By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
But I think that Tycer really has it right with Kraftsmen Cafe after years of running some of the city's most ambitious restaurants, starting with Aries in 2003 (which he closed in 2006 and turned into Pic, which closed even more quickly). He's not a man to count out: Although it's been nearly a decade since he was featured in Food & Wine as one of the country's ten best new chefs, Tycer continues to have a deep understanding of what food trends are headed our way — even if he gets to them before the rest of us do.
In that way, I think Kraftsmen Cafe is Tycer's version of a palate-cleanser after years of torturously high-concept menus that can often test the limits of a food lover's knowledge, understanding and patience. There are only a few breakfast items on the menu here, a few lunch items. The food itself is very straightforward while still being cheeky and just ambitious enough. And, most important, it's good.
The Cold Fish may not sound very appetizing by name alone, but it's quickly become one of my favorite sandwiches in town. It's basically lox and a schmear without the bagel. Instead, that wonderfully soft and nutty biologique bread takes the place of a tough bagel and lets the slick, smoky salmon and deftly flavored caper-dill mascarpone cheese spread shine through. A few cucumbers and red onions for crunch, some arugula for added zip, and you have a sandwich that I'd take over a bagel and lox any day of the week.
611 W. 22nd St.
Houston, TX 77008
11601 Shadow Creek Pkwy
Pearland, TX 77584
Region: Outside Houston
More intriguing in its name alone is the Effin' Good Sandwich, which is — indeed — very effing good. Into one of Kraftsmen's buttery croissants goes a simple combination of salami, turkey, red onion, Provolone, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Slightly warmed until messily melty, it's terrific on a cool day and even better when Kraftsmen is serving its creamy potato-leek soup or equally silky chicken tortilla.
Now that this is the only location of Kraftsmen Cafe (the one in Montrose recently closed to make way for new tenants The Eatsie Boys), I get the sense that Tycer and his crew are concentrating more closely on making sure their sandwiches are up to snuff every time. I can recall having a few duds in Montrose, but never at the Heights location. And while I miss the ivy-covered patio and looming bell tower from the old converted library/church next door in Montrose, the Heights location now has charm of its own to spare thanks to the gracefully appointed dining room and warm, friendly staff. There's even a patio here, too, although it's much smaller.
Breakfast is still my favorite time to visit, however. On the weekends, Kraftsmen will set you up with a huge carafe of orange juice if you bring your own bubbly — build-your-own-mimosas, if you will — and you can spread out with mimosas, endless cups of coffee, omelets and friends for hours. If you bring the kids, you'll find there's even a space for them to sit complete with toys and books to keep them busy.
And while breakfast is where I've found a few misses — underseasoned potatoes once, two very uninspired breakfast tacos on cold, flabby tortillas — these are all made up for by fresh croissants spread with lemon marmalade, French toast made with sweet brioche bread and Kraftsmen's fantastic pancakes, which it calls griddle cakes. Surprisingly light and fluffy considering how thick each pancake is, they're laced with air bubbles and a tangy, yeasty flavor that leads me to believe the griddle cakes are made with the kind of batter my mother refers to as "good morning" batter: pancake or waffle batter that's rich with yeast and left out overnight to rise.
This is all I want most days: good, simple breakfasts, sturdy sandwiches, comforting soups. It's what I imagine many people would rather have over an $85 degustation menu if they're being honest with themselves. I like that Scott Tycer has finally found a place where he can be straightforward and simple, too. And I like that it comes with comfy, fluffy chairs.
Thanks for the article and for reminding us how fortunate we are to have had Aries and Textile, if just for a short while. One minor quibble with the timeline in the article: Aries was around well before 2003 (in fact, this newspaper reviewed it as early as March 2001).
As an Oak Forest resident, Kraftsmen is fantastic addition to the area. Food is solid. Coffee is above average. But, could we please get some freaking grits? Despite being listed on the menu, grits were never available during my six visits. On my last visit the woman working the counter said, "I don't know why it's still on the menu. We never have them."
I know it's a little thing, but either make 'em or pull it from the menu.
@EatingOurWords Between Kraftsmen, Angela's Oven and Slow Dough products at Revival, plenty of good bread in the Heights. (El Bolillo, too)