opened with pizza rolls. Sure, they may be the same frozen ones bought at any warehouse club or from a large food purveyor. But I don’t have an industrial fryer, so they’re not as good when I make them at my house. Quite frankly, they’re a fun, tasty, little appetizer.
As for an entrée, I found the burger to be quite pleasant by barroom standards. Thick and juicy, with better quality bread in the bun, I was genuinely happy with it.
Yet, I realized while I was eating that the experience was in the show, not the food itself. And that’s the key thing to remember about Dead Crow. The comedy comes first, which is why I’m glad the food is as good as it is. I endorse Dead Crow because they offer entertainment that no one else does, plus they serve good food. Dead Crow can make for a much more interesting night out than you’ve had in a while. Take advantage of it.
Dead Crow Comedy Room
265 N. Front St.
Winter hours: Mon. – Thurs: 7 p.m.