The Craftsman (Minneapolis, MN)

By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The Mix
January/February 2006

“Not only did they want to reform design but to give quality once more to the work process itself." Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan wrote that about the Arts and Crafts movement in general, but we think it applies as well to the transformation of a rickety corner bar into a neighborhood fine dining room.

That neighborhood, with its proliferation of small and well-built bungalows, exactly suits The Craftsman. The restaurant shows its flair in the good wood tables and Arts and Crafts architecture, but even more in its commitment to well-prepared local foods.

Chef Mike Phillips says, "Much of Minnesota's food comes as far as 1,500 miles, and that's responsible for all kinds of waste. It's not as hard as you'd think, getting locally produced foods. We can get fresh meats and fish year-round, and root vegetables."

He hopes, as consumers and businesses create more demand for locally grown greens and other vegetables, that the suppliers will step up and make them available.

Chef Phillips' care over food and its sources applies to the depth of field he's assembled in the back of the house. With a team pulled together from some of the area's top kitchens, he's putting out some marvelous dishes.

To start, Craftsman offers three cold appetizers and two salads. We thoroughly enjoyed the pork rillettes. This is a French invention: pork slowly cooked in a lot of fat until tender, and spread on bread for a workingman's lunch. Craftsman's version tasted traditional and wonderful and we ate it on crostini with mustard. The rabbit and herb terrine was likewise delicious, served with pickles and the same coarse spicy mustard. You may choose among about eight entrees, which change frequently. The duck leg confit, itself delicious, comes with an incredible yam and onion gratin. The yam dish was so good we very nearly marched into the kitchen to demand seconds -- and the recipe.

The regular menu changes according to what's fresh and available, but there are always a couple of nightly specials: a fish of the day and a pasta of the day. On one visit, the fish was mahi mahi. It was pan roasted and served on a bed of farro with bits of squash and sautéed kale. Very tasty.

That same day, the pasta was fettuccini with a turnip apple puree and sautéed cabbage, served with slices of roasted duck breast. It was an odd dish -- subtle and tasty pasta, and flavorful pieces of duck -- that our tablemates either loved or hated. Another delicious dish was the roasted pheasant. It came wrapped in pancetta, with parsnip mustard purée and kale. There are lighter options, as well. Craftsman serves a variety of small pizzas and a couple of burgers. The pizzas aren't your regular pepperoni-and-mushrooms fare. Think pumpkin, braised pheasant, currants, and blue cheese pizza. Or beet, Castilla olive and Asiago cheese pizza. The burgers, too, are different and interesting. The Korean barbecue bacon burger with white cheddar cheese, grilled scallions, basil, cilantro and daikon radish is delicious. Save room for dessert. We can recommend the flourless chocolate cake and the pumpkin cheesecake with a pistachio crust. Craftsman also serves Izzy's ice creams and sorbets.

Service can be unpolished, unfortunately. Nothing too egregious, but one time a drink was forgotten and another time the waiter had trouble with our orders. At a restaurant this nice, we expect better.

We call restaurants like Craftsman American bistros. It's a place you can go for a nice meal out with friends, on a date or even alone. It can be a regular or a special-occasion restaurant. We wish it well.

The Craftsman

4300 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406 • 612-722-0175
www.craftsmanrestaurant.com

Cuisine Type: New American

Hours: Reservations recommended.
Mon. -- Thurs. 4:00 p.m. -- 10:00 p.m.;
Fri. 4:00 p.m. -- midnight; Sat. 10:00 a.m. -- midnight; Sun. 10:00 a.m. -- 10:00 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $6–$9; Entrées $10–$22; Pizzas and burgers $9–$11

Diet Choices: Vegetarian options available, and the kitchen will try to accommodate any special requests.

earlier review: Viva Italia (Eagan, MN)
later review: RSA 2006 Restaurant Guide (San José, CA)
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Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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