Crafting Great Bites, Pouring Great Beer

By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer

A restaurant that showcases all the best beers the state of Kentucky and the surrounding areas have to offer. That was the vision of partners Pat Hagan, Beau Kerley and Brad Culver. And if it could offer great food that featured as much local produce as possible and that complimented that selection – all the better. The result is Craft House, which opened just this past August.

Located in the heart of Crescent Hill on Frankfort Avenue, in the same spot that local favorite Darkstar Tavern used to occupy. Likely, the first thing anyone will notice upon entry is what a stunning location it truly is. Whereas Darkstar Tavern had the feel of a smaller, local dive bar, the space, under the guidance of Hagan, Curley and Culver has been transformed and expanded into a 113-seat restaurant and bar. Exceedingly high ceilings and stunning exposed brick walls are all somehow trumped by a giant window that stretches virtually the entire length of the restaurant, parallel to Frankfort Avenue. Aside from the abundance of light, the window creates a cozy feel, ensuring that anyone paying a visit, taking a seat and enjoying a beer and bites, get the added delight of glancing out into the already chilly (and snowy) outdoors.

So what about the food? Well, with a near zealous fixation on local beers, of which there 40 are on tap, there is also equal attention paid to local produce and ingredients, as much possible, without sacrificing quality.

“We’re really lucky that the neighborhood has embraced us and what we’re trying to do,” Brad Culver explains. “We want to be a place that whole families can come to and enjoy their time here. Louisville is a place that really embraces local things and we want to be a part of that.”

For appetizers, we tried the bacon bruschetta and the poutine. The bacon bruschetta, consisting of toasted bread points (from Blue Dog Bakery) topped with a mixture of pear tomatoes, goat cheese, baby arugula and candied walnuts was a phenomenal opening salvo. Not only was the sweetness of the walnuts needed to cut through the creamy richness of the goat cheese and the bitterness of crisp arugula, but it complimented the real jewel of the dish – chef Tim Smith’s bacon jam that was spread onto the toasted bread. Smoked bacon, bacon fat, red onions, brown sugar as well as a number of other ingredients created a delightful smoky concoction that was both sweet and savory and wholly unique.

The poutine was also a welcome treat, if only for the fact that it’s hard to name another Louisvillian establishment that offers it. Braised short ribs (smoked in-house) atop of fries, brown gravy and cheese curds. Want something filling and indulgent as the winter cold approaches? Look no further.

As for larger dishes, and sticking with the comfort theme, we tried the Kentucky fried rib eye – a breaded and fried steak, with a generous ladling of country sausage gravy, served on a base of pork cracklin’ cornbread. The frying left the steak tender while the gravy provided added moisture.

What Craft House achieves is a coherent celebration of Kentuckiana drinking and dining, focusing on local without fetishizing it. It’s not local for local’s sake, only when they are in season and can fully shine.

As for those wondering whether all the food on offer is of the comfort, bear hibernation variety, look no further than the lighter options that prove just as popular. A quinoa salad that consists of locally grown Bibb lettuce, drizzled with a herb vinaigrette and mixed with seasoned quinoa and pickled vegetables is a great fresh and vegan choice. Charred Caesar salad is also an option. As for vegetarian options (which are aplenty too), there a creations such as the mushroom burger – a blend of four mushrooms bound together with smoked Gouda cheese.

Other items we sampled included the shrimp and grits – a Cajun inspired selection of giant shrimp seasoned tantalizingly and accompanied with cream cheese grits and a poached egg. Chef Tim Smith cooks the egg sous-vide style (slow cooked in a water bath at a low temperature) which when broken over the shrimp, douses Smith’s creation in creamy, rich yoke. Elsewhere, charred chicken wings were a perfect dish for sharing. The oversized wings, flash-fried and then plastered in a dry rub containing close to 15 ingredients before being grilled, were sumptuous, especially when lathered in the house-made pimento ranch sauce and Buffalo-style hot sauce syrup. Savory, a little spicy and totally worth ordering a second helping.

With a full bar and liquor selection, Craft House does not simply cater to beer lovers, but it certainly specializes in pleasing those that do love beer. A whole host of local favorites are on offer, including Bluegrass Brewing Company, Country Boy, New Albanian Brewing Company, Cumberland Brews and Flat 12 Bierwerks who have brewed a special rye for “Movember” for which a portion of the proceeds will go to the Movember Foundation which helps raise awareness about and battle issues in men’s health.

Craft House is a fun, delicious and obligatory stop for anyone who enjoys good food and good beer.

Craft House is located on 2636 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206. For more information call 502.895.9400 or visit www.crafthousebrews.com

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune