By Rae and Troy Matthews
Hidden in plain sight in the shadow of Heavenly Mountain on the corner of Park and Highway 50 in the new (old) Hotel Becket, is a new spot cooking up authentic southern BBQ for locals and tourists alike. X Crows (Ten Crows) is the newest addition to South Tahoe’s culinary explosion.
X Crows Executive Chef Trent Bissell is a classically trained chef who wanted to bring the joy and fun of authentic southern cooking from his childhood to his new Tahoe home. Bissell spent some time with us before the opening of X Crows to discuss his dream, the joy behind his concept, and what X Crows will bring to the Tahoe food scene.
“That’s kind of been my dream…I always wanted to move out west and live in a ski town.”
His life began overseas, “My dad being in the military, and living overseas, I kind of got those German dishes growing up and those Italian dishes when we lived in Italy.”
Then when he was 10, his parents moved to Alabama and his love for Southern cooking began. “I grew up cooking with my mother in the kitchen, you know, like every chef starts cooking in the kitchen with their mom or grandma. We’d be jamming to some Aretha Franklin, cooking all kinds of good things.”
“My mom was Italian. So we cooked a lot of Italian food. So a lot of the Southern cooking I got from being in the industry down there. Part of the cool thing is being able to tie in those Italian dishes with you know, some Southern things. Like grits/polenta, you know, all that comes together.”
Those of us in Tahoe who love southern cooking can now rejoice. Bissell designed the menu around the food he grew up cooking both with family and while hanging around with his buddies in Alabama. “The menu’s 100% mine. Big focus, we’re going to have traditional BBQ.”
Bissell is using his southern connections to bring traditional ingredients to our neck of the woods. This includes beer vinegar from an Alabama brewery, Benton’s Country Ham out of Tennessee, Duke’s Mayonnaise, and, of course, Alabama white BBQ Sauce, which Bissell tells us originated 10 miles from where he grew up in Huntsville.
He also plans to have bourbon pairings, wine pairings, and beer pairings. There’s even going to be sweet tea and Kool-Aid on the menu. “Everybody loves that I put Kool-Aid on the menu. So I think we’re going to have a weekly rotating Kool-Aid flavor,” Bissell says laughing.
Bissell recently cooked under PBS celebrity chef Todd English, owner of Todd English P.U.B. with locations in Las Vegas, and (randomly) Bissell’s native Birmingham, before relocating to Tahoe to open X Crows. “That’s my passion. I’ve always worked in places that were fine dining… but… on the side you go do a whole pig roast with your buddies… And that’s kind of the basis behind my cooking. Just having a good time and delivering a delicious product – quality product.”
Even though it is located in a hotel, X Crows definitely has established its own unique identity. Bissell wants locals to know that X Crows exists not just for tourists in the hotel, but for locals as well. “We are going to offer a pretty big to-go menu, and that’s for two different reasons: If people want to get it and eat it in their rooms they can call and pick it up to-go. And two, to-go menu for locals… that’s the big thing that is going to help us in the off season… People don’t really want to go sit down and spend a ton of money, they can go get something to-go real quick and go home and eat with their families.”
We got to sit down and have a taste of the BBQ brisket, mac-and-cheese, and wings. Bissell’s training as a Chef shines through, but doesn’t overtake the authentic down-home style of his BBQ. X Crows is so southern, everything is served on pie tins with butcher paper. The wings are served doused in tangy white BBQ sauce that does nothing to take away from the not-too-spicy layers of flavor found in the marinade. The mac-and-cheese is on point and identical to the type you’d eat standing up at any outdoor BBQ pit battle. So good it put our marriage at-risk; we seriously fought over it. The brisket is perfectly smoked with just enough moisture left behind to make your mouth water.
The name X Crows tells you everything you need to know about Bissell and his cuisine. It comes from the last line of a version of the “Counting Crows” nursery rhyme (and, yes, another namesake is a very well-known band). The poem concludes with the line, “Ten crows for a time of joyful bliss.” Bissell explains, “So, that’s kind of the theme to the restaurant. We want to be a joyous occasion. It’s like I said, it’s soulful, it’s fulfilling, it’s a good time. That’s what we’re looking for… We want to be known as a friendly restaurant in the community.”
We asked Bissell to give some advice to anyone thinking about opening a new restaurant and the challenges that come with it.
“I’d say it’s definitely challenging but it’s definitely fulfilling. I’ve opened up a few different places, and once you get past all the headaches and you see that first person smile and enjoy all your hard work, it’s 100% worth it.”
We at Elevation Eats could not be more excited for the opening of this place. We can think of nothing more fulfilling than a night of bourbon and brisket with friends after a long day on the lake. Bissell’s dream is sure to make South Tahoe just that much more joyful. As always, we’ll see you there.