American Craft

Brewed to perfection
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 7, 2010
4.0 4.0 Stars

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American Craft | 1700 Beacon Street, Brookline | 617.487.4290 | Open Monday–Wednesday, 5–10 pm; Thursday and Friday, 5–11 pm; Saturday 4–11 pm; and Sunday, 4–10 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access
If American Craft was a brand-new restaurant, I still would be an enthusiast. But it’s even better as is, because it’s the end result of a story of hard knocks.

The owner of the Publick House opened Roadhouse Craft Beer & BBQ in this large space in 2008, and when I first reviewed it, the 40 beers on tap were fine, but the ’cue was not really smoked properly. Since very few restaurateurs have ever admitted to believing a word of this column, I take no credit for the change in chefs and production of genuine barbecue, which later made it quite good. But then neighbors complained about the smell of the smoker, so Roadhouse tried on a Tex-Mex menu. That apparently was a bust. So it is that we arrive at American Craft, which has adopted a model of “artisanal food & drink.” While the sheer geek-chic quotient is somewhat lower than at Cambridge’s Lord Hobo, American Craft has compensated by presenting more seating, food for all tastes, and a noise level that permits conversation.

We happily started our meal with an order of superb hand-cut chive fries ($7). These had real unfrozen potato taste, some skin, and a fine balance of crispness and softness. But the chives are just sprinkled on with coarse salt. The fries’ greatness actually came from the beer-and-blue-cheese fondue dip, which adds a rich flavor note, is thick enough not to drip, and has no flavor of uncooked alcohol. You could dip all your other food in this fondue, especially the fried cornmeal-crusted local oysters ($11), although they are delicate enough to eat on their own, and are fine with the tarragon-laced tartar sauce underneath them. Mini lamb croquettes ($8), which are like five fried lacrosse balls of shepherd’s pie, would also go well with that fondue, even though they are served with a spicy tomato sauce.

The dish that executive chef Corey French is going to be answering for is the crispy chicken-skin club sandwich ($10). For me, the answer is: “Yes!” The combination of crisped chicken skin, crisp bacon, buttery homemade mayonnaise, and greens on Hi-Rise’s softest, challah-like bread is going to send chicken skin up the road of chicken wings, fajitas, and fried calamari — from cheap spare parts to expensive specialties. Watch and see if the supermarkets don’t start running specials on skinless chicken wings all the time.

Chef French’s next best invention, oddly enough, is the grilled tofu steak ($14). It tastes almost like barbecue and is great with beer. The secret seems to be a vinegar-soy marinade. Like several entrées, it comes with fingerling potatoes and broccoli rabe. (Most others come with mashed potatoes.) Baked four-cheese rigatoni ($16) is an excellent version of mac ’n’ cheese with chewy ziti, and also an excellent billiard-size beefy meatball. The meatball is in red sauce, while the creamy sauce on the pasta is white with three cheeses; the fourth cheese is unmelted (and thus cool) pieces of fresh mozzarella. I would approve of this completely if given a spoon, but the white sauce is drippy and dangerous to clothing without one.

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