ROCKLAND —With the recent opening in Rockland of 3Crow Restaurant and Bar, Executive Chef and Owner Josh Hixson’s latest restaurant, it appears everything has come full circle.
Hixson and his family have lived in Rockland for the last 10 years, and opened their first retail store, Sage Market, there in 2006. When that business eventually closed, Hixson opened his first restaurant, Brevetto Kitchen & Wine Bar, in Camden in 2008, transitioning that to 40 Paper Italian Bistro & Bar, also in Camden, in 2011. Those moves left some Rocklandites to bemoan “Why…why….why did you leave us?”
He emphasizes that he didn’t abandon Rockland, he just had a long-term plan. “We love the Rockland area. It took getting a self-supporting business [40 Paper] to get us back into Rockland, where we always wanted to be,” he explained.
With a new location and a new look, 3Crow is like a fraternal twin to 40 Paper. There are physical similarities, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. “At 40 Paper, we do modern Italian food with a pretty hard-core cocktail scene,” said Hixson, “but for 3Crow, we wanted to do something totally different.” Their simple menu is described as “modern American food with a heavy Southern influence” and is based in part on Hixson’s own experiences growing up the South. Born in Louisiana, Hixson grew up predominantly in Tennessee and Texas, cultures steeped in the regional stick-to-your-ribs cuisine.
The menu features the kind of comfort food you’d expect from the South, like dirty rice, fried chicken and gumbo. Other dishes weave in Maine flavors, such as the étouffée with Maine lobster claws in a tomato Creole sauce over Carolina white rice.
Asked how he thinks Southern food will fly in a northern state, Hixson said, “Southern food is a big trend right now and a lot of people have expressed to me how excited they are about our food, as they haven’t had a lot of exposure to this style before.”
The entrées are reasonably priced and, in line with the Midcoast restaurant trend in the last five years, 3Crow provides small plates (around $6) to appeal to smaller appetites. This also appeals to a younger generation that isn’t accustomed to habitually dining out, but would like to enjoy a bite or a beer within their budget just the same.
Like 40 Paper, the all-mighty beverage also is a big part of the 3Crow brand. The menu puts a special emphasis on craft beers and good whiskies. “We have 16 taps of all craft brews, with dedicated lines for several Maine beer companies like Marshall Wharf, Oxbow, Allagash Brewing Co and Maine Beer Co.,” said Hixson. “We’ll also have hard-to-find imported draughts as well as 40 different whiskies.”
Also, like at 40 Paper, 3Crow will offer gluten-free options for all of its food, including desserts. These items are prepared by the restaurant’s Pastry Chef, Tara Barker, in a separate gluten-free kitchen.
Hixson has a penchant for naming his restaurants after some historical aspect of the buildings they occupy. 40 Paper, for example, which resides in the old Knox Woolen Mill, was named after the mill’s significant contribution to the U.S. paper manufacturing industry.
He’s brought that historical bent to his new Rockland venture as well. “The owner of this building told me that, when it was built around a hundred years ago, it was owned by John Bird’s family and they turned it into a wholesale grocery store, with spices, teas and dry goods,” said Hixson. “They started their own spice company here and called it Three Crow Spice Brand. It was very important to us that the restaurant have a name that pays tribute to the history of this community.”
The décor of this completely renovated restaurant is one more reason to solidify Rockland as one of the fastest emerging foodie scenes north of Portland. Ever since the original Sage Market, Hixson has been experimenting with mixing and matching offbeat lighting, something that has become his signature unifying element in every one of his restaurants. The big wine bottle glass pendants over the bar, with their mad scientist filaments, and the chandeliers that look like enormous strands of DNA are immediate focal points. But you won’t find these unique lights in any commercial store. What many people don’t realize is that Hixson made most of these lighting fixtures by hand, some with the help of his seven-year-old son.
Hixson’s own minimalist tastes shaped the restaurant’s décor, along with a team of designers and carpenters. “We just all put our ideas together to create something that was fun, inviting and draws you in,” he said. The main dining room has the dark, sleek and sexy look of a cigar bar, while the white walls and big picture windows balance out the starkness with lighter tones. Combine all this with the funky chandeliers, the subway tiles behind the bar, and the giant beer listings sign — which resembles Grand Central Station’s daily train schedule — and you get a whimsical twist on the primarily masculine, modernist surroundings.
Hixson also made much use of the remains of a house demolished on Granite Street in Rockland. He used the reclaimed wood to build the bar, tabletops, and even the beer tap handles, which were intentionally left unmarked so that the bartenders have to know by code which craft beer to pour.
3Crow Restaurant and Bar is open for dinner seven days a week from 5:00p.m.-9:00p.m., and offers a special happy hour menu and drink specials from 4:00p.m. – 6:00p.m. The bar stays open until 11:00p.m. weekdays, and midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
For more information, check out their Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.