It's a rare thing for me to spend more time going over the beer and wine lists than going over the food menu. That's what we found ourselves doing for the first ten minutes at Craft House, the new "gastropub" in Suffern, NY. With glee.
The wine and beer list immediately grabbed our attention. In my part of the world, cookie-cutter wine lists are the norm. Craft House's wine list is anything but cookie-cutter. In keeping with Craft House's "local" ethos, many of the wines are from New York State (mostly the Finger Lakes region). Also represented are Austria, Spain, and Portugal. Thank you, person who put together this list.
The beers? Local as well. In fact all of the draft offerings were from New York State. Knowing little about beer, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to learn by drinking many. I mean to say, order a flight of four.
Two of the four of the flight made a very big impression. The Keslo Industrial IPA (10%) was the monster you'd expect it to be. A huge hoppy beast, with a nose which reminded me of walking through a flower shop. It's amusing to me that something that smells so pretty can knock you on your ass.
On the other end of the spectrum was the Awestruck Hibiscus-Ginger cider. Ciders are more like wine than beer, I've come to conclude. Yet for years I dismissed cider as some sort of crap for people who don't like beer. It didn't occur to me until a trip to Applewood Winery in Warwick, NY--where I first tried their Naked Flock cider--that cider is a complex, compelling drink, and one which pairs wonderfully with food. This Awestruck business fit squarely into that mold. The color is irresistible. Taking your first sip you're confronted with lots of acid balancing out a bit of sweet. Not much more than a hint of ginger in this one, leaving me wanting a little more of that spicy kick. I often compare ciders to German Rieslings: acid, fruit (apple), and a bit of sweetness. Perfect for morning drinking, summer drinking, and spicy food. This Awestruck cider is no different.
We would have been perfectly happy sipping wine and beer and cider and whiling the afternoon away, but there was eating to be done. We were looking forward to the food, knowing Chef Levy can cook. He first made an impression ten years ago, when he opened RoCCA in Glen Rock, NJ. It was time to get on with it.
Deviled Eggs were up first, to be enjoyed with our drinks as we continued to peruse the menu. A perfectly fine rendition of deviled eggs, if not a bit too cold. I appreciated the frisée as an edible garnish, but would have preferred an acidic treatment rather than the (quite good) olive oil.
We weren't all that hungry but I really wanted to try as many dishes as possible. Black bean cakes seemed like reasonably light option. Two cakes, served with a bit of pico de gallo, avocado dip, and what I assume were house-fried tortilla chips. We weren't sure how to incorporate the chips into the eating process, but they did provide the salt that we thought was lacking in the cakes. I'm no vegan, and I was pretty surprised at how pleasing the texture was a how tasty these black bean cakes were.
The menu is full of comfort foods, like burgers, fried chicken, seafood stew, fried pickles, steak frites. Indeed the decision was a difficult one, but we ended up with a burger and fried chicken.
Craft House doesn't seem to have any "special" burger, which is a shame. I'd think Chef Levy could come up with a great combination of toppings for the excellent grass-fed beef that they are using. As it is now, the decision on toppings is up to you. But let's face it: "you," in many cases, don't know how to cook or compose a dish.
I went with the Red Dragon cheese (which is blended with mustard seeds and ale), and raw onions. The raw onions turned into pickled onions by the time the burger hit the table, but that was just as well. The bun is a soft and sturdy brioche, fully capable of standing up to the eight ounce patty, but certainly needs to be gutted before diving in.
The beef has a pleasant, course texture, and great beefy smell and flavor. A pretty damned good burger. I wish the thin pickle spear served along side was actually proper slices that could be placed on the burger with ease. I also wish the patty had a smaller footprint and was taller in stature. I think slightly different dimensions would serve this beef and burger well.
For $1.50 extra, you could get their Brussels Sprouts dish (pictured above) instead of fries with that burger. This dish of sprouts could be an entree, what with its onions and cheese and pancetta. Instead of the usual intense roasting that you often find--including in my kitchen at home--the kitchen here takes a more nuanced approach with Brussels, likely incorporating some steaming and pan frying. A super dish, and much more than a side.
Speaking of sides, the kale side with the fried chicken was probably even more impressive than the Awestruck cider. Sauteed until just shy of wilted, with pine nuts, and I don't know what else. I ignore the kale backlash that seems to be all over the internet, and so should you. This dish should be embraced.
The fried chicken served along with the excellent kale consisted of a leg, a thigh, and a breast. A light batter and fried crisp. Just enough salt and quite juicy. We agreed this was great fried chicken.
The service from the hostess to the server and runner was pleasant and friendly. I was happy to see an old familiar face from RoCCA, a young fella who always impressed us during our many meals there.
It's a bit of a shame that the bar, which seats about 10 or 12, is so small, dark, and sort of sequestered from the dining area. It's not set up ideally for bar-dining (the bar-top has a large lip on it...designed before bar-dining became important no doubt). But, this space has been set up like this, in what was probably a house, for some time, as you can see in the cool photo above. The wine and beer and spirits they are offering at Craft House really deserve a grander platform. That said, it's a bar, in a restaurant, and you can eat and drink there, so what the hell am I complaining about.
I'm thrilled to see Chef Levy find an outlet to explore his cooking beyond what he's been doing at RoCCA. I can't say enough about the concept here. Local spirits, local wines, local beers, very good and comforting food, a diverse menu, great service--all of this adds up to a unique restaurant that will tempt and keep you coming back for more. I'm already planning our next visit.
Craft House Kitchen | Bar : 150 Lafayette Ave : Suffern, NY : 845.547.2555