4300 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-722-0175
Review published April 2005
“WOULD BOB VILA REALLY EAT HARICOTS VERTS?” asked a diner at the Craftsman as she ordered the grilled opah with mushroom tagliatelle, edamame, haricots verts, and wakame broth. Good question. What would Bob Vila do if he found out that his favorite neighborhood bar, that sassy Irish lass Molly Quinn, had moved to homelier digs (a former Embers-turned-Ethiopian eatery), and her original charming brick domicile had been converted into an upscale restaurant?
Well, Vila would soon realize that the Craftsman bears little resemblance to the tools he represents. The name takes its inspiration from the surrounding Longfellow neighborhood’s craftsman-style bungalows and from the Arts and Crafts Movement, characterized by simplicity of design and handcrafted objects made from local materials. The Craftsman’s co-owners (and Molly Quinn founders), Mike Dooley and his wife, Susan, doubled the size of the building, painted the walls in earth tones, hung Frank Lloyd Wright—style stained glass light fixtures, and set out straight-backed chairs. Then they dimmed the lights and found that the space had retained its ineffable ambiance.
Like the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Craftsman’s menu seems a reaction to the industrial revolution—of food. It’s a celebration of individual handiwork. Plates feel almost sculpted: the three-apple stuffed pork chop leaned casually against a side of vegetables like a pregnant guitar. Though the garlic and onions in the stuffing were slightly undercooked and the chard was too salty, the potato hash with chorizo sausage made a great partner for the moist, peppery pork.
Chef Dennis Marron, who works mostly with classic American and European fare, developed a penchant for Eastern ingredients while living in San Francisco and Hawaii. His kitchen seems full of creative ideas, though some concepts could stand further refinement, including the opah—too many mildly flavored Asian components left the dish tasting altogether meek.
Great chefs and designers distinguish themselves by a mastery of proportion and balance. Occasionally, Marron’s dishes have one too many ingredients or something that just doesn’t belong, such as the risotto with winter squash, sautÃ©ed rapini (broccoli raab), and toasted pumpkin seeds—thoughtful additions that were marred by the overpoweringly dark, raw flavor of molasses. But a number of other offerings showed focus and style. The winter menu’s lone salad was a perfect composition of bitter, sharp, and pungent: arugula, mint, and Black River blue cheese were married with sweet pear and a touch of herb vinaigrette. And the desserts were similarly well-executed: a chocolate pot de crÃ¨me with a hint of ancho chile came with crisp phyllo triangles dusted with sugar, and a cranberry crisp was topped with Izzy’s lemon buttermilk ice cream.
Given the high-quality experience Marron and the Dooleys have crafted, Vila and his beer-drinking buddies would be advised to stop mourning Molly and see what their bar has become. Put down the power tools, guys, and pick up a fork.