Husband and wife Wade and Kristi Hageman have expanded on their huge success with Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza and believe it or not, have outdone themselves with Craftsman New American Tavern in Encinitas. The only drawback to Craftsman is that it will now compete for my attention with Blue Ribbon but luckily, they are for the most part, two different animals.They have taken over the very popular Savory space and made it their own with a warm, yet bustling tavern meets gastro pub environment. High tops mix nicely with tables, a bar and of course a communal table, which I find myself seeking out on a regular basis when I’m at a place where I want to discuss what others are eating without infringing on their space.
The Hagemans love their music and it is definitely present at Craftsman. It can get a little loud but I’ll take the energy and their decent taste in music over a generic environment any day. While Savory will be missed, I’m sure Pascal Vignau would approve of what it’s become.
So I’ve established Craftsman has the look, feel and vibe of an established neighborhood eatery, but what about the food? Well, given Wade Hageman’s track record and that he has Chef Marlaw Seraspi running the kitchen, I had a feeling the menu would delight. I’ve been twice now and there have been moments of culinary brilliance alongside the very solid “hand crafted comfort” food as they put it on the menu.
While culinary brilliance is a very relative thing, I loosely define it as innovative, but not over the top food, prepared simply, yet full of flavor and texture, presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and inducing a strong desire to lick the plate. Serious food that does not take itself too seriously. OK, enough of that ramble, let’s get to the menu.
The bar snacks menu is worthy of a trip in itself. Wade has brought his famous heirloom black seed popcorn along and combined it with a selection of ten items, all under $10. We had to try the local spiny lobster corn dogs, the deep fried Brussels sprouts, and the deviled eggs, all three of which are worthy of detailed description.
The spiny lobster corn dogs were shaped like oversized golf balls on a stick with a golden crunchy crust filled with a pate-like filling of lobster and a mustard aioli to dip them in. This is the innovative part of the culinary brilliance I was talking about, along with all the other elements.
The deviled eggs were made very special by placing the eggs on top of a wonderful piece of Serrano ham and the deep fried Brussels sprouts were not the wimpy leaves that have been populating many menus of late, but whole sprouts, halved and served with crispy bacon and capers with an apple cider vinaigrette. The crispy capers were a first for me and combined with the bacon and the sprouts, they blew me away. I will be back to try every other item on the bar snacks menu.
The dinner menu is equally enticing and the starters include several items from the bar snacks menu along with the local sweet corn soup brought over from Blue Ribbon. They also feature a trio of “Meatmen” sausage, which is quite simply the best in town. Look for a column devoted to those sausage makers soon.
Due to my column size restrictions, I’m going to highlight three entrees that should not be missed. The porcini crusted Pacific cod with mushroom gravy, potato puree and an onion-mushroom medley is quite simply the best piece of fish I’ve had in recent memory. It combines every item on my culinary brilliance checklist and at $22 will make my value column for sure this year.
I’m a bit obsessed with steak frites and their center cut hangar steak with a Béarnaise compound butter, placed on top of duck fat fries so the juices can run over the fries made me very happy. The Berkshire pork porchetta is another winner; just trust me on that one.
It’s a simple dessert list with their popular Blue Ribbon butterscotch pudding included. They have a nice selection of beer on tap including my current favorite Palm from Belgium. The full menu, location and hours can be found at craftsmantavern.com and I highly suggest you check it out.