Imagine the nerdy-cool kid from high school: the quiet and deliberately unfashionable one, the one who chose to wear horn-rimmed glasses and ride his bike to school every single day, the one who actually understood all the cultural references, and who surprised everyone by nonchalantly unveiling an enormous Calvin & Hobbes tattoo on his back one day toward the end of senior year.
Imagine he went on to graduate studies in Twentieth-Century American Literature and spent the requisite semester at Oxford where he fell in love with pub life, rough-hewn wood, and full-bodied beer. Then he spent a summer on his uncle’s farm, where he fell in love with state fairs and home-cooked meals and classic rock, spending pleasantly stoned evenings absorbing The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Welcome to the Machine and Court of the Crimson King through oversized headphones. Then, with newly acquired grown-up tastebuds and the deepened courage of his convictions, he made a life-changing leap to culinary school. And he was good. And so he opened a Restaurant.
Imagine he approached the task philosophically, defining the vision of simplicity, value, and quality he’d experienced in his life thus far, and he used that vision to define his design, decor, and menu – inadvertently inventing a nouveau nostalgia along the way. And the rest of the world gets it because they’ve jumped on that early wave of hipster-dom he rode in his youth. Thus he created a Destination.
That’s my vision, anyway, of how Craft & Commerce came to be. Call it fan fiction, foodie-style. My fantasy is based in delicious truth, though – here’s the evidence:
He worked in his admiration of Robert Fripp in the name of the restaurant and his love of Pink Floyd with a menu cover homage.
Nineteenth-century Americana pops up in the occasionally steer’s head, the grained wooden tables, the Model T steering wheel affixed to the wall, and the random stickers sporting woodblock-looking print of Daniel Day Lewis in “Gangs of New York” stuck here and there.
And food quite literally meets literature at Craft & Commerce . . . walls piled high with stacked books, quotes from Kerouac, Steinbeck, and Thoreau chalked on the lime banquette backs . . . even audiobooks piped into the bathrooms, albeit with what Kid Two called a “low, creepy voice.” Oh – and the servers carry Moleskine notebooks. How’s that for clarity of vision?
Best of all, though, the food – that upscale “childhood summer at the state fair” menu featuring corn dogs and cracker jacks, fried chicken and ice cream sandwiches – is fabulous. Retro gourmet, let’s call it. We couldn’t even begin to try everything – the mushroom and garlic studded mac and cheese and the quinoa and lentil burger will sadly have to wait until my next trip, as will the citrus and avocado salad and pastrami with gouda sandwich.
The bacon cracker jacks, though, are completely insane – rich and addictive – chewy, smoky bacon bites tossed with sweet marcona almonds, lightly caramel coated popcorn, crispy hominy bites, and chives.
The not-so-mini corn dogs are wrapped in bacon, coated with a spicy cornmeal crust, fried, and serves with stone ground mustard and a spicy yellow cheese fondue on the side.
Spicy fries are tossed with garlic and thyme and served piping hot under a restaurant-wide ketchup ban. They reminded us of what Pik-Niks could be if they were fresh and hot and, well, fries instead of chips.
And deep-fried dill pickles are a taste explosion, a bland cornmeal coating adding just the right amount of crunch to the thick, hot, zesty slices, sprinkled with tiny blue cheese chunks.
Craft & Commerce refuses to stock vodka and gives you a simple wine choice between two reds, two whites, and a cava. But the bartenders concoct a tasty array of multicultural cocktails ranging from the British Firing Squad (gin, house grenadine, lime, angostura bitters) to the Paloma De Jerez (jalapeño infused tequila, fino sherry, grapefruit, lime) to the Osaka Old Fashioned (Japanese whiskey, curaçao, angostura bitters). And interestingly, the bar requires copious amounts of mint and hard-boiled eggs in its prep:
On this particular June Wednesday at 7pm, the men sporting straw porkpies or slouchy stocking caps and plaid shirts were as nicely groomed as their suit and loafer counterparts, and the women – outnumbered by the men by about 2 to 1 – were all dressed for a night out and loving their sky-high heels. The restaurant was packed.
I’ll be back, someday. My chair awaits. You should go too, next time you’re in San Diego. Here’s a link to their site to inspire you.